Nuanced White Trash: Embodying Class, Moving Through Time, and Caretaking in the Neoliberal University

Raechel Tiffe

"Well, middle class was fun."
—Roseanne Connor


[1] As I erase the white boards on the last day of class, I notice my hands and the bubble-gum pink polish chipping off my fingernails. I have eight patchwork tattoos, and when the weather is warm, five of them are visible. I am a white, working class queer femme, and I wear clothes that hug my hips. I am in New England, finishing my first semester as an Assistant Professor.

[2] The same week, my mom finishes the last class of her semester as a student at a community college in the Midwest. Her nails aren't polished, and her hands are worn with years of hard labor: delivering newspapers at 3am before going to her second job lifting and shifting stacks of paper for a lighting company; they are calloused from a year of lifting the elderly in and out of bed, and then, more recently, her own ailing parents. She is white, straight, has a bad back and chronic pain in her knee. She got her GED my third year of grad school, and then, at 55 years old, went back to school.

[3] Our positionalities on our last day of class can be elucidated through Pierre Bourdieu's concept of habitus. Bourdieu (1977) used habitus to theorize class not as a "population," but as a "system of dispositions (partially) common to all products of the same structures" (p. 11). Both my mom and I entered into our roles in academia with "a unique integration, dominated by the earliest experiences, of the experiences statistically common to the members of the same class" (p. 8, 1977). I have experienced tension in the space I occupy as the daughter of a working-class single-mother and also a salaried professor with a PhD. Mom has experienced tension as a 58-year old woman going to college for the first time. Our intersecting stories reveal a number of ways in which working-class academics negotiate (and are negotiated within) the university system. They reflect how class is more than demographic, it is a "product of history [that] produces individual and collective practices" (p. 82, 1977).

[4] However, Bourdieu's linear understanding of social location fails to fully account for the ways in which Mom and I—and working class academics, more generally—occupy our positions in higher education. Ours are stories that challenge normative temporality. These are stories that demand attention to how class is embodied. And they are stories that offer alternative possibilities for resistance through an affect of care and an ethic of dependency. The working class academic (queer) body disrupts the trajectory of the neoliberal university through its refusal to move normatively forward. Instead, our "progress" seemingly out of and away from our working class roots, is constantly mitigated through our affective ties to our homes, our families, and our experiences. We are dependent on our past as much as we are our "futures," as it is written on and in our bodies, and pulses through the blood that fuels our hearts. Additionally, as Lauren Berlant suggests, our dependency challenges the profit-driven enterprise of education because it is "the first step to solidarity" (in McCabe, n.p., 2011).

[5] In this essay, I put forth a theory that presupposes ways in which working class academics alter the neoliberal university system's relationship to time, bodies, and care. I will use queer approaches to futurity and temporality to highlight how working-class livelihood within the academy acts as a block to the linear "work hard and get ahead" progress model perpetuated by neoliberal institutions of higher learning. I start from a place of agreement with Lauren Berlant's (2011) theory of "cruel optimism"—that is, the ways in which subjects in disparate positions hold steadfast to unattainable attachments—but wish to expand on this theory to reveal how the position of those who ostensibly do find their way into positions above their former class status, is still a cruel one. Additionally, I will explain the relevance of the literal working class body in the academy and the ways in which our bodies challenge and are challenged by the academic landscape. Finally, I will build on theories of affective labor to suggest that working-class academics promote care-taking and an ethic of intentional dependency. I suggest that these interventions provide possibilities to "remediate equality as a radically alive contingent relation and not just a process of authoritarian inversion" (Berlant, n.p., 2011).

[6] Before I was a working-class academic, I was "just" a working class girl. In the section that follows, I will contextualize my current position through my past. To do so, I will draw on other accounts of working class queer academics to illustrate the ways in which our unique relationships to our pasts inform our futures.

