The "respectables" and the "roughs"


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The "respectables" and the "roughs" subjectivity and class in the academy and Victorian women's writing
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Leiby, Mary Ann T
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Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 1995.
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 304-321).
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by Mary Ann T. Leiby.
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"We think back through our mothers if we are women."

--Virginia Woolf

I dedicate this dissertation to two strong, inspiring women:
to my mother, who, upon my request, tirelessly read
Victorian novels to me when I was only three and four years
old, and who will always be, in my eyes, if not the eyes of
the world, a talented artist, writer, and fashion designer;
and to Mrs. Magda, my eighth-grade English teacher, who
warned me that throughout my life there would be people who
would tell me that I couldn't write; she made me promise
that I would never listen to them and that I would never,
ever stop writing.


SI wish to thank Dean Elizabeth Langland, my director,

for all of her support and encouragement; she allowed me to

"see red" when I needed to, yet helped me to write calmly

and wisely so that I might avoid those "awkward breaks" of

indignation that Virginia Woolf notes in so many women's

writings. I also want to thank my committee members--Dr.

Patricia Craddock, Dr. Chris Snodgrass, Dr. Daniel Cottom,

and Dr. Ofelia Schutte--for all of their suggestions and

support, especially Dr. Snodgrass, who has been a mentor and

father figure to me for many years. I am grateful to Dr.

Donald Ault, for sitting in at my defense at the last

moment, and to Dr. Beth Schwartz, a former committee member

and an inspiring feminist, who taught me that academics can

also be effective activists. I also want to thank the many

professors who supported my work and were so understanding

of the material conditions I have faced: Dr. Carolyn Smith,

Dr. Anne Jones, Dr. John Leavey, Dr. Jack Perlette, Dr.

Brandy Kershner, Dr. Brian Richardson, Dr. Marsha Bryant,

Dr. Al Shoaf, and Dr. Peter Rudnytsky. And, of course, I am

extremely grateful to the late Mary Kirkland, whose generous


bequest to the English Department gave me the financial

support I needed to conduct research in London and to write

for a semester without having to work.

I also must thank the fellow graduate students who

helped me so much in completing this dissertation: the

members of the Victorian studies dissertation seminar group

led by Dr. Langland--Christa Zorn-Belde, Marlene Trompe,

Mary Ellen Burke, Aeron Haynie, and Lori Amy, for their

suggestions and comments, as well as for loaning me books

that I could not afford to buy; Leslie J. Henson, for her

tireless editing, emotional support, use of her home and her

computer, all of the intellectual and spiritual work she

shared with me throughout our years of friendship and

collaborative teaching and research, and all of the money

she leant or gave to me, including buying a laser printer so

that I could print out this document; Venus S. Freemen, for

her friendship, all of her help in editing, the use of her

computer and printer, and the loan she gave to me so that I

could purchase the plane ticket that got me to London;

Jackie Wood, for her encouragement and emotional support,

especially that one day when I was ready to call it quits;

and all of the other graduate students who have helped me so

much over the years: Liz O'Donnell, Jeff Franklin, Rhonda

Riley, Richard Smyth, Leslie Gamble, and Anne Mckinley,

among others.

I also want to thank all of the secretaries in the

English Department, especially Kathy Williamson, who helped

me in so many ways that I can't list them all, although the

hugs meant the most--she deserves, as do all of the other

staff members of this university, a real opportunity to

acquire a college degree. I also want to thank the physical

plant workers who don't even know that I decided to remain

in graduate school because of them. I held the door open

for them one day. Thinking I was a staff worker, they were

surprised when I didn't walk into the office; one said, "Oh,

we thought you were with us." When I replied, "No, I'm not,

but really I am," he said, "I gotcha, sister," which gave me

the strength I needed to keep going: until then, I didn't

feel like I belonged at this university, let alone in a

doctoral program. I also thank the university editorial

staff who is editing this manuscript, as well as all of the

staff at this university; without them, we would have no


There are so many other people that I need to thank,

for without their encouragement and support, I never would

have finished this dissertation: Joan, my sponsor in Alanon,

who gave me more unconditional love than anyone I have ever

known; Dave Fisher, who, although he eventually ran off to

Detroit, was for a time a wonderful boyfriend--he turned

over his apartment and his computer to me, loaned me his

car, and held me when I thought that I just couldn't keep

going; George Marple, who gave me the money to buy my

passport and held me all night before my flight to London,

while I cried and insisted that a working-class girl like me

just didn't know how to go to Europe; Joe Lino, who wouldn't

let me give up on myself and risked losing his job to stay

with me and keep me alive; Mary Ruiz, who taught me how to

love myself despite the abuse I suffered as a child; Dr.

David Bole, my acupuncturist and herbal healer, who restored

most of my health when the pulmonologists at Shands Hospital

told me that I'd have to drop out of college and go on

disability; Dr. Kim Davidson, who gave me free medical care

and helped me through carbon monoxide poisoning, and Dr. Jim

Jernigan and Dr. Michael Dillon, for the excellent medical

care they also have given me; and Barbara Goosen and Jared,

who helped me to keep all of this in perspective and to

realize that it is my spiritual work--of which this

dissertation is only a small part--that is most important.

I also am grateful to all of the friends who have been

there for me throughout my Ph.D program, especially Dan

Ominski and Rob Bryant; Michael Earlle in London; and my

best friends back home in Pennsylvania--Lori (Campbell)

Vanier and Toni (Bruno) Petroski; as well as my students,

who have been so inspirational and supportive over the

years, especially Cynthia White, Lita Digloria, and Hung

Thai; and Vince Seehan, who shipped a used computer out to

me so that I could have one at home during the last days of

editing this dissertation. And I want to thank my family

most of all: my sister, Donna Snyder, who loaned me the

computer and encouraged me to keep the faith; my brothers,

Richard and Michael Leiby, who have been so supportive, both

emotionally and financially; my sister-in-law, Teresa

Defino, for all of her support and kind words; my father,

who gave me the gift of storytelling and is with me now in

spirit; and, above all others, my mother, upon whose love

and strength I have always relied.



ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS...................................... iii

ABSTRACT ................................................ ix


1 INTRODUCTION.............. ................ ....... 1

IN THE ACADEMY ................................ 29

CLASS. ............................ ............. 91

VICTORIAN FOLLY"............................. 150

WOMEN'S SUBJECTIVITY......................... 221

6 CONCLUSION....................................... 293

REFERENCES..... ....................................... 304

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH..................................... 322


Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Mary Ann T. Leiby

December 1995

Chairman: Elizabeth Langland
Major Department: English

This study reads the academy as a cultural text,

examining its class structure--the way it functions as what

Althusser terms an Ideological State Apparatus--within the

context of current debates on multiculturalism, canon

construction, and curricular transformation. Although

discourses of multiculturalism and the "trinity" of class,

race, and gender seem to circulate "freely" in the academy,

such discourses do not have the power to transform the

capitalist structure of the academy itself, which impedes

access for poor and working-class people. Even the

important work of feminism in reconstructing the literary

canon has yet to bring the voices of many poor and working-

class women into the canon or the classroom.

Drawing upon the work of M. M. Bakhtin, Pierre

Bourdieu, Louis Althusser and Antonio Gramsci, this study

examines class-biased constructions of the literary canon

and the academy itself, constructions that uphold standards

of "respectability" and "roughness" inherited from Victorian

culture. Because these standards have been interpellatedd"

culturally, they create the illusion of class homogeneity

while maintaining and policing rigid class boundaries;

certain multiculturalist, literary critical, and historical

discourses of the academy reinscribe these standards by

failing to take the materiality and complexity of class into


This project re-materializes class subjectivity by

exposing the class structure of the academy and its effect

on embodied subjects while identifying a number of forgotten

texts--the autobiography and fiction of Margaret Oliphant, a

Victorian writer from a lower middle-class background, and

the autobiographies and fiction of several lower middle-

class and/or working-class Victorian women writers such as

Isabella Fyvie Mayo, Mary Linskill, Elizabeth Mary Parker,

and Marianne Farningham. This study places these writers'

absence from the canon within the political context of the

academy's effacement of the materiality and complexity of

class subjectivity as well as within a theoretical and

practical re-materialization of that complexity.


'Just because you are paranoid doesn't mean they are
not out to get you' There is one of me and many
of them. (Stetson 127)

Universities are established to keep people like me
out, and to keep middle- and upper-class people in.
(Kadi 92-3)

There is a dirty little secret in America. [I]t
is class [and the] important realities of class
experience. (Parenti 55)

'If you don't believe me,' as Upton Sinclair wrote in a
study of the universities and the ruling class more
than fifty years ago, 'just come along and let me show
you--not merely the skeleton of the beast, but the
nerves and the brains, the blood and the meat, the hide
and the hair, the teeth and the claws of it.' (Smith

If Joanna Kadi seems "paranoid" about her access to the

academy, it's because she is. If Kadi, an Arab Canadian

lesbian from a working-class background, claims that

universities are established for the middle and upper

classes, that they "are designed to make working-class

people feel like we don't belong" (92, emphasis mine), it is

primarily because classism, as an actual material force, has

created in her that feeling of not belonging. Her feeling

of "paranoia"---her view that the academy is not accessible

to her, that it is like a "beast" with teeth and claws which

keeps[] people like [her] out"--is based upon the

"important realities" of her race, class, sexual

orientation, and gender experiences in the academy. These

"realities" are of a bodily, material kind--they exist more

than in theory--and cannot be explained in solely

theoretical, abstract terms. And despite the popularity of

"what Brook Thomas [has] dubbed the 'new trinity of class,

race, and gender' (200)" (Langland 18) in the academy, these

"realities" deserve more extensive investigation in academic

scholarship, especially as they relate to current debates on

multiculturalism, canon construction, and curricular

transformation in the academy.

Yet the moment that one begins to speak of "material

forces," of "realities" and "experiences" that are of a

"bodily, material" kind, certain difficulties arise that

must be addressed first before any further investigation can

take place; after all, these are all theoretically vexed

issues, ones that poststructuralist theory, in all its

myriad forms, has taken up in recent years. Before being

able to clarify what I mean by the term "material," I must

then necessarily position my reading of it within the

context of current debates circulating in poststructuralist

circles, for while the term "class" certainly hints at what

I mean by "material forces," the term itself is also

implicated in these debates. The work of Teresa Ebert will

be helpful here, as she clarifies a distinction between two

key "clusters" of postmodern theory: "ludic postmodernism"

and "resistance postmodernism" (887).

Ebert defines "ludic postmodernism" as the form used by

those who "address reality as a theatre for free-floating

play (hence the term 'ludic') of images, disembodied

signifiers and differences," and she points to the work of

Derrida, Baudrillard, and Lyotard as exemplative of this

"cluster" (887). Their work, she claims, results in a sort

of "rhetorical or textual politics aimed at obscuring

prevailing meanings and disrupting the oppressive totality

of what Lyotard calls 'cultural policy'" (887). However,

this "textual politics," she contends, ultimately ends up

"dismantling the notion of politics itself as a

transformative social practice outside language" because of

its deconstruction of "grand narratives" such as

"emancipation," of "identities" such as race, gender, sexual

orientation, and class, and of "the referent" and

"experience as unfounded and divided by difference" (887).

Drawing her linguistic theory, not from Saussure, as do

the "ludic postmodernists," but from Bakhtin and Voloshinov,

Ebert articulates the other "cluster"--"resistance

postmodernism"--as a form of postmodern theory "that views

the relation between word and world, language and social

reality or, in short, 'difference,' not as the result of

textuality but as the effect of social struggles" (887); as

such, this form of postmodern theory, she contends, is able

to "build a new socially transformative politics of

emancipation and freedom from gender, race, and class

exploitation" because it "insists on a materialist political

practice that works for equal access for all to social

resources and for an end to the exploitative exercise of

power" (887, emphasis mine).

Ebert's reference here to "materialist" practice and

"social resources" begins to address what I mean by the

"material realities" of race, class, sexual orientation, and

gender "experience" that women like Kadi face, "realities"

that affect these women's "access" to the academy. When

Ebert uses the term "social resources" she moves closest to

my emphasis on the "material," which I define as those forms

of "capital"--economic, educational, cultural, social,

symbolic, scientific, to use Pierre Bourdieu's terms--that

provide people access to those "social resources"' and thus

to a particular "class" positioning. Daniel O'Hara,

utilizing Jon Elster's modification of Marx's definition of

"class," argues that a "class" appears as "a collective

actor on the historical scene" because of its members'

"endowments," which are basically "what people possess or

own: some means of economic and/or cultural production and

reproduction" (417).

