Saturday 8th October
Durham Town Hall
Review by Eloise Pearson
I am currently experiencing the keen irony of sitting in Pret, eating my white, middle class, super food lunch, drinking my skinny latte and blogging about The Experience of Class hosted by Lynsey Hanley, journalist and author of Respectable and Mike Savage, professor at LSE and author of Social Class in the 21st Century. The event was one of the first I have attended as a part of Durham Book festival 2016 and took the form of an open conversation, chaired by Professor John Tomaney.
The event was insightful, with both authors giving complex and thought provoking responses throughout. The Experience of Class invited the audience to think about the multidimensional issues of removing the lens of ideology and interrogating the ‘class ceiling’ that exists in Britain today.
The event covered issues such as the relationship between race and class, the importance of university education and the internalisation of economic and social structures as something of a societal norm. The discussion was also particularly resonant and topical. It falls just days after Theresa May’s speech in which she attempted to promote the issues of ‘working Britain’ and stand behind (or so she would have us believe) the interests of the working classes.
Throughout the discussion, host John Tomaney kept the audience engaged by citing headlines from ‘The Sun’ and making biting political critique. There was laughter, murmurs of dissent and a strong sense of solidarity in the room. Issues closer to home were also touched upon as the floor was opened to questions. A local man commented upon the recent teaching assistant wage cuts in County Durham. The ever-controversial topic of Brexit was also touched upon, which saw Mike Savage sensitively drawing attention to the anger and dissatisfaction he felt the working people had tried to express in their leave vote.
The conversation was as entertaining as it was insightful. Hanley recounted an anecdote about her Cambridge interview which was well received by the audience. This lead nicely into the topic of the over importance of university education. The issue of social mobility was also discussed. Here, Lynsey Hanley pointed out that social mobility was not always a good thing. When people are blinded by the prospect of upward mobility we forget the inequality that actually exists.
The event was closed, fittingly, with a reflection upon the future of class struggle. An audience member posed the question of where technology fits into the growing middle classes. Inventions like automated cars will soon begin putting more and more people out of work. What effects will this mass unemployment have on the working class community? Savage and Hanley close by saying that the future is still uncertain and there were still many, many strides that needed to be taken.
Overall the event was incredibly illuminating. I always enjoy events that make me challenge my own perspective on society. I think that discussions, such as this one, are extremely important with regard to breaking the ‘class ceiling,’ and I for one thoroughly enjoyed being a part of this extremely important conversation.