Nuanced White Trash

[7] One of my earliest childhood memories is the smell of car grease, beer, and bacon on Sunday morning, wafting thickly through the air of my childhood home. We lived in a small ranch-style house in a rural area outside of Cleveland, Ohio. My dad raced stock cars on the weekends, and every Sunday morning his race car crew would come over to eat breakfast, watch Nascar (or, when my mom could get away with changing the channel, "Little House on the Prairie"), and drink beer. Mom cooked breakfast while the men around the table made lewd jokes, full of racial slurs, homophobic asides, and ample doses of sexism.

[8] In many ways, accounts of my childhood reify the cultural stereotype of the white working class. I grew up watching car races with people who did not have high school degrees. The spare room of our house was often filled with a friends who could not afford their rent, or our neighbor who got beat up by her alcoholic husband. My dad and most of his friends worked the night shift at jobs that required uniforms. We ate fast food and found ways to steal cable. Many of the adult women in my life wore lots of cheap makeup and clothes, usually too tight or too big, that were from K-Mart or thrift stores.

[9] Although all of this was a very real part of my early working class life, it is an incomplete account. Avery Gordon (2008) reminds us of the "complex personhood" of the "Other." She writes that all people "remember and forget, are beset contradiction, and recognize and misrecognize themselves and others. Complex personhood means that people suffer graciously and selfishly too, get stuck in the symptoms of their troubles, and also transform themselves" (p. 4). Indeed, my working-class family (given and procured) was full of "backwards" and artless low-brow conversation and antics. At the same time, I had a grandmother who loved the arts and had always been good with money in a way that allowed her to travel and take me to plays and museums. My mom never graduated college, but she read more than anyone I knew, and had a vocabulary to match. It was not uncommon for me to spend an afternoon drinking root beer in my dad's garage, Metallica blaring in the background, surrounded by pictures of tan white women in bikinis bending over muscle cars, and an evening at a five-star restaurant with my grandparents, who taught me very early which fork to use for each course of a meal. Financially and culturally we were "white trash," but we were nuanced white trash, and that gave me an early introduction to code switching and passing that would serve me profoundly in the future. I use the term "white trash" intentionally, with an awareness of its problematic nature. It, along with "red neck," is the only time that white people are racialized. Whiteness is invisible until it is devalued by a marginally inferior marker such as working class status or "deviant" sexuality.

[10] My father was hit by a drunk driver when I was four years old. He had been taking out the garbage after work, and was hit right in our front yard by a man who had left the bar down the street from our house. He was in a coma for months and when he eventually came out of it, he was permanently brain-damaged in a way that foreclosed any possibility of him being a functional father-figure. He lost ability to caretake and had a stunted mental capacity. Within a year of Mom taking care of both her husband and her daughter, my dad's mother got custody of him, and Mom began to raise me on one precarious income. Her first steady job was working in the cafeteria of a lighting company. I remember feeling embarrassed that she was a lunch lady.

[11] After my dad's accident, our financial situation got worse, but we spent more time with my mom's side of the family who, as previously noted, was invested in culturally upper class activities. It was always both/and. Almost all my clothes were second hand, and we lost our electricity more than once, but I also attended Shakespeare festivals in Canada and talked about Oscar nominated films with my teachers. I knew when and where to say certain things, and when to not talk about certain things. When I go to Sunday dinner with the grandparents, maybe don't mention that our neighbor stayed over again last night with a black eye. Maybe don't tell my friends at school that the reason we can't have a sleepover at my house is because we don't have hot water right now. When having dinner at a friend's house, don't talk about things that make people feel uncomfortable, (which turned out to be a long list relative to what was acceptable in my household). It was always both/and.

[12] These early lessons in passing would serve me through the course of my life. When I entered an undergraduate program at a private liberal arts college, afforded to me through the promise of a lifetime of student debt, I learned to stop acting shocked when people told me their parents were paying for college out of pocket or showed me pictures of their family homes. Erving Goffman (1963) describes passing as "the management of undisclosed discrediting information about self" (p. 42). I practiced this until I was able to contextualize my class status in my newfound far-Left politics. Prior to my involvement with the activist group on campus, not only did I work to manage information that I found to be potentially "discrediting," but I wasn't even sure how to articulate my past.

