University of Sussex
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Moving on? Experiences of social mobility in a mixed-class North London neighbourhood

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posted on 2023-06-08, 18:37 authored by Debbie Humphry
This qualitative study investigates subjective experiences of social mobility amongst parents whose children attend the same London state primary school, at a historical moment when the Conservative-led Coalition government claims social mobility as the principal goal of its social policies. I argue that the government’s understanding of social mobility is founded on a neoliberal discourse that holds individuals responsible for their own life trajectories. This individualist view aligns with individualization theory’s emphasises on reflexive selves, understood as disembedded from class groups. By examining how participants’ experiences are shaped by class processes I interrogate this dominant perspective, and consider alternative conceptions of social mobilities that expand the existing discourse. I take a case-study approach that utilises a range of qualitative methods, enabling crossclass comparisons as well as examining parents’ intersectional identities. I draw embodied and emotional geographies into the analysis, including everyday distinctionmaking and face-to-face interactions. I relate subjective experiences to class structures across a range of social fields, inter-weaving material and cultural analyses to examine the impacts of economic and political processes on lived experiences. The thesis demonstrates how class processes significantly impact on social mobility experiences, and thus argues that the individualist social mobility discourse is flawed. However, whilst the individualist model denies the role of class structures, I argue that it constructs class identities by attaching stigma and status to individuals, who are held responsible for their own social trajectories. This narrative is implicated in processes of dominance and hegemony, and works to justify the current welfare cuts. I also argue, however, that by attending to participants’ experiences and using a class analysis it is possible to reframe social mobility within an equality agenda based on the redistribution of resources. This study therefore makes a significant academic contribution because it expands the understanding of how class impacts on social mobility experiences, it explicitly addresses the individualist discourse of social mobility, and it suggests an alternative more equitable model.


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