1 These "social resources" might include, but are not
limited to, housing, food, a safe physical environment,
healthcare, education, employment, clothing, and other
necessities for maintaining bodily, emotional, and spiritual

What I term "material forces," then, are these very

"means of economic and/or cultural production and

reproduction," as well as whatever "forces" impede access to

such "means." Because various forms of "capital" other than

"economic"--differing forms of knowledge (educational,

scientific, cultural), modes of physical behavior,

mannerisms, speech--all serve, along with "economic"

capital, to "purchase"2 what Bourdieu terms a "habitus," it

is impossible to separate the "material"--the economic, the

physical, the bodily--from the "symbolic" or the

"historical." As John Fiske explains, especially under

conditions of oppression--and I would define these as

sexism, classism, racism, homophobia, ageism, ableism, and

other forms that restrict peoples' access to social

resources--"social experience and, therefore, culture is

inescapably material" (155). "The culture of everyday

life," he contends, is "concrete, contextualized, and lived,

2 While I am aware that for Bourdieu a "habitus" is
largely unchosen, I utilize this play on "purchase" to imply
that a certain level of agency is involved. As Patti Lather
notes, for many postmodern feminists, the "subject" is
neither a "romanticized individual" nor a mere "pawn of
social determinants"; instead, it can be theorized in "ways
that offer hope for sustained contestation and resistance"
(131). Perhaps not so much as children, but certainly as
adults, people have some control over a "habitus" through
the various capitals that create it. One can, to a certain
extent, reject, give away, acquire, or share the forms of
capital needed to construct a particular habitus. For
interesting analyses of these possibilities, see Irena
Klepfisz's "The Distances Between Us: Feminism,
Consciousness and the Girls at the Office: An Essay in
Fragments" and Julie Caniglia's "Lifestyles of the
Privileged Poor."

just as deprivation is concrete, contextualized, and lived.

It is, therefore, a particularly difficult object of

academic investigation" (155).

Thus, to investigate the "everyday" experiences of

women like Kadi and the "deprivation" entailed in these

experiences, as well as how those experiences create a valid

"paranoia" concerning the academy, is "difficult" without

insisting upon a "materiality" that is not separate from

"symbolic" or "historical" forces. Fiske provides an

excellent description of Bourdieu's "habitus," one that is

crucial to my definition of such "materiality," and thus it

is worth quoting at length:

The concept 'habitus' contains the meanings of
habitat, habitant, the processes of habitation and
habit, particularly habits of thought. A habitat
is a social environment in which we live: it is a
product of both its position in the social space
and of the practices of the social beings who
inhabit it. The social space is, for Bourdieu, a
multidimensional map of the social order in which
the main axes are economic capital, cultural
capital, education, class, and historical
trajectories; in it, the material, the symbolic,
and the historical are not separate categories but
interactive lines of force whose operations
structure the macro-social order, the practices of
those who inhabit different positions and moments
of it, and their cultural 'tastes,' ways of
thinking, of 'dispositions. The position in
social space, the practices and identities are not
separate categories in a hierarchal and
deterministic relation to one another, but
mutually inform one another. (155)

I believe that Ebert's call for "a materialist

political practice that works for equal access for all to

social resources and for an end to the exploitative exercise


of power" can only be enacted at those "interactive lines of

force," which Bourdieu points to as constituative of the

"habitus"--"the material, the symbolic, and the historical,"

whose very "operations structure the macro-social order."

Ebert believes, and I agree with her, that "ludic"

postmodernism alone is not capable of such "a materialist

political practice," for as Jennifer Cotter points out, this

"ludic" theory "understands the 'material' to be a process

that is an 'effect' of discursive production ['symbolic'

production alone], open to 'intervention' at the level of

(re)signification through the 'deconstruction' of

contradictions located at the site of cultural

representation" (226). But whether such "'intervention'"

can actually transform the "structure [of] the macro-social

order"--a transformation necessary to achieving the "equal

access" Ebert calls for--is indeed questionable, given that

the "macro-social order" involves a class structure, and, as

Cotter notes, "'class' is not simply a congealment of

discourses, but a structural relation that cannot be

renegotiated through 'subversive repetition' or

'reversibility'" alone (230).

Ebert and Cotter are not, of course, the first feminist

critics to point to problems with the way "ludic" postmodern

theory defines the "material." Many others have criticized

such theory, especially for its "handling" of the body.

Because the "material" is inextricably linked up with the

body, it will be useful to turn briefly to this issue.

Susan Bordo argues that "[i]f the body is a metaphor for our

locatedness in space and time and thus for the finitude of

human perception and knowledge, then the postmodern body is

no body at all" (145). Bordo is referring here to the

"ludic" postmodernist preoccupation that Cotter notes: that

emphasis on the "material" as "a process that is an 'effect'

of discursive production" that is open to "intervention"

(226) through discursive "'subversive repetition' or

'reversibility'" (230). Bordo argues that through "paradox,

inversion, self-subversion, facile and intricate textual

dance" such readings are "continually 'slip-slidin' away'"

(144). While it is one thing, she contends, to "deny the

unity and stability of identity," it is another to indulge

in "[t]he epistemological fantasy of becoming multiplicity--

the dream of limitless multiple embodiments, allowing one to

dance from place to place and self to self" (145). Bordo

asks, "What sort of body is it that is free to change its

shape and location at will, that can become anyone and

travel anywhere?" (145); Ebert would answer: a body that is

not material, that has unlimited "access to [all] social

resources," that is not subject to "the exploitative

exercise of power" in our culture; in short, a body that is

not a body.

Such a body, or embodied subject, does not "live" in

any context, any social "habitus," but rather, lives only in

the symbolic, in discourse. As Carol Bigwood argues, "the

poststructuralist body is contextualized only as a place

marker in quasi-linguistic systems of signifiers. It is so

fluid that it can take on almost limitless embodiments. It

has no real terrestrial weight" (59). It is such material

"weightiness" that I want to reintroduce into postmodernist

debates over embodied subjects, for it is this "weightiness"

that is too often absent in the academic scholarship

concerned with the "trinity of class, race, and gender," a

"trinity" currently popular in fields such as Literature,

Cultural Studies, and Women's Studies.

What has made this "trinity" so "weightless"? As Cora

Kaplan explains, "there is [often] a gap between what people

think they are doing, and what they are actually doing, and

it is important to think about what happens in that gap"

(164, emphasis mine). While there may be a recent

proliferation of "class, race, and gender" in the academy,

we ought to keep in mind Kaplan's point that class, like

race and gender, "is 'made' and 'lived' in both conscious

and unconscious registers through a variety of languages and

practices at any given point in history" (164). At this

"point in history," the academy's "languages," its

discourses of "class, race, and gender"--even those that

appear to be "materially" based--may very well be distanced

from, while still a part of, the material "class, race, and

gender" practices of the academy, "practices" that I, along

with a number of feminist and liberal-left scholars, contend

are still exclusionary3 and thus cause the "paranoia" of

women such as Kadi. Such discourses, then, while part of

the production of these "practices," might also be

implicated in the "gaps" between what "people think they are

doing"--the theory--and what people "are actually doing"--

the praxis.

At least in theory and in academic discourse, "class,

race, and gender," like their counterparts--

"multiculturalism" and "diversity"--have indeed swept the

academy, to the extent that political ultra-conservatives

3 The following list provides a sample of such
scholarship, but it is by no means all-inclusive: Working-
class Women in the Academy: Laborers in the Knowledge
Factory, edited by Michelle M. Tokarcyzyk and Elizabeth A.
Fay; selections from Gendered Subjects: the Dynamics of
Feminist Teaching, edited by Margo Cully and Catherine
Portuges, especially Adrienne Rich's "Taking Women Students
Seriously," Erlene Stetson's "Pink Elephants: Confessions of
a Black Feminist in an All-white, Mostly Male English
Department of a White University Somewhere in God's
Country," Judith McDaniel's "Is There Room for Me in the
Closet? Or My Life as the Only Lesbian Professor," and
Elizabeth V. Spelman's "Combating the Marginalization of
Black Women in the Classroom"; selections from Too Much
Schooling, Too Little Education: A Paradox of Black Life in
White Societies edited by Mwalimu J. Shujaa; selections from
Minorities in Higher Education, edited by Manuel J. Justiz,
Reginald Wilson, and Lars G. BjOrk; Nadya Aisenberg and Mona
Harrington's Women of Academe: Outsiders in the Sacred
Grove; the British study of women in higher education, Is
Higher Education Fair to Women?, edited by Sandra Acker and
David Warren Piper; Feminisms and Critical Pedagogy, edited
by Carmen Luke and Jennifer Gore; Lynn Weber Cannon et al.'s
"The Costs of Exclusionary Practices in Women's Studies";
Maria de la Luz Reyes and John J. Halc6n's "Racism in
Academia: the Old Wolf Revisited"; Estella Mara Bensimon's
"Lesbian Existence and the Challenge to Normative
Constructions of the Academy"; and bell hook's Teaching to
Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom.


have become "paranoid": Pat Buchanan, for example, is driven

to insist emphatically that "Judeo-Christian values" will

not be "dumped into some landfill called multiculturalism"

if he and his followers can help it (Macedo 91); and as

Michael Parenti notes, along with Buchanan are numerous

other "ultra-rightists who claim that liberals, Jews, labor

leaders, communists, feminists, and homosexuals have taken

over and are [thus] undermining the fabric of America"

(170). Dinesh D'Souza argues in his book, Illiberal

Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus, that

"[t]he transformation of American campuses is so sweeping

that it is no exaggeration to call it an academic

revolution" (2), and he terms this revolution a "victim's

revolution" 17), claiming that phrases like "[d]iversity,

tolerance, multiculturalism, pluralism" are now "perennially

on the lips of university administrators" (17).

Such words may indeed be "on the lips of university

administrators," but how many administrators and how

"perennially" are certainly debatable questions. As

Katherine Bartlett points out, certainan voices are being

heard in the university more often, more loudly, and more

insistently than before," and she explains that givenvn

what we are accustomed to hearing from these voices--

silence--the noise is deafening" for ultra-conservatives

(327). Their "paranoia," then, is hardly based in the

"important realities" of women's lives like Kadi's or in the

very different "paranoia" they face. These critics of

multiculturalism would hardly understand these women's
"realities" and their "paranoia"; nor, however, can they be

completely explained by what Kobena Mercer refers to as that

"all-too-familiar mantra" ("Welcome" 58): the "class, race,

and gender" discourse of the academy.

What slippage is occurring, then, between these women's

"realities" and those expressed in the discourses that

currently circulate in the academy or in the media? These

discourses seem so disparate, including ultra-conservative,

anti-"PC" ones that bemoan the multiculturalist takeover of

the universities; discourses of "multiculturalism" that rely

on notions of "access" and "equality" to propagate the

assumption that a "diversity" of race, class, gender, sexual

orientation, age, ability, and other subjectivities4 are now

hard-won givens in the academy; and "multiculturalist"

discourses that are used to theorize curriculum and canon,

without necessarily having any impact upon the actual bodies

present in or absent from the academy. What creates this

4 I prefer this term versus "identity" because, as
critical pedagogy theorists Henry Giroux and Peter McLaren
note, "identity" implies a fixed, unitary subject, whereas
"subjectivity" acknowledges the role of self-understanding--
the way "individuals make sense of their experiences"--as
well as the role of cultural forms which constrain or enable
such understandings (14). "Subjectivity" also addresses the
heterogeneity of identity, and "the fact that individuals
consist of a decentered flux of subject positions" which are
dependent upon "discourse, social structure, repetition,
memory, and affective investment" (14-15). See Chapters Two
and Three for more discussion of subjectivity, especially
its relation to cultural constructions of class.

slippage between what right-wing "paranoid" discourses and

certain "multiculturalist" discourses have in common--the

perpetuation of a steadfast belief in the "sweeping" change

towards diversity in the academy--and the "paranoia" felt by

women such as Kadi, women who see themselves as struggling

against forces which are "sweeping" them and others like

them right out of the academy? What could be missing from

"multiculturalism" which might explain Kadi's "paranoia" and

the experiences of exclusion generating such "paranoia"?