[13] My class-consciousness was the result of theory qua punk. I hadn't yet read Marx. I knew he was at this point and knew to be skeptical of capitalism, but the concept of "working class" was still unclear to me. One day, at a United Students Against Sweatshops conference, a punk activist friend of mine suggested I attend the Working Class Caucus. I remember my face getting hot, not knowing what that actually meant, not knowing why my friend thought I should go. "You've told me about how your mom works two jobs and how you struggled growing up," he explained his reasoning. "Yeah, but she...doesn't work in a factory or anything," I said, honestly thinking that might have been a qualification. "She doesn't have to work in a factory," my friend laughed, "She just has to be exploited." I scrunched my face. "Does she own anything? A business, a house?" he pressed on. I shook my head and laughed, "No." Then, he gave me the Marxist one-liner that made things very clear: "If she doesn't own the modes of production, she's working class." I paused, and then stated for the first time, "Well then, yes. We are working class."

[14] The word sat heavy on my tongue, but the rest of my body felt light. bell hooks (1994) describes the way theory heals pain, and in that moment I was indeed absolved of the misery of the stigma. Through identification, I found transcendence. I no longer felt like I needed to "pass," because I now had words to give what Judith Butler (2005) would describe as "an account of oneself." Impartial and flawed and incomplete as it may have been, it was mine.

[15] However, no longer feeling compelled to pass did not result in freedom to perform working class with abandon. Nor did it mean I stopped passing, unintentionally. Instead, I seemed, with my newfound understanding of theory, to pass more, and also became much more well-versed in the practice of code switching. Code switching is something I had been practicing my whole life, of course, but as I continued on to graduate school, I was confronted with the need for a more frequent and more skilled version of it. As my vocabulary expanded so too did the struggle between fitting in at school and fitting in at home. I now understood my roots as intrinsic and fundamental to my person, but the more I was able to articulate that understanding, the further I drifted from the foundation I shared with my "uneducated" (that is to say, not normatively educated) family.

[16] By the time I became a PhD candidate, occupying the liminal space between working class femme and ivory tower academic became, at times, almost unbearable. During the summer before preliminary exams I was on fellowship and I found it incredibly difficult to explain to my family that I was being paid to read. The concept of "living a life of the mind" never sat well with me. How dare I?, I often asked myself that summer. How dare I have a "job" that allows me to create my own hours, to sit in my air-conditioned apartment or coffee shop and read and think? How dare I not be participating in something that breaks my body and poisons my lungs, the same way my mother and father's bodies have been broken by their late-night shifts, and second-jobs, and lack of benefits. How dare I?

[17] Historian Alan Berube discusses living a life on the margins both as a gay man and as a working-class boy in his scholarship-funded college-prep school. He writes, "I knew that their attractive prep-school world wasn't really mine. I was their guest. Yet I no longer belonged at home, either. When my parents came to visit me, I was stunned to see them through the eyes of a different class...Who was I becoming? And where was I going?" (p. 148).

[18] I wonder the same thing all the time: who am I becoming and how do I reconcile my new language, my newfound comfort with higher-education, fancy conference hotels, performing manners that appease the upper echelon of the University elite? Amber Hollibaugh (2000) has a similar story, although Hollibaugh skipped college and went straight to revolutionary organizing and the New Left. Even without a college degree, Hollibaugh describes her access to ideas and language as the thing that told her she could never again go "home." Like Berube, Hollibaugh got a scholarship to attend a college prep-school where she received an education (and a copy of The Communist Manifesto) that became a sign of, she writes, "how I had become different... [My parents and I] had grown irrevocably apart. I was no longer duplicating the motions of women in my family. Now, it was clear, I was becoming a different kind of survivor" (p. 39).

[19] In what follows, I will explain the ways in which this queer survivorship enables working class academics to be bodies of subversion in the neoliberal university. Importantly, my use of queer theory is not merely a practice in intellectual exegesis. Rather, I understand my explicitly queer body and the queer position of other working class bodies, as the fundamental sites of rupture in the university system. I distinguish between two definitions of "queer." The first is the identity of queer that encompasses my own sexuality. The second use of queer denotes the marginal, non-normative position occupied by working class academics of any sexuality.

