Brown Don't Frown Podcast

Season 4: Ep 34 - Dr Lisa Mckenzie on being a Working Class Academic, the myth of Social Mobility, and defining “Cultural Capital”

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Episode notes

Today’s guest is Dr Lisa Mckenzie, Assistant Professor, Ethnographer and Sociologist, currently based at Durham University who has written and spoken extensively about classism, social inequality and leftist politics. We begin the conversation talking about her roots coming from a mining town in Nottingham and the pride of her working class identity growing up, defined by values of community, family, and hard work. 

We speak about our unhealthy obsession with class hierarchies in the UK, and the inherent prejudice against the working class. The recent Sewell Report, albeit heavily criticised, identified the defining roles that class and geographical inequalities play in people’s life chances and we talk about the intersection of class, race, ethnicity, gender and location when it comes to discrimination and inequality in the UK. Lisa speaks about her latest kickstarter project, “Lockdown Diaries of the Working Class” which comprises a collection of diary entries from 38 working class people in the first month of lockdown. She tells us about her motivations behind spotlighting the illustrations and stories of the working class.

Lisa is a vocal opponent of social mobility. I ask her why she thinks it is ineffective and whether aspiration can ever be a bad thing. Cultural Capital now forms part of Ofsted’s teaching framework and requires education providers to give learners “the knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life”. Given its historical association with who you know, not what you know, and having the right networks, we talk about how, in some ways, it might polarise the middle and working classes by equating self-worth with an idealised way of life.

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