Urban Identity and Class Fragmentation

I’ve been starting to put together some thoughts about urban theology and urban missiology over the past year – and part of my plan for a sabbatical in the summer is to give some more time towards this.[1]

Here I want to put out a few thoughts about class and identity. These are not fully formed thoughts or complete answers but hopefully will help move the conversation forward.

  1. What exactly does it mean to be “working class” and is that identification still viable to describe a united grouping of people. Definitions focus on economics with the working class being those who work for pay, primarily in manual type labour.  In addition, there seems to be an academic dimension as well. Those who pursue higher education courses are less likely to pursue manual type labour, does this then exclude them from the working classes and make them middle class? Class also seems to link to prosperity including level of income, home ownership etc.
  2. The increased availability of University education meant that over the past 50 years significant numbers of people from working class backgrounds have been to University.
  3. What happens when someone works their way up through an organisation into management and even into business ownership.
  4. The implications of this seem to be that there is a fragmentation of class with an “upward social trajectory.”
  5. This also suggests that there is a class of people who find some of their identity in their “working class roots.” For example, you might identify me as “Second Generation” middle class in that my father was the first in our family to go to University. My niece and nephew are “third generation.”  One question is whether there really is true class mobility. Can a former working-class person become middle class or are there other factors that shape class identity?  Is there any cross over in terms of the experience of 2nd and 3rd generation immigrant families?
  6. The other side of things is that because of economics and automation, many people from “working class backgrounds” find themselves unable to work. There are two aspects to this. First of all, people who are not working at all and secondly those who work in the hidden economy. Is it right to generalise and cover everyone under the “working class” umbrella or do circumstances affect values, culture, etc? For example, when you have 2nd and 3rd generation unemployment and this includes alienation from education too, how does that shape values. My personal observation is that in the 1980s, education was valued by working class communities as an opportunity both for self-improvement and to contribute to wider society.  There are some communities where learning itself is potentially treated with suspicion.
  7. The passivity factor -where things happen to you. A class is formed and shaped by the Industrial Revolution and then reformed and reshaped by the technological revolution. There are implications for power and politics. Then there’s the emotional implications of being seen as “left behind.”
  8. That alongside this will come a sense of persecution particularly when derogatory terms are used to describe groups within society and the presence of a shame and scapegoating culture that focuses on particular groups. Consider media portrayals.
  9. There may be other cultural factors at work such as gang culture and gang identity which may affect our ability to engage in a community.
  10. Another factor is that see people living in our inner-city communities whose “class roots” might be very different. This includes the immigration factor. What is the identity of someone whose family background would essentially be middle class or higher but find themselves either unable to work or only able to gain employment in casual labour?
  11. Can a church leader ever be working class – even if that is their background given that they are no longer

I’m sure others will have thoughts on some of these things.

[1] See for example https://faithroots.net/2017/09/28/urban-subversive-fulfilment-an-attempt-at-an-urban-missiology-in-outlines/ plus a range or articles under the Urban Mission Tag https://faithroots.net/tag/urban-mission/ and Urban Theology Tag https://faithroots.net/tag/urban-theology/