As Parenti points out, part of what is missing is the

class aspect of these experiences, for class is such a

"dirty little secret" (55) in our culture. "The expressions

of class bigotry in our films and television, and in our

institutions and daily lives remain largely unexamined, as

do most of the more important realities of class experience"

(Parenti 55). These material "realities" of "class

experience" are the very ones that tend to drop out of the

theorized race, class, gender triad in the academy; class,

as distinct from, impacting upon, or deriving from race and

gender (as well as other aspects of identity), has become

literally de-materialized in some academic scholarship,

oftentimes through the very medium of "multiculturalist"

discourse that seems to emphasize class. Scholars such as

Parent and Kaplan, however, as well as others like

Elizabeth V. Spelman, bell hooks, Teresa Ebert, Raymond

Williams, Henry Giroux, Peter McLaren, Michele Wallace,

Teresa DeLauretis, Kathleen Weiler, and Donald Macedo, to

name a few, resist such a de-materialization of class in

their work and instead point out and explain such de-

materialization in the academy, as well as in our culture in

general. And they ask hard questions of those critics who

enact such a de-materialization. For example, Carmen Luke

asks postmodernist theorists of critical pedagogy,

[i]n terms of that oppressed triad--race, class,
gender--how will critical and dialectical
thinking, expressions of subjectivity and cultural
experience, and a language of critique transform
the real material conditions of, for instance,
inner-city girls and women of color ? (36)

To address such "real material conditions," many of

these scholars rely upon the work of class theorists like

Pierre Bourdieu, Louis Althusser, and Antonio Gramsci. As

Daniel O'Hara points out, their reliance is the exception

rather than the rule, for "despite today's rote invocations

of 'class' in the catchphrase 'race, class, and gender,'

American criticism in particular has generally not kept in

contact with [post-Marxist] revisions in the theory of

class" (406). Yet it is just such revisions that can help

to explain the "paranoia" of women like Kadi and what is

missing from "multiculturalism" that has served to

perpetuate the "real material conditions" behind that

"paranoia." Part of the problem, of course, has been that

the "ludic" postmodernist emphasis on textualization and

discursive "play" has translated too often into a

multiculturalist emphasis restricted to issues of the canon


--to the "texts" of the academy--rather than a focus on the

raced, classed, and gendered embodied subjects of the

academy. But as John Guillory points out, "[t]he canon

itself is an historical event; it belongs to the history of

the school" (244). Looking at that "history," especially as

it has occurred within capitalism, is extremely important

for formulating a means of enacting Ebert's call for a

"transformative, materialist postmodern feminism" (888), a

feminism that can "articulate the social struggles in which

difference is inscribed in order to activate old and new

sites of resistance, opposition, and change" (889). These

"sites" can then effectively address the "paranoia" of women

like Kadi.

Louis Althusser's work on ideology will be helpful in

examining the academy as a site with particular "material

conditions," as a social "habitus" that functions to include

and exclude certain embodied subjects, because the academy

reproduces the capitalist class structure of our society

through both its structure and the various forms of ideology

it reinscribes. James Kavanagh explains that in a

contemporary Marxist framework such as that offered by

Althusser's revisions of Marxist theory,

ideology designates a rich 'system of
representations,' worked up in specific material
practices, which helps form individuals into
social subjects who 'freely' internalize an
appropriate 'picture' of their social world and
their place in it. Ideology offers the social
subject not a set of narrowly 'political' ideas
but a fundamental framework of assumptions that

defines the parameters of the real and the self;
it constitutes what Althusser calls the social
subject's '"lived" relation to the real.' (310)

As Kavanagh explains, ideologicalcl analysis in literary or

cultural study" concerns itself primarily with the

"institutional and/or textual apparatuses that work on the

reader's or spectator's imaginary conceptions of self and

social order in order to call or solicit"--in Althusser's

terms, "interpellate"--"him/her into a specific form of

social 'reality' and social 'subjectivity'" (310). The

academy is itself one of these "institutional apparatuses"

that work on conceptions of self through the process of

interpellationn." As Althusser explains, "it is bourgeois

ideology, bourgeois 'culture,' which is in power, which

exercises 'hegemony'" ("Philosophy" 16), and that ideology

must be "reproduced" in a capitalist society.

In early capitalist societies, this reproduction

occurred primarily through the means of production, but in

late capitalist societies, such as that of the United

States, the reproduction "is achieved more and more outside

production: by the capitalist education system, and by other

instances and institutions" ("Ideology" 132). Althusser

terms these institutions "Ideological State Apparatuses"

(ISAs), arguing that they function "massively and

predominantly by ideology, but they also function

secondarily by repression, even if ultimately, but only

ultimately, this is very attenuated and concealed, even

symbolic" ("Ideology" 145). He contends that "what the

bourgeoisie has installed as its number-one, i.e. as its

dominant ideological State apparatus, is the educational

apparatus," which has replaced the Church in that role

("Ideology 154-5). Thus, the academy, and the educational

system in this country in general, is, according to

Althusser, the dominant reproducer of bourgeois ideology,

and it works most effectively because it is presented as "a

neutral environment purged of ideology" ("Ideology 156).

One consequence of the debates surrounding

multiculturalism has been the problematization of that myth

of "neutrality"; however, it is those academics who are

liberal and left-of-center--the proponents of

multiculturalism--who are viewed as having an "ideology."

Prior to the advent of "multiculturalism," the ultra-

conservative myth goes, the academy was indeed "neutral" and

objective. Althusser reminds us, however, that the academy

never was neutral, that it always has functioned to

reproduce the capitalist system, which includes, of course,

excluding certain classed, raced, and gendered embodied

subjects from the academy in order to keep them in a certain

place in the class hierarchy of labor. Thus, even when

discourses of multiculturalism and the "trinity" of "class,

race, and gender" seem to circulate "freely" in the academy,

those discourses do not have the "revolutionary" power to

transform the capitalist structure of the academy itself.


It is still a site of reproduction of the very ideology that

operates against multiculturalisms. As Weiler notes,

Bourdieu argues that the "valued school knowledge is, in

fact, the cultural knowledge of the bourgeois class" (10),

but "the school's 'relative autonomy enables it to serve

external hegemonicc] demands under the guise of independence

and neutrality,'" thereby concealing its reproduction of the

class structure (10). Thus, the educational ISA "reproduces

existing class structure" in particular through the

"cultural capital" it deems valuable--bourgeois "cultural

capital" that poor and working-class students cannot easily


Weiler justly criticizes Althusser's work, however, for

not considering the "actual processes by which social

reproduction is achieved" (9) and Bourdieu's for not

addressing the "actual experience of schooling or teaching,"

for presenting students and teachers as "passive parts of

the process of reproduction" (11). She turns to Gramsci's

theory of hegemony and counter-hegemony, for "in his

formulation hegemony is never complete, [it is] always in

the process of being reimposed and always capable of being

resisted by historical subjects" (17). This "resistance" is

the element that Ebert wants to include in feminist

postmodernism, but it is a "resistance" that cannot be

achieved solely through discursive "ludic" intervention, for

that intervention serves to de-materialize class.

Wallace expresses a concern shared by a number of

scholars over this de-materialization of class (as well as

of other aspects of subjectivity):

Many individual events on the current cultural
landscape conspire to make me obsessed with
contemporary debates over 'multiculturalism'. .
but my concern is grounded first and foremost in
my observation of the impact of present material
conditions on an increasing sector of the
population. These material conditions, which
include widespread homelessness, joblessness,
illiteracy, crime, disease (including AIDS),
hunger, poverty, drug addiction, alcoholism, as
well as the various habits of ill health, and the
destruction of the environment are (let's face it)
the myriad social effects of late multinational
capitalism. (180, emphasis mine)

Peter McLaren shares "Wallace's conviction that .

multiculturalism," with its popular theoretical focus on

class, race, and gender, "cannot afford to have [its]

connection to wider material relations occulted by [this]

focus on theoretical issues divorced from the lived

experience of oppressed groups" (194, emphasis mine). Very

similar to Ebert's approach, McLaren brings what he terms a

"critical" or "resistance" postmodernist perspective to bear

on the issue of multiculturalism (200), particularly on "the

discourse of multiculturalism" as it is used by both some

liberals and conservatives in a sort of "politics of

assimilation" (204), one in which "multiculturalism" and

"diversity" melt down cultural difference through "the

political ladling of the long-brewing 'melting pot'" (195).

"Resistance postmodernism," he contends, through its

deconstruction of "the discourse of multiculturalism,"

"unsettles such a notion of [melting pot] universal common

humanity by exploring identity within the context of power,

discourse, culture, experience, and historical specificity"


McLaren's "resistance postmodernist" approach is useful

for reading the academy as a cultural text, in particular

for examining the ways in which class and the materiality of

class are rendered invisible by the use of certain types of

multiculturalist discourses circulating in the academy. As

Parent points out, there is a

tendency to deal with race and gender while
ignoring class [that] is manifested in
universities and colleges across this nation.
Courses and books designed to deal with
distortions and omissions in literature, social
science, and history usually focus on race and
gender without much mention of class forces.
Important and valuable battles have been waged on
behalf of various multicultural programs and
women's studies. But few, if any, schools offer
comprehensive study programs in class struggle and
class power, nor would such programs be treated as
having a legitimate claim to academic standing.
Rather, they would be dismissed as 'Marxist,' and
therefore of no value. (137)

It is, I will argue, this rendering invisible of class in

the academy that Parenti notes here, as well as a rendering

invisible of the materiality of class, which has in turn

rendered invisible a more thorough examination of the

embodied subjects excluded by the academy, those who do not

belong, those who are "kept out" by its very design--those

like Kadi.

The chapters which follow seek both to explain and

address Kadi's materially based "paranoia," as well as to

heed bell hook's "call for a recognition of cultural

diversity, a rethinking of ways of knowing, a deconstruction

of old epistemologies" that occurs "concomitant[ly]" with "a

demand that there be a transformation in our classrooms, in

how we teach and what we teach" (Teaching 29-30), for only

through these strategies can we "restore life" to what hooks

refers to as "a corrupt and dying academy" (Teaching 30).

Thus, in Chapter Two I deal not only with a deconstruction

of certain "multiculturalist" discourses, but I also examine

the prevailing myth of classlessnesss" in our society that

is reproduced through the two powerful ISAs of the

educational system and the media. To begin Ebert's project

of working "for access for all to social resources" I

examine the class structure of the academy, exposing the way

it is set up to impede such access for poor and working-

class people, a set-up obscured by certain multiculturalist

discourses operating in the academy. I heed Tony Bennett's

call to "put policy into cultural studies," by including in

this chapter

hard statistical work calculated to make certain
problems [classism, racism, sexism, ableism, and
ageism in particular] visible in a manner that
will allow them to surface at the level of
political debate or to impinge on policy-making
processes in ways which facilitate the development
of administrative programs capable of addressing
them. (32)


I problematize the notion that poor and working-class people

have had significant access to the academy in recent

decades, providing, on the contrary, substantial evidence

that they have been excluded from the academy by material

forces that are predominantly classist and racist.

In Chapter Three I identify certain "forgotten texts"--

the autobiography and fiction of Margaret Oliphant, a

Victorian woman writer from a lower middle-class background,

and the autobiographies and fiction of several "working-

class" Victorian women writers--and place their absence from

the canon within the context of the academy's effacement of

class. Asking why these writers have been left out of the

canon--other middle-class women writers were not, nor, to a

certain extent, were working-class male writers--I begin to

examine "master discourses" of the academy, those of history

in particular, which may have contributed to their absence.

I critique what I recognize as an "Imperialist Middle" bias

in constructions of Victorian social history by a number of

historians, and begin the work of pinpointing those

historians who have begun constructing a more complex class

continuum, along which the subjectivities of the writers I

identify might be positioned. Along with this continuum, I

theorize a connection between the constructions of class

during the nineteenth century and those operative today.

The myth of classlessnesss" in our culture, as well as the

American Dream and the myth of upward mobility associated

with it, homogenize and simplify class, making class an

issue of morality versus materiality. Using Pierre

Bourdieu's and Reginia Gagnier's work, I clarify some of the

complexities ignored by these myths. Discussing the

"respectable"/"rough" dichotomy of middle- and working-class

identity, as it relates to Victorian constructions of

subjectivity as well as those currently operative in the

academy and our culture in general, I demonstrate how

materiality disrupts this dichotomy, exposing it as false.

"Respectability" and "roughness," I contend, are class-

identified categories that create the illusion of class

homogeneity, maintain and police class boundaries, and

perpetuate particular material, cultural, and social

conditions; these categories also relate to the way in which

universalized human traits of materiality become both

gender- and class-identified. Thus, identification and

analysis of the discourses of "respectability" and

"roughness" are crucial steps towards re-materializing

women's subjectivities in the academy.

In Chapter Four I analyze the way in which these

discourses have been used to construct the subjectivity of

the Victorian writer Margaret Oliphant. I detail the

extensive revisions of Oliphant's autobiography by her

editor, Annie Coghill, and subsequent literary critics,

revisions that mute the "rough" or "working class" aspects

of Oliphant's self-presentation in favor of a decorous,

"respectable" middle-class representation. I illuminate

Coghill's editing process, discussing the "rough" elements

she removed from the autobiography: Oliphant's "rough,"

extremely caustic remarks on others, her grief over the

deaths of her children, especially that of her daughter, her

suicidal thoughts and blasphemous upbraidings of God, her

negative descriptions of her body, important material

details concerning money and her work, certain "rough"

aspects of her family life such as drunkenness and debt, her

descriptions of the fights between her husband and her

mother, as well as references to the editing process itself.