WCST: Working-Class Standard Time

[20] Ostensibly, the working class academic has reached a level of "success." I argue, however, that our "success" is made complicated by our relationship to time. Lauren Berlant (2013) suggests that the vast majority of people have an "attachment to compromised conditions of possibility whose realization is discovered either to be impossible, sheer fantasy, or too possible, and toxic" (p. 94). This disposition, which she calls, "cruel optimism," makes sense of "the affective attachment to what we call 'the good life,' which is for so many a bad life that wears out the subjects who nonetheless, and at the same time, find their conditions of possibility within it" (p. 97). Working class academics are in the unique position of being an ostensible success story." We become, without consent, a model for pulling ourselves up by our non-existent bootstraps. Our optimism, it would seem, paid off, insofar as we are "professionals"—albeit decidedly low-paid professionals (especially early in our careers and particularly those who perform adjunct labor). If marginalized people experienced the neoliberal promise of linear time, "success" might be a possibility; however, as queer understandings of futurity point out, we do not.

[21] Lee Edelman (2004) posits that queerness opposes the "constraining mandate of futurism" (p. 4). Although the limitations of Edelman's theory are vast (and beyond the scope of this paper), his argument that "queer comes to figure the bar to every realization of futurity, the resistance, internal to the social, to every social structure or form" (p.4) elucidates the ways in which queerness has the potential to disrupt the neoliberal progress narrative perpetuated by global capitalism. I argue, however, that queerness, in and of itself, is not enough to challenge temporality—rather, the queer body is one that is also classed and raced, and it is at these intersections where some insidious elements of academia are potentially weakened.

[22] Many scholars have posited that oppressed and marginalized groups—queers, the colonized, Brown and Black bodies—disrupt liberal notions of time (Halberstam, 2003; Bhaba, 1994; Bacoum, 2005). In his reflection on the queer temporality reflected through revolutionary Leftist organizations from the 1970s, Stephen Dillon (2013) writes

In this way, the past and present are not ontologically discrete categories, but are, rather, complex human constructs. The present is not a quarantined, autonomous thing. What was begun does not end but instead intensifies so that the past and present become indistinguishable. (p. 5)

Dillon goes on to point out that that, "for those bearing the brunt of white supremacy and heteropatriachy, the past, present, and future are not distinct temporal spaces" (p. 4). For the working class academic—and for working class academics of color who may or may not be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ)—not only is the future not a given, but it is never wholly separate from our past.

[23] This non-linear relationship to time represents itself in both banal and significant ways. Sometimes these things feel innocuous. For example, this rupture might occur through the juxtaposition of a seminar discussion about the future of the prison system and a phone call with a family friend who is in jail. I use this example because it has happened to me, and I am certain that because low-income people, queers, and people of color are disproportionately targeted by the police, that it has happened to other working class academics. The instance to which I refer had to do with a particular seminar conversation about prison abolition, a view that some might mark as utopian and inherently future-oriented, considering the firmly entrenched position of the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC). In the seminar I was surrounded by a group of almost entirely middle-class graduate students, and so I spoke on the matter as an academic (and, on this particular subject, an activist). My peers and I, in the comfort of our classroom, discussed the future of the prison system. The next day, when a family friend phoned from prison, I was jolted in to the present that was heavy with the burden of past choices, but, more importantly, the confines of haunted structures. She, like many people from my home town, had a drug and alcohol addiction and was in jail, this time, for writing a bad check.

[24] Certainly similar events could occur for middle and upper class academics. Anyone could get a phone call from their past that momentarily takes them out of the present moment. However, this sequence of events is unique for the working-class academic because of the ways in which our relationships to past difficulties are systemic rather than incidental. We are always-already implicated in these kinds of phone calls, these kinds of memories, because our livelihood was constructed in the foundation of a marginalized class position. Additionally, when my friend needed bail money, my unemployed mom found a way to scrounge up the cash to get her out. Working class academics are temporally and materially set back by these experiences. While it is admittedly a choice for me to take those phone calls, or for my mom to give her bail money, working class people often feel immense pressure to help out other working class people because no one else will.