I demonstrate that Oliphant's text as a complete manuscript

is constructed in a way that makes visible both "working-

class" and "middle-class" aspects of her subjectivity, as

well as both "rough" and "respectable" aspects, thus

demonstrating the complex interrelationship of gender and

class. I link Coghill's reconstruction of Oliphant into the

purely "respectable" middle-class lady with the

homogenization and "normalization" of class subjectivity

operative in the academy as well as with the politics of

Oliphant's "position" in the literary canon, which has been,

for the most part, a lack of position.

In Chapter Five I read the story of my own career in

the academy in the context of several autobiographies and

novels by "working-class" Victorian women in order to

historicize the politics of the academy and feminist

criticism. Examining these writers' self-constructions, I

demonstrate how their subjectivities exemplify the

multiplicity, fluidity, and heterogeneity of class

overlooked by some historians and literary critics.

Relating how both my and their subjectivities have been

constructed through the "respectable"/"rough" dichotomy, I

examine the politics of inclusion and exclusion both in the

academy and the literary canon. Demonstrating how

recognition of working-class subjectivity is important to

these autobiographers because of their emphasis on the need

for role models for other working-class women, I relate that

need to a discussion of the significance of role models for

working-class women in the academy. I theorize "working-

class" ways of reading in the context of the debate over

women's ways of reading, noting how materiality functions as

a site of value for "working-class" analysis of culture. I

then analyze the fiction of three "working-class" Victorian

women writers--Mary Linskill, Elizabeth Mary Parker, and

Marianne Farningham--discussing the ways in which these

writers employ various discourses, material discourses in

particular, to deconstruct the "respectable"/"rough"

dichotomy. I provide a brief reading of their works against

those of middle-class Victorian women--Jane Eyre, Adam Bede,

Mary Barton, and North and South--demonstrating how they

seem to differ through their resistance to middle-class plot

and character constructions.

I purposefully structure this chapter as an

autobiographical narrative and deliberately include personal

narrative throughout the dissertation to enact my own

resistance to middle-class (and masculinist) values and

norms. Using this narrative form and utilizing a discourse

that is at times bodily and emotional are crucial, I feel,

for exemplifying the importance of putting feminist theory

into practice; I agree with Elspeth Probyn that when

conceivedvd of within the practices of subjectification, we

can make our bodies count," we can "speak about how they are

marked by gender, sexuality, ethnicity, class, and political

geographies, as well as how they are owned and used

theoretically and effectively" (122), thus "'bear[ing]'

witness' to ourselves as theorists and to the times in which

we live" (122). But I "bear witness," not as an individual

classed body indulging in self-disclosure for my own

"pleasure," but as a means of "bearing" the oppressive

material "realities" of a collective community.

That I inscribe my own material gender and class

subjectivity in this way, both here in this text and within

the academy itself, is perhaps the most revolutionary act I

can commit, short of resorting to more violent acts of

disruption. Because I openly acknowledge my class

background and engage in left-wing political action as a

result of it--both inside and outside of the academy--rather

than assimilate completely into the middle-class mold

required by the academy (an assimilation that many

academicians from working-class backgrounds undergo), my

presence in the academy is itself a transgression of class

boundaries, a shifting and displacing of the rigid,

homogenized constructions of class perpetuated in our

culture, and certainly within the academy. This resistance

includes a refusal to adhere to only one "respectable"

academic "voice" in writing these chapters; instead, I try

to include a plurality of "voices," some anecdotal, some

"rough," perhaps even offensive to "bourgeois" standards of

proper behavior and codes of appropriate disclosure of the


Such resistance to assimilation results, perhaps, in

more violence to myself than to the academy; however, my

class position has done and will continue to do violence to

me, regardless of whether or not I attempt to hide my

background and conform to the bourgeois values of the

academy, which are alien and destructive to my sense of

self. Choosing to write on class issues and to focus on

working-class women's autobiography and fiction, however,

reaffirms that which is familiar and supportive to my

subjectivity. Thus, working to bring women writers like

Oliphant, Linskill, Parker, and Farningham into the canon

and to materialize their presence in the academy means

working to materialize and validate my own subjectivity and

that of other working-class women, including those inside


and outside of the academy. Because it is part of a more

comprehensive project to transform the academy--to shape it

into a place where working-class people do belong, which

requires, as I argue in my Conclusion, concrete and viable

policy changes--it is perhaps the most important work I have

ever done.


Despite the focus on diversity [in the academy],
[despite] our desires for inclusion, many professors
still teach in classrooms that are predominantly white
[and middle class]. (hooks, Teaching 43)

As backlash swells, as budgets are cut, as jobs become
even more scarce, many of the progressive interventions
that were made to change the academy, to create an open
climate for cultural diversity are in danger of being
undermined or eliminated. These threats should not be
ignored. Nor should our collective commitment to
cultural diversity change because we have not yet
devised and implemented perfect strategies for them.
To create a culturally diverse academy we must commit
ourselves fully. We cannot be easily
discouraged. We cannot despair when there is conflict.
Our solidarity must be affirmed by a shared belief in a
spirit of intellectual openness that celebrates
diversity, welcomes dissent, and rejoices in collective
dedication to truth. (hooks, Teaching 33)

While the academy is more diverse than it was before

the time when women, people of color, over-the-traditional-

age students, and poor, working-class, and middle-class

people gained any access, as bell hooks points out, it is

still "predominantly white," and, I add, very middle to

upper class. After all, if we apply Althusser's terms, the

academy constitutes a rather powerful Ideological State

Apparatus (ISA), and as such it functions in ways that

reproduce the capitalist structure of our society, which

requires that a large percentage of the labor force not


attain higher education.1 The academy would seem to be set

up, then, as working-class scholar Joanna Kadi claims it is:

to keep most poor and working-class people out, and "to keep

middle- and upper-class people in" (93). At an historical

moment when a backlash against multiculturalism threatens

the important gains towards diversity that feminist and

liberal-left academics have attained, it is especially

important to examine discourses of the academy that might

undermine those gains; it is also crucial to look beneath

such rhetoric at the actual lack of diversity in the

academy, especially in terms of class, because class

exploitation is used as a powerful reinforcement of other

oppressions like racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, and

ableism--oppressions that destroy diversity by destroying

human lives.

The most damaging discourses are, of course, those of

the conservative right that depict multiculturalism as a

totalitarian plot to take over and essentially destroy the

academy; these discourses are aimed at dismantling

"multiculturalism" altogether and are, not surprisingly, the

most widely promulgated by the media. Less visible,

however, are certain "multiculturalist" discourses

circulating in the academy that are not grounded in a

1 See my Introduction for a discussion of the academy
as an ISA.

consideration of class in any material, bodily sense2 (and

thus are problematic tools for exacting a class-based

analysis of the academy as cultural text); these discourses

tend to take the presence of certain gendered, raced, and

classed bodies in the academy as a given, or at least as a

free choice divorced from the material forces of sexism,

racism, and poverty. Yet as I will demonstrate in this

chapter, despite ultra-conservative claims to the contrary,

these bodies have gained only a token presence in the

academy, one that hardly constitutes true "diversity"; thus,

discourses that assume such a comprehensive diversity might

inadvertently serve to undermine what little of it does, in

fact, exist.

It is important to note at the outset, however, that

those who utilize these "multiculturalist" discourses are

scholars who sincerely support and applaud diversity; they

are certainly not the political ultra-conservatives who

bemoan the fact that blacks and women have supposedly "taken

over" the academy. They are not the critics of

multiculturalism, who, as Barbara Ehrenreich explains,

"include a flock of tenured conservative scholars" deriding

multiculturalism as a "new menace," a "new McCarthyism"

even, that "aims to toss out what it sees as the Eurocentric

bias in education and replace Plato with Ntozake Shange and

2 See my Introduction for a discussion of the
materiality of class.


traditional math with the Yoruba number system" (330). They

are, in fact, the very people these critics of

multiculturalism attack in a frenzy of liberal bashing; they

are maligned as "moral ideologues," as "intolerant censors"

who supposedly threaten "the quality of academic standards

and the integrity of free intellectual inquiry" (Bartlett

328). As bell hooks explains, however, these scholars

actually believev] in a spirit of intellectual openness

that celebrates diversity, welcomes dissent, and rejoices in

collective dedication to the truth" (Teaching 33).

It is in the interest of the "solidarity" hooks calls

for and in a "shared belief" in diversity (and thus in

ensuring the presence, acknowledgement, and encouragement3

of diverse classed, raced, and gendered embodied subjects in

the academy), that I turn to an analysis of certain

"multiculturalist" discourses encouraged by and operative in

the academy. I analyze such discourses, especially those

employed in texts that specifically focus on higher

education and the subjects of such education, to reveal

dangerous assumptions that might interfere with diversity,

but I do so with the understanding that those who have

3 I emphasize "presence" here because without access to
the academy in the first place, acknowledgement and
empowerment are impossible; without such acknowledgment and
empowerment, however, presence cannot be sustained. Jean F.
O'Barr, in an article on re-entry women in the academy,
makes a similar argument emphasizing "presence" as foremost:
"access to education for women is the first goal and access
to the curriculum is the second--without which the first
will be a hollow victory" (101).

employed these discourses are part of a "collective

commitment to cultural diversity," one that has, of course,

included "[im]perfect strategies" (hooks, Teaching 33).

One such "strategy" occurs in multiculturalist

discourse that assumes "choice" on the part of the subjects

present in the academy or that renders the classed aspect of

those subjects invisible. For example, Teaching from a

Multicultural Perspective, a 1994 text written by and for

scholars to "explore approaches that can lead to more

successful teaching and learning in today's multicultural

college or university classroom" (Gonzalez et al., vii),

begins with the dangerous assumption that students from

diverse cultural backgrounds simply choose whether or not to

attend college: the introduction utilizes discourse which

presents diversity or "change" in the academy as resulting

from "choice": "our higher education institutions are

undergoing profound change, driven primarily by the students

who choose to attend" (vii, emphasis mine). The 1995

Women's Studies textbook, Issues in Feminism: An

Introduction to Women's Studies, utilizes discourse in its

introduction that ignores the absence of poor and working-

class women in the academy through constructing race and

ethnicity as the only underrepresented categories for women:

Today, in this country, because it is illegal to
bar women from admission to any public educational
institution on the basis of sex, we are entering
universities and professional schools in
increasing numbers (although the numbers are still

disproportionate in terms of race and ethnicity).
(12, emphasis mine)

The "we" refers to women in general, but is obviously

restricted to women of the middle and upper classes (except

those poor and working-class women whose class subjectivity

is subsumed under the discourse of "race and ethnicity");

yet the numbers of women in the academy are most certainly

"disproportionate" in terms of class4--and for these women

it is their poverty, not the law or their own "choice,"

which keeps them out of the academy.

Other multiculturalist discourse constructs women

students in the academy, who now constitute a majority--"52%

of all persons enrolled in college" (Pearson et al. 17)--as

being an already diverse majority5, for example, the

4 For example, less than 13% of all low-income high
school graduates in 1982 entered a public four-year
institution of higher education by 1986. That percentage
virtually doubles, triples and quadruples as one goes up the
class ladder of middle, upper-middle, and upper class
students (Hauptman and Smith 86). In addition, only
slightly above a third of these low-income students
graduated with a Bachelor's degree within six years
(Hauptman and Smith 91). The higher the income, the more
likely it is that a student will attend college, whether
two-year or four-year public institution or four-year
private institution, and the more likely it is that a
student will graduate (Hauptman and Smith 86-91).

5 It is important to note that the essays in this
anthology acknowledge the continuing sexism faced by this
supposedly "diverse majority." In particular, they focus on
the sexist treatment of women in the classroom, especially
sexual harassment and undervaluing of women's issues, as
well as campus rape and the way in which women are
underrepresented in certain fields such as science and
engineering. They also focus on racism, ableism, homophobia
and other oppressions; however, classism is distinctly
absent. This is particularly disturbing when it is not


discourse of "diversity" employed in Educating the Majority:

Women Challenge Tradition in Higher Education: "today's

women collegians are diverse in terms of age, social class,

race, ethnic group and religion, each one bringing with her

life experience and cultural heritages which enrich, and

sometimes challenge, the prevailing culture" (Pearson et al.

17, emphasis mine). The following statement, like the one

above, assumes that such "diversity" among women college

students exists in terms of class; it acknowledges, however,

that the text itself, in terms of "diversity" as a topic,

fails to include class:

Part One, then, focuses on women students in all
their complexity and diversity as well as their
commonalities. [A]lthough we have tried to
represent many different kinds of diversity from
sexual orientation and disability to learning
style, we could not recognize them all.
Conspicuously absent, for example, is any
consideration of the impact of different religious
backgrounds and affiliations and the special
problems of low-income women. (Pearson et al. 8,
emphasis mine).

Perhaps the most "special problem" of low-income women in

higher education, however, is not the absence of such women

from discussion as part of the "diversity" of the academy,

but rather their absence from the academy itself, an absence

emphasized as a significant force restricting access to the
academy for women of color, women with disabilities, and
women above the traditional age. Some of the articles do
mention class as a factor, but most downplay its importance
in the interest of discussing the commonalities among the
particular identity group discussed (Hispanic, Black,
Disabled, Re-entry, etc.).

that tends to be obfuscated here by the multiculturalist

discourse employed.

Some multiculturalist discourse tends to obscure the

differences between the diversity of peoples of the world or

of a local community and those present in the academy.

Somehow through curriculum and canon these various sites and

the embodied subjects inhabiting them are "woven" together

magically in response to an already existing "diversity," as

in the following example from the introduction to Women of

Color and the Multicultural Curriculum: Transforming the

College Classroom:

Projects such as those [to diversify curriculum
and canon] presented here propose that diversity
is addressed effectively by weaving the excluded
experiences of all members of the global society
into the fabric of knowledge, course content, and
campus climate. (Fiol-Matta 6, emphasis mine)

And again in a similar passage from that text, "community"

and "college campus" and "college classroom" collapse into

one site through an already present "diversity":

Working in diverse communities requires
methodologies and philosophies that must be
rethought, taught, learned, and fostered.
Ignoring this is tantamount to wishing to turn
back the calendar to 'comfortable' days when
certain people were 'college material' and others
were not, when students and teachers who were
victimized by attacks and slurs would take it
quietly and disappear. The college campus and the
college classroom are by virtue of their
diversity, community scenarios for transformation.
(7, emphasis mine)

The multiculturalist discourse of presence employed here--

both an assumed presence of diverse embodied subjects and an

assumed presence in relation to present time (from which

"the calendar" could be turnede] back)--posits the

dangerous assumption that in the here and now a diversity of

students inhabits the academy; no longer are there "certain"

people" who are not considered "'college material.'"6

Students are constructed by this discourse as not only

"diverse" in terms of their subjectivity, but also in terms

of others' responses to it: they are no longer the victims

of "attacks and slurs" against them.

Even if we turn to Critical Terms for Literary Study,

we find this discourse of an assumed presence of diversity

in two of the essays added to the new, 1995 edition; while

these essays utilize terms such as "heterogeneous" and

"heterogeneity" versus "diverse" or "diversity," both of

them--one entitled "Class," the other, "Diversity"--seem to

have been included because of their focus on

"multiculturalism," a topic that, according to the editors,

reflects[] recent developments in literary studies" (ix).

Daniel T. O'Hara's "Class" acknowledges that the academy is

"a class-divided workplace of the few critical 'stars' and

the mass of intellectual drones"--a mass made up mostly "of

6 Unless standards of admission such as grade point
average and SAT or GRE scores are being purposefully
overlooked here, the assumption seems to be that in the here
and now all "people" are potentially "college material"
because they can choose to work hard enough--they are all
assumed to have universal "access" to quality elementary and
secondary education, which would prepare them to compete for
admission into college.

adjuncts and graduate students [whom he] calls]

'multicultural proles' because [their work focuses on issues

of multiculturalism, and] they are, for the most part, a

professional generation condemned to the worst conditions

ever in the U.S. academy" (411); however, the discourse of

the essay identifies class division as occurring in the

professoriatee," but not among undergraduates.7 Arguing

that current hiring practices in literary studies involve "a

multicultural distinction of some kind" (410), O'Hara


I don't think this is simply political correctness
at work. Such a hiring pattern is part of a
continuing sincere effort to make the
professoriate more representative and more
responsive to the heterogeneous constituent groups
of students it serves. (410, emphasis mine)

This discourse assumes an already existent diversity--a

heterogeneity--on the part of the students being "served";

the professoriatee" is meant, through certain hiring

practices, to become "more representative," then, of an

already present diversity.

7 In terms of the class division of the
professoriatee," O'Hara fails to note the gender division
that occurs within that division. Most of the "proles," or
"proletariates," he identifies are women. As Mary Frank Fox
points out, women instructors are located disproportionately
in community colleges, where the workload is heaviest (230),
"almost 30 percent of women [in colleges and universities]
teach 13 hours or more per week, whereas only 15 percent of
the men teach this much (230), and based on 1993 figures,
only "49% of women compared to 70% of the men are tenured"

Louis Menand's "Diversity," which provides a useful

historical overview of "multiculturalism" and the academy,

also employs a discourse of diversity as presence. Menand

distinguishes between "meritocracy" and "multiculturalism,"

explaining that the former was a movement after World War II

to admit people into college "on the basis of aptitude

rather than income" (344), thus opening the floodgates of

the university to poor, working-class, and middle-class

people. He contends that "multiculturalism" inevitably grew

out of "meritocracy" (345):

once these formerly excluded, or underrepresented,
groups arrived on campus, it was inevitable that
questions should arise about the 'universality' of
the curricula and the academic culture that had
prospered happily for so long without them.
'Multiculturalism' is one response to those
questions. Blind to race and gender, and
culturally tone deaf [because it only addressed
class], meritocracy is the egg from which
multiculturalism has been hatched. (345, emphasis

The diverse, "formerly excluded, or underrepresented,

groups" are constructed in this discourse as already having

"arrived on campus" by the time "multiculturalism" was

"hatched" in the mid-1980s. Once these groups "arrived,"

they then raised "questions" pertaining to race, gender, and

culture in terms of the "curricula" and "culture" dominant

in the academy. In this rhetoric, these students' bodily

presence was required for multiculturalism even to exist.

This discourse of "multiculturalism" as presence seems

to function as the "egg" from which the following

problematic rhetoric is "hatched": Menand claims that on

"many American campuses [today], white men are just one of

several minorities" (344). I am tempted to ask, however, on

which college campuses--mostly black private colleges who

enroll only a handful of "white men"?--because if "white

men" are only "one of several minorities," their "minority

group" is still a significantly large, culturally and

economically privileged one. (Very few poor and working-

class white men even enter college--less than ten percent of

them.) Referring to "white men" who are enrolled in college

as a "minority group" is troublesome, given the class, race,

and gender privilege that they wield; describing them as

"one of several minorities" tends to efface the privilege

they have in relation to other "minority groups," presumably

white women and people of color. And the latter group

certainly constitutes a much smaller presence on college

campuses, a presence that decreases as one looks up the

academic ladder, from freshmen through seniors to graduate


Not surprisingly, the essay itself begins with a

definition of "diversity" that utilizes a discourse of


'Diversity' is a term with no essential
philosophical, political or aesthetic content. It
simply states a fact, which is that people who
write works of literature are different from one
another, and so are people who read works of
literature. The population of writers is composed
of individuals, each with a particular history and
a particular identity, and the population of

readers is similarly heterogeneous. No one
disputes this. (336)

This discourse presents "diversity" as simply present, as

simply "a fact." But, of course, scholars do dispute the

"this" referred to in the last sentence, especially since

one-fifth of our population is functionally illiterate,

which makes the presumed "heterogeneity" of readers assumed

here rather problematic. And many would argue that no term

is essentially philosophical, political, aesthetic or

anything else, but that terms exist within historical

moments that render them replete with all types of

"content"; "diversity" is certainly a highly politicized

term at the moment--a present moment when "diversity" does

not exist as an embodied presence on university campuses,

either among "writers" or "readers."

For this reason, bell hooks's use of multiculturalist

discourse is careful to construct diversity as a presence

only possible in the future through active "creation"; in

contrast to much of the multiculturalist discourse discussed

above, in hooks's discourse, "diversity" of global or

community proportions does not equal at present that which

exists in the academy: "If we fear mistakes, doing things

wrongly, constantly evaluating ourselves, we will never make

the academy a culturally diverse place .. To create a

culturally diverse academy we must commit ourselves fully"

(33, emphasis mine); whenhn we, as educators, allow our

pedagogy to be radically changed by our recognition of a


multicultural world, we can give students the education they

desire and deserve" (44, emphasis mine). In this discourse,

"the academy" and "a multiculturally diverse place," as well

as "multicultural world" and multicultural "education," do

not collapse into one present site of cultural diversity.

Nor does the discourse presume a multicultural "education"

that students already have or simply can choose to have;

rather, that "education," like "a culturally diverse

academy," is constructed as one that students "desire and

deserve" yet at present do not and cannot have.

The equation of multiculturalist discourse with the

material presence of multiculturalism in the academy tends

to overlook what Donald Macedo points out in Literacies of

Power: that

'diversity' [as discourse and policy] has
not really increased the presence of subordinate
cultural groups in institutional life. All
the policies of diversity and access will not
guarantee that members of subordinate racial and
cultural groups or economically disadvantaged
Whites will be able to finance their university
education: diversity and access without the means
of access are a form of entrapment. (157-58,
emphasis mine)

The very rhetoric of "choice" and "access," as well as

presumed presence, then, adds to this "entrapment" of

subordinate cultural groups. To avoid this entrapment

requires a different strategy and new modes of discourse,

ones that apply Rosi Braidotti's call for the political

"need for the presence of real-life women in positions of

discursive womanhood" or for the theoretical "recognition of


the primacy of the bodily roots of subjectivity" (90). Such

a feminist strategy begins with what Braidotti terms "[t]he

starting point":

the political will to assert the specificity of
the lived, female bodily experience, the refusal
to disembody sexual difference into a new
allegedly postmodern anti-essentialist subject,
and the will to re-connect the whole debate on
difference to the bodily existence and experience
of women. (91)

This feminist strategy calls for discourses that

examine the "bodily existence and experience of women,"8 not

only as that "existence and experience" "lives" in the texts

of literature and history, but also as it "lives" in the

embodied subjects who study these texts. As the white,

working-class feminist Suzanne Sowinska points out,

althoughh many English departments have become
relatively comfortable with a critical agenda that
asserts that the writers we study come from a
multitude of race, class, and gender positions,
the backgrounds of those of us who study those
writers [including our students] is not generally
given much thought at all. The actual experience
of a female scholar is rarely discussed and
generally her ascension through the ranks of
academia is assumed to be an unproblematic
acquisition of the written, verbal, and cultural
skills needed to perform well in a university
setting. (148-49).

In short, in the field of Literary Studies, as in other

fields such as Women's studies and Cultural studies, we

might do well to pay attention to any discourses that

construct the academy as a site of cultural diversity and

8 I suggest, of course, that this type of strategy can
also be applied to men, especially those of subordinate
cultural groups.

universal accessibility--discourses that present the

"university" as universal; even multicultural discourses

dealing with curriculum and canon can assume such diversity

if they subsume class under other categories like gender.9

Discourses of "diversity" that uphold the belief that

multiculturalism has already been achieved in the academy

ignore the material and bodily "diversification" of the

academy itself and of our education system in general.

This "diversification" depends upon a very rigid class-

based "diversity" of access, a "diversity" that sociologist

Daniel W. Rossides aptly describes as "disguised by the

rhetoric of equality and competition" (219). He explains

that such rhetoric and the ideology it perpetuates

in education (equality of opportunity, objective-
national norms, professional standards,
accreditation, national programs [and, we should
add, multiculturalism]) helps to conceal an unfair
contest for social position. In fact, beneath the
rhetoric of homogeneity and universalism, American
society has created wide diversification: it has
diversified its high school system so that even
students who attend the same school receive
different educations; it has created a highly
diversified hierarchy of colleges, universities,
and junior colleges; it has diversified its entire
elementary and high school systems by class, as a
result of residential segregation and the
tradition of the neighborhood school; and it has

9 We also ought to be on the lookout for such
discourses as they are used to structure textbooks in these
fields. For example, the widely used Women's Studies
textbook Feminist Frontiers III is structured through
categories that ignore the material experiences of class and
race. For instance, the "Violence Against Women" section
contains articles on sexual harassment, rape, and femicide,
but not on the violence of poverty and racism, forms of
violence that affect large numbers of women in our society.

taken class diversification one step further to
create severe racial isolation in all parts of the
nation. (219)

Rossides argues that this "educational diversification

disguised by the rhetoric of equality and competition serves

important latent functions" (219); "[t]he truth of the

matter," he contends, "is that the American educational

nonsystem does create social stability, but in a manner

extremely incongruous with normative ideology: the class-

based tracking system protects those with power and

legitimates the failure of those without power" (219-20).

Thus, this class-based "diversity" of the academy erodes the

very gender and race diversity fought for by feminist and

other liberal-left academics.