[25] This blurring of time-space also happens in more direct ways, most prominently manifesting in the form of debt. The student debt crisis has been written about in terms of how it impacts students financially, but there is also a way in which debt impacts working class academics relationship to time. We know that the likelihood of students making it through the low-paying years of graduate school decreases when students come from a low-income background (Johnson, Van Ostern, & White, 2012; Nguyen, 2012). However, this reality is not just a blow to our bank accounts. Rather, this illustrates the flaw in the neoliberal concept of working hard to get ahead in life. The statistics on working class students that don't end up getting degrees reveals that hard work does not lead to progress.

[26] Even if working class academics do complete their degrees, many low-income students need to take additional jobs during graduate school to pay off student loans or take care of family members who can't afford to take care of themselves. This too alters the linear path forward—the working class academic's path is one that takes not only longer, but also veers off course. Finishing our degrees takes longer and once again reveals the illogicality of a progress narrative that promises success when one works at one thing at a time (in one time).

[27] Time is not the only aspect of the neoliberal agenda that the working class academic exposes as faulty. The conception of the ideal neoliberal citizen that one that adheres to norms of decorum that many members of the working class are denied (and/or choose not to practice). In the section that follows, I will discuss how the working class academic embodies class in a way that fundamentally challenges the semblance of neoliberal order projected by the university.

Classed Bodies

"Aesthetic intolerance can be terribly violent."
—Pierre Bourdieu
"...the body of the 'working-class' scholar that 'starts' sweating when confronted with the 'middle class,' serves to remind them, that they are and have always been associated with the body, and that the mind is business of the 'middle class.'"
—Claudia Leeb

[28] Class is written on the body. Working class people embody their economic roots in ways that can sometimes be hidden or changed, but often times are permanent fixtures of the flesh and bone. A lack of access to dental care might result in imperfect teeth—the smiles of working class academics ruining the department photos. A poor childhood diet of choices made in a food desert can lead to a lifetime of excess weight—the bodies of working class academics subverting the notion of controlled environment. Other aesthetic differences are learned traits that we either struggle to unlearn or choose not to unlearn. Working class academics' definition of "professional" (dress, language, etc.) is not the same as our middle class counterparts. These differences have the potential to cause conflict, but they also have the potential to productively confront the elitist confines of academia.

[29] My embodied class identity intersects with my race and sexuality. I am a white, working class queer femme. I am, without a doubt, afforded access to things because of my white skin privilege on a daily basis. My class and sexuality markers are mitigated by my Whiteness.

[30] However, I have been told, on more than one occasion, that I should consider dressing more "professionally." I have also been ridiculed for having several visible tattoos and wearing clothes that were deemed "inappropriate." Although I can credit some of my proclivity for wearing tight and/or revealing clothing to my (sex-positive) femme identity, my personal style wouldn't be the same with my working-class identity. I grew up watching women who wore tight clothes, lots of makeup, and had big teased hair. These women were (and still are) my heroes. I saw them fight like hell to survive working multiple jobs, raising children, and fighting off abusive men. When I choose to wear a tight skirt, tights with holes, bright red lipstick, and big hair, I am paying homage to the working class women of my past. When I sat in a tattoo parlor getting inked by my first lesbian girlfriend, I had no qualms about it because I didn't grow up with people who worked in jobs that would require a "professional" look.

[31] In his essay on being a genderqueer professional, activist Jacob Tobia (2014) writes,

Professionalism is a funny term, because it masquerades as neutral despite being loaded with immense oppression. As a concept, professionalism is racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, classist, imperialist and so much more—and yet people act like professionalism is non-political. Bosses across the country constantly tell their employees to 'act professionally' without a second thought. Wear a garment that represents your non-Western culture to work? Your boss may tell you it's unprofessional. Wear your hair in braids or dreadlocks instead of straightened? That's probably unprofessional too. Wear shoes that are slightly scuffed because you can't yet afford new ones? People may not think you're being professional either. (n.p.)

Here, Tobia motions reveals the ostensibly innocuous rhetoric of "professionalism" as one that is inherently oppressive. Working class academics, like workers in other "professional" spaces, are disciplined through the decorum of normativity. As a result, we are punished when we fall out of line.

[32] This dilemma is about more than past-influenced fashion choices or orthodontic-less teeth. This is about the way working class academics embody the exact things that the university attempts to break down. In her book Working Class Women in Elite Academia: A Philosophical Inquiry, Claudia Leeb (2004) posits that working class women experience "symbolic class violence" (p. 20) when they enter elite academic institutions. She explains, "disciplinary forces aim at her body and for her to leave her working-class body behind and, with it, her working-class behaviors, speeches, and acts" (p. 20). When working class academics refuse to perform the functions of passing and respectability, we put ourselves at risk of failing to advance. Yet we also carry with us the potential to practice an embodied anti-assimilationist politics that inevitably alters academia, aesthetically and substantively.

[33] However, even if we choose to resist assimilative behaviors, we are inevitably robbed of layers of our personhood. We are like tropical sojourners in cold climates. Our bodies freeze on a daily basis, we cling desperately to the memories of the heat of our past (even when the heat was unbearable, we miss it), but, without knowing it, we start to adapt. The cold becomes more tolerable. We buy a lighter coat. We adjust, without even realizing it. In his account of being a queer Asian working class academic, Justin Chin writes,

Being the first person in generations to break out of one class and into a more privileged one is a very strange thing. It is very much like immigration and exile: unless you're there for a long, long time, you remember too much of where you came from. You start to get nostalgic, you start to describe so you won't forget, you visit a lot and think that maybe one day you will return, but most of all, you realize that too much of your body is invested in too many places, too many memories and warnings flow in your blood. You never really fit in, you're always a stranger in a familiar land. You can try to pretend, you can be comfortable in your disguise, but you know you still can't buy your way out. (p. 188)

All academics endure struggles, but when our bodies are invested in too many places, as Chin notes, the working class academics burden is multiplied.

[34] When I entered my PhD program, I found only two other colleagues who grew up in working class homes. One was a white woman, A., also a queer femme, and the other was a Latino gay male, J. We often discussed the obstacles we faced as visitors in such unfamiliar territory. Often times this came up in discussions of how our middle class peers and advisors judged our clothes or the way we talked. A. described how she would swear in her classroom (something she grew up hearing and doing in her rural, working class Missouri town), much to the dismay of some students and many faculty. But for A., her refusal was a defiant act and an intentional decision to create pedagogically-sound discomfort for those for whom comfort is taken for granted. These decisions can be romanticized as resistance, but they are also weighted with the reality of consequence. A.'s teaching evaluations, while overwhelmingly positive, were occasionally peppered with negative accounts of her "unprofessionalism."

[35] This push and pull between wanting to hold on to our past and feeling obligated to rid ourselves of it seemed, for me, only endurable with the relationships I built with the aforementioned peers from similar class backgrounds. Our bodies in time and space were unruly and disobedient, and as our colleagues went forward, we shifted in between and alongside one another, our bodies both rejecting and being rejected from linearity. This camaraderie—chosen and essential for survival—reveals my final argument for the ways in which working class academics challenge neoliberal university agendas: through practices of collectivity and caretaking.

Caretaking as Resistance to Neoliberal Individualism

"In neoliberal normativity, to be dependent is to be non-sovereign: but in the era of austerity, it is the first step to solidarity."
—Lauren Berlant

[36] As I have discussed above (and lived through), the academy is a forward-moving place that is not designed to support a-linear working class modalities. I have also noted the ways in working class academic resistance can be either futile or punitive. I end this essay with a relatively pragmatic envisioning of working class academic potentiality, one that not only resists, but also constructs new ways of being in academia. At the crux of this vision is a move towards collective caretaking that I argue is a skill most working class people possess to a more developed degree than their middle and upper class counterparts. So too are caring and communal world-building efforts something practiced by queer-identified and other marginalized people. Although I am not trying to argue that the working class (or any other marginalized group) have any innate or essentialist characteristics, I believe our shared relationship to structural obstacles promotes an ethic of care borne out of necessity for survival.