Examining the discourses of the academy that ignore

this class and classist "diversity" as they construct a

supposed multicultural diversity existing in the academy

allows us to understand better not only the "paranoia" of

women academics such as Kadi, who believe that

universitiesis are designed to make working-class people

feel like we don't belong" (92),10 but also the slippage

between their "paranoia" and that of right-wing critics of

multiculturalism. Thus, what is needed is a careful

examination of the specific class structure of the academy,

10 By "paranoia" here I do not mean to imply that Kadi
has no reason for her claim; rather, as I argue in the
Introduction, Kadi's "paranoia" is based upon the important
material "realities" of her race, class, sexual orientation,
and gender experiences in the academy.

one that resists discourses that merely subsume class under

gender or race through assertingn] their abstract or

structural equivalence" (Butler 18); such an examination

follows Judith Butler's imperative to think "through the

ways in which these vectors of power require and deploy each

other for the purposes of their own articulation" (18).

Perhaps even more importantly, it also answers Tony

Bennett's call for

hard statistical work calculated to make certain
problems visible in a manner that will allow them
to surface at the level of political debate or to
impinge on policy-making processes in ways which
facilitate the development of administrative
programs capable of addressing them. (32,
emphasis mine)

Thus, an analysis of the class structure of the academy can

move us closer to the feminist project Teresa Ebert

outlines, which "insists on a materialist practice that

works for equal access for all to social resources and for

an end to the exploitative exercise of power" (887, emphasis


To begin such an examination, it is necessary to

understand the class structure of our society and to explain

why that structure is such a "secret" (Parenti 55). Only

then can we address the danger involved with

multiculturalist discourses that function to perpetuate the

"secret," as well as how such discourses de-materialize the

material and experiential "reality," the lived "paranoia"

and pain, of the "subjects" of multiculturalism. As bell

hooks points out, "there are times," such as now, in these

multiculturalist "times" of the academy,

when so much talk or writing, so many ideas seem
to stand in the way, to block the awareness that
for the oppressed, the exploited, the dominated,
domination is not just a subject for radical
discourse, for books. It is about painn--the
pain of hunger, the pain of overwork, the pain of
degradation and dehumanization, the pain of
loneliness, the pain of loss, the pain of
isolation, the pain of exile--spiritual and
physical (3-4)

--the pain experienced in the academy by women like Kadi, a

pain that produces a very practical, comprehensible, and

valid "paranoia." To comprehend this "pain" we need to

understand the class structure of the academy and of our

society in general, which helps to create it.

That class structure is hidden, however, by what

Benjamin DeMott terms "the myth of classlessness" in our

society (11), "the myth asserting, as [former] President

George Bush [did], that class is 'for European democracies

or something else--it isn't for the United States of

America. We are not going to be divided by class" (9-10).

We are, rather, a nation unified by the existence of one

large middle class, because as Valerie Miner explains,

according to this myth everyoneoe is potentially middle-

class" (74, emphasis mine); we are all potentially part of

n For a detailed discussion of this "pain" as it is
experienced by certain working-class families in the U.S.,
see Lillian B. Rubin's Worlds of Pain: Life in the Working-
class Family.

what DeMott terms the "Imperial Middle" (41): "[t]he

American population is composed not of classes but of men

and women of the middle united as strivers and self-

betterers" (41). And supposedlydy the bulk of the nation's

wealth is spread out among the middle class""2 (Parenti 57).

In this rhetoric, those who are not part of the "Imperial

Middle"--the few who are very wealthy, the few who are very

poor--have chosen to remain outside its encompassing walls.

To come inside requires only the hard work necessary to

scale the walls--relinquishing the leisure of wealth, the

laziness of poverty; severalrl hallowed concepts--

independence, individualism, choice--are woven into this web

of illusion and self-deception" (Smith 9), which holds the

"Middle" together. It is, as David N. Smith explains, "the

most widely held principle of popular sociology, th[is]

belief that the majority of Americans are members of a

middle class" (173).

1 In actuality, a small elite controls most of the
wealth in this country. "As of 1992, the rich in America
had a net worth of $6.14 trillion. The richest one percent
controlled more than 60 percent of the national wealth--and
that includes only assets declared. In contrast, over 90
percent of American families have no net wealth" (Parenti
57). Thus, given this disparity of concentration of wealth,
one could argue that there is not even really a "middle"
class in this country. In addition, the numbers of people
who are without basic necessities is staggering: in 1987,
33.7% of American households were "shelter poor," meaning
that after paying for housing they "could not buy enough
food, clothing, and other necessities" (Frankel and Mishel
231). In Chapter Three I discuss the complexities of class
in more detail, problematizing even further the notions of
what constitutes "lower," "working," "middle," and "upper"
class in our society.


Looking at the rhetoric utilized by both the Republican

and Democratic parties in the most recent presidential

election makes the prevalence of this belief all too

apparent. As Lillian Rubin, author of Worlds of Pain: Life

in the Working-class Family, points out, both candidates

spoke "soothing words of compassion about the 'middle-class

squeeze' and promised] help in a variety of ways" (xvi),

but based upon electoral demographics, the Republicans were

actually "trying to hold on to the white, working-class

urban voters who had defected from the Democratic party"

during the Bush and Reagan years, and the Democrats were

seeking to "recapture" them (xvi, emphasis mine). Both

parties used distorted statistics to include these voters as

part of the "middle class": the Republicans by having their

Congressional Budget Office decree that "any family of four

with an annual income somewhere between $19,000 and $78,000

falls into the middle class" (xvii), thus including vast

numbers of working-class families; and the Democrats by

offering a "narrower, but equally flawed, definition"

(xvii), using a significantly higher income for the family

of four--$35,000--but one that still fell far below the

actual median income of a U.S. family of four with two

workers--$45,266"" (xvii). Neither candidate even

13 See my discussion in Chapter Three of the
complexities involved with defining class; I include further
examination of the ways in which statistics and occupational
categories are manipulated to create the myth that most
Americans fall into some vast and encompassing middle class


acknowledged the existence of the working class; instead, as

Rubin notes, their "rhetoric supported] and strengthened]

the myth that we are a classless society--a myth that plays

an important part in the racial polarization that has become

increasingly common over the past decades" (xvii).

Yet we are, of course, divided by class in this

country, perhaps as rigidly as are those in "European

democracies"; however, those who live in such "democracies"

are not blinded as we are by "[t]he power of this icon of

classlessness [which] derives from history, the media, and

the national experience of public education" (DeMott 10).

To explore here briefly the ways in which the media and the

academy--two powerful Ideological State Apparatuses (ISAs)

--14 perpetuate the myth of classlessness and to examine the

--for example, sociologists including in the "middle-class"
category women office workers who make under $6,000 per

14 As I explain in the Introduction, Althusser argues
that the ISA "installed in the dominant position in mature
capitalist social formations is the educational state
apparatus" ("Ideology" 152) because it has the most impact
upon children, "drum[ming] into them," year after year, "a
certain amount of 'know-how' wrapped in the ruling ideology"
("Ideology" 155); he contends that "no other ideological
State apparatus has the audience of the totality of
the children in the capitalist social formation, eight hours
a day for five or six days out of seven" ("Ideology" 156).
However, I believe that what Althusser terms the
communications ISA (press, radio, television, etc.) has
perhaps as much of an impact upon children, especially since
most of them watch television as many hours a week as they
attend school. That the media is a for-profit industry
while the academy is supposedly not is irrelevant in terms
of their impact upon constructions of subjectivity. As
Althusser notes, it does not matter whether the institutions
"are 'public' or 'private.' What matters is how they

impact this myth has upon subordinate cultural groups,

especially poor and working-class women, and their access to

the academy,15 will not only explain the slippage between

right-wing/liberal-left discourses of multiculturalism and

the "paranoia" of women academics like Kadi; it will also

begin to materialize the important race, class, and gender

experiences of such women, thus rendering visible the pain

of those experiences; it will also lead us to a place beyond

that pain, a place of strength and hope, where

multiculturalist presence in the academy might begin to be


The "place of strength and hope" that I envision is

certainly not the mythological "Imperial Middle" space

created by the media--a space allowing only for the myth of

classlessness and an unattainable American Dream. Consider,

for example, a recent Ford car commercial. It constructs

for us a mythical planet (strikingly like Earth) where

anyone can slam dunk: small children, little old ladies--

they all fly through the air and drop the basketball in the

hoop. And on this planet everyone--EVERYONE--is given the

keys to a brand new Ford car just for being born. (The baby

pictured is white.) And best of all, on this planet

function. Private institutions can perfectly well
'function' as Ideological State Apparatuses" ("Ideology"

15 In Chapter Three, I explore the role played by
historical discourses in the creation of the myth.

everyone--EVERYONE--can buy anything he wants for just a

dollar. (The baby and the adult are male.) We see Mr.

"Everyone"--represented by a young, white (WASP) male--

driving his Ford (his birthright) up a long driveway towards

a magnificent mansion. Rows and rows of servants holding

trays of sumptuous dishes line the driveway in front of the

house. Presumably "Everyone" has bought all this with just

a dollar. The message of the commercial is not so much that

purchasing a Ford car will lead to ease and luxury in our

lives; rather, it is that Ford understands every American's

fantasy to lead such a life of ease--to be wealthy--yet

knows that we are all really middle class. Everyone is of

this class; everyone works hard and dreams of leisure;

everyone deserves and can afford a Ford car. "Everyone," of

course, does not include the working class, those rows of

servants standing before the mansion. "We" are not meant to

identify with "them"; "we" are not meant to ask, "If

everything costs 'a dollar,' if anything can be purchased

for just 'a dollar,' then why are they servants?" "We" are

not meant to speculate, "Perhaps not everyone has a dollar.

Perhaps not everyone is part of the all-encompassing middle


And consider a widely popular television show--"Married

with Children." The local television station promo

declares, "This is the typical middle-class family."

Nuclear: one dad who works, one mom who doesn't, two


children--one boy, one girl--a faithful dog, one house, one

garage, a couple of cars. The father goes to work every

day; the mother goes shopping on hubbie's credit cards. It

all seems so typically "middle class."16 And yet there's a

catch: Al is a shoe salesman--a shoe salesman. No family

could be middle-class on such an income. There would be no

house, no cars, no wife who doesn't have to work, no credit

cards, perhaps no dog (who could afford the food? the vet

bills?)--for that matter, who could afford to feed the

children? It is a joke that there is never any food in the

house (Peg hates to cook), yet if anyone thinks about it, on

Al's salary there would be no food. But "we" are not

expected to "think about it"--at least not to think about

class--and if "we" happen to be shoe salesmen, we are

expected to believe that if we cannot purchase all that Al

does with such an income, then we have only ourselves to

blame.17 After all, in the media-generated "Imperial

Middle" world of the United States of America, even a

prostitute--someone from the very bottom of the social

scale--can be quickly and easily upwardly mobile if she is

16 I mean mythically "middle class." In actuality such
a nuclear family is not representative of the middle class,
let alone the working or lower classes. Even most upper
middle-class families that are "nuclear" require two incomes
to maintain their class status.

17 In Chapter Three I connect this blaming of the
victim in our society with constructions of class dating
back to the Victorian Period--constructions of the
respectablee' and 'roughs,' which interpret as moral
aspects of subjectivity that are materially based.

simply a "Pretty Woman." Anyone, despite his or her socio-

economic status, can attain the American Dream, can ascend

into the Imperial Middle, for, as a recent AT&T commercial

proclaims, "It's all within your reach."

And even when the message is counter-hegemonic1--even

when it clearly states that the Imperial Middle is not

within reach--politicians and the media can quickly and

effectively suppress that message. Take the example of

Bruce Springsteen, whose songs resist the dominant

construction of class in our culture by rendering class

oppression visible. As James H. Kavanagh explains, the

columnist George Will appropriated Springsteen,

lauding [him] as a shining example of the American
dream--of how hard work, ambition, and the
unfettered ability to accumulate wealth can give
hope, if not ensure success, to working-class
Americans. This version of Springsteen was then
worked into a Reagan speech in Springsteen's home
state of New Jersey, [depicting him] as a
Reaganite kind of guy (318).