[37] My own experience with the struggles—and potentials—of care taking are inextricably bound to my position as a working class academic. I am not, like my middle class millennial counterparts, doomed to be "worse off than my parents." Instead, as soon as I got my first job out of grad school, I took money from my humble savings to start a retirement account for my unemployed, savings-less mom. When my mom comes to visit me (on a plane ticket I got her for her birthday), I insist on paying for meals. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I don't always win that fight, and sometimes mom uses what little money she has to pay for our meals. So goes the common reality of the financially insecure—we are generous with what little we have because of "a belief that resources should be shared" (hooks, p. 40, 2000).

[38] bell hooks (2000) writes about the women in her black, working class hometown, explaining:

When mama would send us to neighbors with food or clothes we complained, just as we complained when she sent us to collect the gifts that were sometimes given to us by caring folks who recognized the material strains of raising a large family on one income, especially since patriarchal heads of households, like our dad, often kept much of their paycheck for their own private use. Women in our community understood this and had the best networks for figuring out ways to give and share with others without causing embarrassment or shame. (p. 40)

Here hooks illustrates the conditions that incline working class people—women, here, in particular—to practice a form of caretaking that is at once a means of mending the injuries of capitalism, and also hiding them. Working class people in elite spaces must do the same work.

[39] Joan Tronto (2010) rejects basing care models on the market, and seeks to go beyond traditional conceptions of "family care." Tronto argues that in order to create more caring institutions, we must turn to more nuanced views of family care, focusing on "first, a clear account of power in the care relationship and thus a recognition of the need for a politics of care at every level; second, a way for care to remain particularistic and pluralistic; and third, that care should have clear, defined, acceptable purposes" (p. 162). A politics of care, for Tronto, requires "recognition and debate/dialogue of relations of power within and outside the organization of competitive and dominative power and agreement of common purpose" (p. 162). The demand for dialogue and debate suggests a politics that is founded on collaborative communication.

[40] I believe care taking can be integrated into academic practices in many ways, but I will focus on one related to pedagogy and one concerning scholarship. Specifically, I will discuss mentoring working class students and the implementation of collaborative and alternative research models. My interventions are unique to traditional feminist theories of care ethics in that they center intersectional class positionalities rather than assuming women are essentially predisposed to performing care. I agree with hooks that working class family models are often ingrained with productive care taking practices, but echo Tronto who argues that we cannot rely on "automatic" care responses, and instead that "the best forms of institutional care will be those which are highly deliberate and explicit about how to best meet the needs of the people who they serve" (p. 169). Admittedly, much of what I suggest would require structural changes that are not going to be accomplished through the mere presence of working class academics. If there is another thing working class people often know well, it's organizing and solidarity. I will be focusing on these areas with the note that they will also require targeted organizing against oppressive university policies.

[41] The first way that I understand working class bodies as providing effective alterations to the university system is the way in which our mentorship can support the oft-neglected first generation college student. In my seven years of teaching, I have had countless experiences with working class students approaching me during office hours to discuss their unique positionalities in a sea of wealthier peers. One student was so grateful that I had "outed"umyself as having come from a low-income single parent household that she asked if I could help her with the first generation student group she had started, with no formal support, on campus. I was delighted to have a constructive way to channel my working class background to help a student in a similar position. In less formal ways, my ability to relate to the plight of working class students has motivated me to make concessions for their distinct challenges. For example, a working class Latina student of mine sent me an email requesting a paper extension because she needed to pick up extra shifts at work while her husband was unemployed. After I agreed to give her an extension, she approached me after class to say how much she appreciated it and how no other professor agreed to give her more time on her work. She explained, "You're the only one I told the reason to. That my husband was unemployed. I didn't tell any other professors that, because I didn't feel like I could talk to them about that. I don't know if that would have helped me, but honestly I don't think they would have cared."

[42] Although not everyone would agree that providing students with extensions is a positive move for the academy, I argue that, in certain situations, it is a necessity. I do not think it is a coincidence that my working class roots incline me to make exceptions on due dates. Our relationship to time, as I discuss above, is not linear. I grew up witnessing the ways in which getting from Point A to Point B requires various zig-zag stops along the way. Working class life means hassles because "we are not allowed a lot of conveniences" (Tirado, 2013). Whether it's running late because of a child (we cannot generally afford childcare), or missing a deadline because of unpaid electricity bill, or having to drive your mom to work because she can't afford to fix her car, working class people run on different schedules. Denying a student the opportunity to do the work as a punitive measure is a disservice to the mission of teaching and learning. Working class academics' intervention into pedagogical practices can be a powerful step towards better supporting first generation learners.

[43] Working class academics also have the potential to effectively alter the university system's approach to research and tenure. First, working class academics have a potential to bring to the research model the collaborative processes with which many of us have been raised. Although this article is not co-authored, I would not have been able to complete it without the relationships I built with my aforementioned colleagues (A and J, in particular), and my working class students. Finding a way to honor the people who have shaped work—even if they are not able to devote formal time and energy to the writing process—would reflect the reality that working class people know intimately: success is not an individual endeavor. Explicitly co-authored papers could also be a tool to help working class academics that may have outside responsibilities—(PhD candidates with multiple jobs, working class professors with dependent family members, etc.)—and may not have as much time to devote to writing as their middle and upper class colleagues.

[44] In addition, as a working class academic, it is very important for me to make my writing accessible to audiences outside the academy. The feeling of isolation from my home, as previously discussed, is slightly mitigated when I can find ways to communicate my work in less esoteric ways. It is not a coincidence that I have felt compelled to blog and write for popular online websites during my academic career—these are things that my family and hometown friends can read without paying exorbitant fees to get access to a journal, and without having to take a class to understand the words I use. I have been warned against doing too much of this "popular" work. Better, some of my peers have insisted, to stick with the normative framework of what "counts" as valuable work. That is, publishing abstruse essays in journals that very few eyes will ever see. More acknowledgment for collaborative work methods and alternative publication forums (including open-access journals) could lead to profound and important alterations in the currently-rigid and classist tenure process.


[45] I have a story that goes in the wrong order. I went to college and then my mom did. I have been making more money than my mom for years, and I have more social capital than she will ever have. Yet this is also not a "bootstrap" narrative of progress because I am never beyond my proverbial "rags" and I will never possess my proverbial "riches" in the way that neoliberal tales want us to believe. My working class body in the academy is a testament to the precarity of capitalist relations to time and space, and to the failures of hard-work, individualist frameworks. My and other working class academics' refusal (and/or inability) to assimilate—through dress, decorum, pedagogy, and scholarship—puts us at risk, but it also encourages promising new ways of being in the academy. As a white, queer working class femme, my experience in the academy is undoubtedly unique to my working class academic peers who have their own particularities in relation to race, nationhood, and ability. However, the commonalities shared by all working class academics are explored in this essay as ways to challenge normative frameworks that oppress us similarly.

[46] Throughout this essay, I put forth a theory that presupposes ways in which working class academics alter the neoliberal university system's relationship to time, bodies, and care. I suggest that ours is a battle of resistance and risk, but also promise. The late working class academic, Alan Berube (1996) wrote,

When we who are independent scholars, or the first generation to go to college, or avid readers and writers, do claim our intellectualities as our own, we become a force to be reckoned with. Among our most valuable resources are the abilities to see the familiar in new ways, to question privileged assumptions, and even to use our intellects to dismantle the powerful systems that cause the class injuries we know too well. (p. 155)

I believe too that members of the working class who work and stumble their way into privilege can be a "force to be reckoned with." Our ostensible disadvantage of never being capable of moving normatively forward actually provides us the unique ability to create a new form of knowledge and power that challenges rather than perpetuates oppression.

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