Of course, Springsteen's lyrics make clear that he is not "a

Reaganite kind of guy." I stitch together a few of those

lyrics to create a Springsteen "essay." I've chosen lyrics

easily recognizable to Springsteen fans, and perhaps to most

radio listeners, as each comes from a title track song that

18 I am employing here Antonio Gramsci's concept of
"hegemony," which Roger Simon explains as "the practices of
a capitalist class or its representatives [Althusser's ISAs,
for example], both in gaining state power, and in
maintaining that power once it has been achieved" (22).
"Counter-hegemonic" messages oppose such power and the
methods through which it is enforced.


received extensive air play. Woven with material from Born

to Run, The River, and Born in the U.S.A., the "essay" tells

the story of a working-class man's life, and it clarifies

Springsteen's views on this country's class structure:

It's a death-trap, it's a suicide-rap, we gotta
get out while we're young, 'cause tramps like us,
baby, we were born to run. Then I got Mary
pregnant, and man, that was all she wrote. And
for my nineteenth birthday I got a union card and
a wedding coat. I got a job working'
construction for the Johnstown company, but lately
there ain't been much work on account of the
economy, and all those things that seemed so
important, well, mister, they vanished right into
the air. Now I just act like I don't remember,
and Mary acts like she don't care. Now
those memories come back to haunt me, they haunt
me like a curse. Is a dream a lie if it don't
come true, or is it something worse? Now
Main Street's shop front windows are vacant
stores. Seems like there ain't no body wants to
come down here no more; they're closing' down the
textile mill across the railroad tracks. The
foreman says these jobs are goin', boys, and they
ain't coming' back to your home town. Son,
take a good look around, this is your home town
Born down in a dead man's town, the first
kick I took was when I hit the ground. You end up
like a dog that's been beat too much, till you
spend half your life trying' to cover it up. Born
in the U.S.A. Born in the U.S.A. Born in the
U.S.A. I was born in the U.S.A. Down in the
shadow of the penitentiary, I feel the gas fires
of the refinery. I'm ten years burnin' down the
road, nowhere to run, ain't got nowhere to go.
Born in the U.S.A. I was born in the U.S.A.

Given these lyrics--their clear reference to the

working class and the miserable conditions they face in this

country--one would think that Springsteen's audience would

respond with outrage at his appropriation by the Republican

party, but instead, they actually believed the media

depictions of Springsteen as a devoted Reaganite whose faith

in the American dream could never be shaken. As Kavanagh

explains, Springsteen himself finally had to "remind his

audiences that the words of his songs (like "My Hometown")

hardly proclaim the durability of the American dream"; he

then donated[] concert proceeds to union welfare funds" and

spoke "to workers rallying against plant closures, telling

them: 'What goes unmeasured is the price that unemployment

inflicts on people's families, their marriages, on the

single mothers out there trying to raise their kids on their

own'" (319). Why did his audience even believe the media's

depiction in the first place? How can such distorted

conceptions of class gain cultural acceptance?

If we turn to Althusser, we find that the answer lies

in ideology and the way in which the dominant ideology

becomes interpellatedd" as the norm19--as what members of a

culture unquestioningly accept as truth. The construction

of Springsteen's subjectivity as a patriot believing in

everyone's access to the Imperial Middle derives, then, from

this process of "normalization," through which everyone in

our culture is forced into a particular class norm, a

"mythical norm against which Others are defined and

assigned privilege and limitations" (Ellsworth 114). The

process also involves what Audre Lorde calls an

institutionalizedzd rejection of difference" (115). Lorde

19 See the Introduction for a more extensive discussion
of interpellation.

argues that in a "profit economy" such as ours, which must

have "outsiders as surplus people"--"outsiders" who do not

fit into the "mythical norm"--all members, both "insiders"

and "outsiders," have been "programmed" to respond to

difference in three ways: "ignore it, and if that is not

possible, copy it if we think it is dominant, or destroy it

if we think it is subordinate" (115). Springsteen's

"difference"--his presentation of the material "realities"

of working-class experience--was ignored, if not destroyed,

through that "difference" being copied or appropriated

within a system set up to reject any ideology not supportive

of the dominant class ideology.

Such a system requires, then, a mythical norm such as

classlessnesss," for it is based upon what Luce Irigaray

terms an "economy of the Same." That "Sameness" against

which all difference is judged is constructed through

"master discourses"--dominant discourses that portray

certain subject positions as valid, relevant, important, and

"others" as insignificant (to be ignored), as partially

significant ("worthy," and thus to be copied, appropriated,

assimilated to the norm), or as invalid, dangerous, criminal

(to be destroyed). Applying H616ne Cixous and Cath6rine

Clment's theory on the discourse of mastery, we could say

that the discourse of classlessnesss" is a sort of cultural

"law," which is presented as an "'open door' in precisely

such a way that you never go to the other side of the door

. So you never will know that there is no law"; "a

sort of complex ideological secretion produced by an

infinite quantity of doorkeepers" (138) veils the mythical

constructedness of this "law." Thus, the material

experiences of a shoe salesman, or a prostitute, or a

working-class "hero" like Springsteen can be ignored,

copied, destroyed--secreted across television screens and

bought by American consumers as the "law"--a class(less)

cultural "reality." Similarly, the material, class

structure of the academy can be ignored, copied, destroyed

by "ideological secretions" in the form of various

discourses--whether right-wing or liberal--which disconnect

the academy from social, historical, and political forces.

For example, consider the term "public" or "state

university" versus "private university"; the former term

implies that such a university is in the control of the

people, or at the very least the state government,

presumably meaning representatives of "the people."

However, those who actually run these "state" institutions

are not always elected government officials20, rather they

20 Even when government officials have control over
state institutions, that control is usually divorced from
the best interests of "the people," especially those in the
academy most affected by the regulations imposed by
government officials--the staff, faculty, students, and
administrators. The intrusion by state legislators into the
management of state universities and colleges is becoming
more common. Such intrusion often imposes standards upon
the academy that devalue the quality of education offered
through treating the academy as a business, not a
government-run social institution. For example, in the

are "boards of trustees drawn almost entirely from the

business community, including real-estate magnates, bankers,

and directors and chief executive officers of leading

corporations" (Parenti 89). Citing three major studies,

David Smith provides substantial evidence that those who

control the state universities are "tightly integrated in

the military-industrial complex web of modern capitalism"

(37). And Lawrence C. Soley's 1995 study, Leasing the Ivory

Tower: the Corporate Takeover of Academia, meticulously

documents the growing "corporate takeover" of the academy.

This "takeover" has serious implications for

"multiculturalism" and "diversity" in the academy21;

inclusion of class issues and class analysis of the academy

is more important than ever, if "multiculturalism" is not to

state of Florida, legislators have deemed 120 credit hours
as sufficient to constitute a quality undergraduate Liberal
Arts and Sciences education. These legislators are more
interested in having students complete that "education" in
four years or less, thus enabling more student-consumers to
purchase the commodity offered by the university--an
"education"--than in having students actually acquire a
quality education.

2 And for women students it has special relevance.
The corporate takeover of universities and colleges has
"increased funding for high-tech-related education
programs"--programs such as engineering and science, in
which women students typically do not enroll--and this
funding "has meant reduced funding and resources for liberal
arts programs" (Feagin and Feagin, 194), where women are
most prevalent. And since women faculty and administrators
are also less common in the corporate-sanctioned high-tech
fields, the power distribution will become increasingly more
imbalanced in terms of gender, especially if the higher
ranking positions in universities--deanships, for example--
become available more often to those whose fields coincide
with corporate approval.

become merely the tool of capitalist elites who want to find

more effective methods of controlling the global economy.

Indeed, not only the current but the historical ties of

capitalism to the academy need to be examined. That

"Cornell, Johns Hopkins, Clark, Duke, Vanderbilt, Tulane,

and Stanford no longer [signify] ruthless business

tycoons but prestigious universities [or that]

Carnegie is remembered not for the workers he starved but

for his Hall, his institute, and his Endowment" (Parenti 95)

are dangerous instances of the "normalization" process the

academy has undergone in terms of effacing class experience;

this process, with its "ideological secretions," requires

the serious attention of those who claim to support

"multiculturalism" in the academy.

It is important to view the academy, then, as a

cultural text grounded in history, one that is

"intertextual" with the "multicultural" texts that those of

us in fields such as Literary Criticism, Cultural Studies

and Women's Studies have been bringing into the canon.

Reading the academy in this way can allow us to look more

closely at the embodied subjects who do and do not have

access to it. A belief that the academy is accessible to

poor and working-class people derives, in part, from the

history of the academy. Only very recently, some fifty

years ago, did these classes even gain any access at all

(and for people of color it wasn't until much more recently,

in the 1970s22). "Until the 1940s, higher education was a

very elite operation, limited for the most part to children

of capitalists, managers, and professionals" (Feagin and

Feagin 191); after World War II, however, thousands of

predominantly white males from poor and working-class

backgrounds were able to attend college due to the G.I. Bill

(Feagin and Feagin 191). In the 1960s and 1970s, "hundreds

of community and other two-year colleges [were] established

in most states" (Feagin and Feagin 191), thus allowing even

more poor and working-class people to attend. In 1960,

close to three million students attended college-level

institutions (Smith 226); by 1970 the number had risen to

more than eight million, "representing fully 50 percent of

the 18-21-year-old age group in America" (Smith 226).

Smith, analyzing the class backgrounds of college students,

stated in 1974, "Formerly, students were the peaches-and-

cream white Protestant children of the ruling and middle

classes, preparing for the assumption of leadership roles in

22 It is extremely important to note, however, that
people of color have experienced a very class-stratified
access to the academy, an access which has become even more
class-stratified in recent years. Affirmative action based
on race rarely takes socio-economic income into account, and
thus students of color who attend universities come
predominantly from the middle and upper classes. In fact,
because certain groups such as African-Americans experience
such extreme poverty as a group, there is a "shortage" of
"African-American students who are ready for top-tier
universities. In 1993, out of approximately 400,000 black
high-school seniors nationwide, only 1,644 got combined
scores of 1200 or better on the SATs, and only 8, 256 scored
between 1000 and 1200" (Morganthau 30-31).


society" (228); "at present about 20 percent of the children

of the upper working class enroll, which means that in

absolute numbers there are in college today more youth from

the working class than from the upper and upper-middle

class" (230).

The gains cited by Smith in terms of access to the

academy for working-class people have been misrepresented

and overestimated, however. While it is true that "more

youth from the working class than from the upper and upper-

middle class" attended college in the early 1970s, the types

of colleges these youths attended differed greatly depending

upon race, as did the material benefits resulting from the

degrees attained at these colleges. Because upper and

upper-middle class white students were more likely to attend

the elite, private four-year institutions and the poor and

working-class minority students to attend two-year community

and technical colleges (Mingle 13), the poor and working-

class minority students achieved only slight if any upward

class mobility.23 And certain racial groups, especially

blacks and hispanics, were highly unrepresented during this

23 As Monte Piliawsky notes, "social class tracking
continues even within the community college. Terminal
vocational training programs are filled by those from
low income backgrounds. In the end, community college
students are placed in occupations very similar to those of
their parents" (145).

time, as they still are in the 1990s.24 The college

participation rates of Hispanic and Black college-aged youth

actually began declining in the mid-1970s and have been on

the decline ever since (Mingle ix).

Another factor ignored is the attrition rate among poor

and working-class students, especially students of color.25

Participation does not necessarily equal success, either in

terms of graduating from college or receiving a higher

paying job, even if one does graduate. During the 1970s,

when more poor and working-class people entered college, the

overall wages of college graduates fell by 9.6% (Frankel and

24 That representation in four-year versus two-year
institutions has been steadily declining since the early
1970s. For example, "the black undergraduate enrollment at
the University of California at Berkeley dropped by half
from over 1400 in 1972 to 733 by February of 1977"
(Piliawsky 148). Representation is also class-biased. At
Harvard, for example, "by the end of the 1970s, working-
class blacks dropped from 40 to 25 percent of the total
black incoming class, the decline apparently continuing into
the 1980s" (Hinds et al. 305). Harvard openly admits that
they seek "black students who come from middle-class
backgrounds and primarily white high schools"; it is, they
claim, "'right for Harvard and better for the students'"
(Hinds et al. 305).
25 Statistics from the early 1980s demonstrate that a
greater percentage of poor and working-class African-
Americans than of poor and working-class whites were
admitted to four-year institutions (16.6% and 13.3% of poor
blacks were admitted into public and private institutions
respectively, versus 11.4% and 7.9% of poor whites);
however, of those who entered these institutions, a much
higher percentage of the poor white students actually
graduated--43.5%--versus only 28.1% of the poor blacks.
Thus, while certain lower-class people of color might gain
more initial access than lower-class whites, the numbers of
poor students overall who graduate even out in terms of race
because so many more students of color drop out (Hauptman
and Smith).


Mishel 93). What is important about this phenomenon is not

that the entrance of more poor and working-class people into

the academy created the decline in wages--other factors of

course were involved--but that poor and working-class

students, like their middle- and upper-class counterparts,

did not necessarily benefit from increased wages as a result

of their degrees. One study on class mobility done in the

1970s demonstrates the lack of upward mobility at that time:

"fewer than one in five men [sic] surpass[ed] the economic

status of their fathers" (Mantsios 83).

And in terms of graduate education, as the 1970s wore

on, fewer and fewer students from the poor and working class

(and the lower middle class) were likely to attend because

fundingg for federal programs ha[d] been reduced
at the same time that tuition ha[d] increased
dramatically. Between 1970 and 1981 federal
funds for fellowships, scholarships, and
traineeships declined by more than half, and the
number of federal stipends for graduate study
declined from nearly 80,000 to 40,000. (Mel6ndez

Perhaps most telling in terms of the supposed "gains" of

poor and working-class people, however, is the widely cited

study of William H. Sewell published in 1971: his research

showed a positive correlation between class and
overall educational achievement. In comparing the
top 25 percent of his sample to the bottom 25
percent, he found that students from upper-class
families were: twice as likely to obtain training
beyond high school, four times as likely to go to
college, six times as likely to graduate from
college, and nine times as likely to attain a
postgraduate degree. Sewell concluded, 'Socio-
economic background operates independently


of academic ability at every stage in the process
of educational attainment.' (Mantsios 83)

As Bengt Furaker notes, "[i]n advanced capitalist nations,

formal education has expanded widely during the twentieth

century. The average level of schooling has increased for

all classes," and thus it may appear that poor and working-

class people's "gains" are fairly great; however, the gaps

between the classes are even "more persistent" because

"educational success" is directly tied "to social

background" (85, emphasis mine), as Sewell's and numerous

other researchers' studies demonstrate (85).

In addition, these so-called "gains" of poor and

working-class people's access to higher education have been

swiftly eroding during the 1980s and 1990s primarily due to

the shift in our economy--the rich have been getting richer,

the poor poorer, and many of the middle and lower middle-

class have moved downwards to the working-class26. In fact,

statistics demonstrate that at least for poor and working-

class whites, there was greater class equality in 1967 than

in 1989 because income distribution has become increasing

more unequal in this country since the late 1960s; in fact,

"inequality in 1989 exceeded the level in 1947" (Frankel and

Mishel 20-21). And in the late 1980s, at a time when fewer

poor and working-class people could afford college (and

26 See my discussion in Chapter Three of the shifting
of classes in the country in the last fifteen years and how
these shifts have disproportionately affected the poor,
especially women and people of color.

fewer middle-class people for that matter)27, class position

was more directly related to one's level of education than

it had been in the 1970s or 1960s: "the wage gap between

college and high school graduates grew strongly from 1963 to

1971 [before wide-spread community college education], up

14.2 percentage points, [then] fell 18.3 percentage points

from 1971 to 1979 [when college was more "accessible" to the

working class and poor], and then rose by 18.7 percentage

points between 1979 and 1987 [when "access" lessened for

poor and working-class people]" (Frankel and Mishel 93).

Because of the wage stagnation and erosion of wages for non-

college graduates, "the vast majority of workers have not

improved their wage position in the 1980s"; these "workers"

come from the poor and working classes (Frankel and Mishel

95). While 50% of 18-21 year olds may have been in college

in 1970 (Smith 226), in 1987 "only 25.5% of the workforce

27 Fees for private colleges and universities, which
typically "provide their graduates with better employment
opportunities and connections than public colleges," rose
dramatically during the 1980s, thus "rais[in] new barriers
for low- and middle-income families" (Frankel and Mishel,
249). The cost per year at the average private four-year
institution rose from $9,060 in 1978-79 to $13.840 in 1987-
88; this cost rose from 2.1 times that of a four-year public
institution in 1972-73, to 2.4 times in 1978-9, to 2.8 times
in 1987-88. In addition, the average federal financial aid
award in 1980-81, not including student loans, covered 33.5%
of the average cost of attendance at a private university,
whereas in 1988-89, it amounted to only 20.9%. In 1980-81,
the average award paid a full 81.2% of the cost of a year at
a public university, whereas in 1988-89 it paid only 60.6%
(Frankel and Mishel 249-50).

aged 25-64 had completed [four years of] college" (Frankel

and Mishel 95).

These statistics are significant because they

demonstrate that higher education is the key to upward

mobility, to higher wages28: the only group that experienced

any significant growth in wages--up 8% from 1979 to 1987

(Frankel and Mishel 93)--are four-year college graduates,

who come from mostly middle- and upper-class backgrounds to

begin with; the group experiencing falling wages since 1979

(54.7% of the workforce) are those with only a high school

diploma or less, the vast majority of whom come from poor

and working-class backgrounds; those who have 1 to 3 years

of college (most poor or working-class people who manage to

make it to college fall into this category)--21.9% of the

workforce--experienced only a very minimal 1.5% growth in

wages from 1979 to 1987. Thus, most of the poor and

working-class people who did complete some college

experienced very little change in their class position.

What tends to be concealed, then, by discourses of

"access" to higher education and of "diversity," is the

tracking system of education in this country, a system that

28 Wages are not, of course, the sole determinant of
class. Other factors such as education (of course), status
and cultural knowledge are crucial components. Pierre
Bourdieu distinguishes among various types of "capital":
economic, political, social, cultural, educational,
symbolic, linguistic, scientific. In Chapter Three I
examine these various "capitals" and discuss how they are
useful in formulating a complex class continuum.

keeps class position relatively fixed. Multicultural

discourse that posits "access" ignores this system

altogether: "the United States has created a large and

diverse system of colleges and universities with near

universal access to students of all abilities, ages, and

interests, where 'any student can study any subject'" (Trow

281). As Virginia Woolf would say, let's look at the facts:

enrollment in college is linked more to "family income and

parents' education" (Mingle 18-19) than even to factors such

as race (although class oppression is intricately linked to

race oppression, and racism causes many students to drop out

of college once admitted). Two-thirds of students whose

parents have less than a high school education never even

enroll in college, and that percentage drops to 29% for

those whose parents have some college education, and finally

to 9% for those whose parents have Ph.D.s or M.D.s (Mingle

19). And in terms of the poorest students, those whose

annual family income is less than $7,000, "[n]ine out of 10

[of them] either never [even] entered college or

failed to persist full-time" if they did (Mingle 19).

If we examine the "diversity" of this "system of

colleges and universities with near universal access," we

find four major types of institutions: community colleges,

four-year state colleges, state universities, and elite

universities and colleges. As one moves from community

colleges on up to elite universities, the emphasis on rules,

scheduled coursework, and "job training" decreases, while

the emphasis on independence training and "careers"

increases, as does the percentage of students who are white

(Feagin and Feagin 191). Students in community colleges

"come disproportionately from blue-collar, lower-income, and

minority families. They tend to be tracked through

vocational lines in high schools and community colleges into

blue-collar and lower-level white collar jobs"; students in

four-year state colleges and state universities "come

disproportionately from middle-income families and tend to

move into middle-level and upper-level white-collar jobs

(sales, professional, technical)"; the "students in the

elite colleges and universities"--mostly from elite

families--"go on to occupy the higher capitalist,

managerial, and professional positions in society" (Feagin

and Feagin 191-92). The "universal access" offered by our

higher education system translates into "universal access"

to one's original class position.

What other than the greater expense of four-year

institutions keeps poor and working-class students from

attending these institutions which, if they successfully

graduate from them, can lead to upward mobility? Aren't

poor and working-class students transferring to these

institutions after graduating from community college? The

answer is no: "only 9% of those first entering community

college in 1980 were college seniors four years later"

(Mingle 21); and studies that allow several additional

years' time for these students to transfer find that less

than one-fifth ever even make it to a four-year

institution29 (Mingle 21). While community colleges do

offer students important skills and knowledge, these do not

translate into upward mobility; thus, "many community

colleges have become educational 'ghettos' for students from

poor and blue-collar white families, for blacks, Puerto

Ricans, other Hispanics, and older working-class women"

(Feagin and Feagin 192). In addition, the majority of four-

year institutions use multiple choice tests such as the SAT

and GRE to screen students into or out of their programs;

these "tests and their administration [have been proven to

be] biased against students from minority and blue-collar

backgrounds" (Feagin and Feagin 192). These institutions

also use high school grade point averages to select their

29 Those who do attend and graduate from four-year
institutions can then have difficulty gaining acceptance to
more elite graduate programs; a class stigma is attached to
community college attendance. My brother, for example,
attended Harrisburg Area Community College (H.A.C.C.),
graduated with an A.A. degree, received a scholarship to
Temple University, graduated with a B.S. in journalism, then
applied for a graduate fellowship at Harvard. He made it
all the way to being one of two candidates for the
fellowship, but during his interview he was asked, "What is
H.A.C.C.?" When he explained, the interviewer responded, "A
community college! How did you even make it this far for an
interview? I'm not giving a fellowship to someone who went
to community college," and tossed my brother's application
materials into the trash. My brother went on to be runner-
up for the Pulitzer Prize in Investigative Reporting,
despite his working-class background and Harvard's obvious


students, and "African Americans, Hispanics and [other] poor

students tend to receive lower high school GPAs" (Astin 44).

As Alexander Astin points out,

clearlyl, the continuing reliance on such
measures by college and university admission
offices will make it very difficult for any
educationally disadvantaged or underrepresented
group to attain equal or proportionate access to
higher education opportunities. (44)

Astin thus exposes the multiculturalist rhetoric of

"equal access" as being merely a cover-up for what is, in

reality, a very unfair, class-, race-, and age-biased

system. He explains that our country does not really have a

"true tracking system" (46), one that allows for "access"

for below average scoring students. In such a system, "the

best-prepared students would be admitted only to the top

track, the middle students only to the middle track, and the

weakest students only to the bottom track" (46). Students

of all preparedness levels would then have a chance to gain

more preparation for higher level tracks and move on.

However, in our current system, "the best prepared students

are allowed to enter any public institution, while middle-

scoring students are allowed to enter all except the most

selective universities" (46); thus, the least prepared

students--predominantly poor, working-class, and students of

color--are crowded out by the better prepared students.

They are also limited to attending a single choice of

institutional type--the community college. Affirmative

action usually takes only race, not class or age, into

account, and also promotes the best prepared students of

those of color (poor and working-class whites have no access

via this route); thus, poor and working-class students of

color, who tend to be less prepared, are not the ones who

usually benefit from affirmative action.30

These disadvantaged students are negatively affected by

the measures used to screen college applicants long before

they reach college age. As Astin explains, students in

secondary schools

who perform below the 'norm' are receiving
powerful negative messages about their performance
and capabilities. At best, they are being told
that they are not working hard enough; at worst,
they are being told that they lack the capacity to
succeed in academic work. .. [Thus,] many [of
these] students opt out of education altogether,
long before they reach an age where they might
consider applying for college. (45)

Because poor and working-class students are "tracked"

throughout their elementary and secondary educations into

the lower-level, vocationally oriented courses; because

their education is substandard from day one; because they

are seldom encouraged even to consider college as a

30 The fact that poor and working-class students of
color tend not to benefit from affirmative action relates to
what Joe L. Kincheloe, speaking of blacks in particular,
terms an "insidious" "institutionalized racism." He argues
that racism has "evolved" in the last fifty years to a
racism that "takes the form of public policies and socio-
economic arrangements which deny blacks access to legal,
medical, or educational facilities" (255, emphasis mine).
For further discussion of how classism relates to racism in
terms of access to education, see Robert E. England et al.'s
Race, Class, and Education: The Politics of Second-
Generation Discrimination.

possibility; because they deal with sexism and racism and

other oppressions that magnify and multiply their class

oppression (and vice versa)--for all of these reasons many

do "opt out of education altogether"; or rather, I would say

that they themselves have been "opted out," for little

optionon" or "choice" is involved given the material

circumstances these students face.

Clairece Booher Feagin and Joe R. Feagin prefer to use

the term "pushout" versus "dropout" to emphasize the lack of

choice involved. Replacing the standard term shifts the

rhetoric away from a discourse of morality and blame,

instead emphasizing the material, class basis of why

students leave school before graduating. As they note,

these studentsns from poor families, regardless of race or

ethnic group, are three to four times as likely" to be
"pushed out" as are those from more affluent families (201).

They argue that "[f]or many who are poor, school is an

irrelevant, bureaucratized environment that is usually not

very supportive of personal growth and development"; it is,

they contend, also usually the case that poor families "face

the difficult choice of taking the child out of school to

help with younger children or to put them to work to help

support the family" (201-2). They also cite malnourishment,

inadequate clothing and school supplies, less personalized

attention, teachers' expectations of these students' low

achievement, and "a curriculum that has little relevance to

their real world" as ways in which these students "are

pushed out of the schools" (202). Thus, their use of a

different discourse here serves to highlight the material

class oppression of these students.

Indeed, perhaps what keeps poor and working-class

people out of institutions of higher learning most--or

"pushes" them out if they do manage to get in in the first

place--is "just" the daily grind of poverty and work, the

daily material experiences of "pain" that bell hooks

discusses, especially those stemming from the violence of


One study found that a number of low-income people
who return to school for training under public
programs drop out before completion, even though
they are performing well academically. One woman
left because her 13-year-old son was beaten to
death by an older boy and she could no longer
apply herself; another had to go into hiding when
her ex-husband threatened her with a butcher
knife; another could no longer pay her babysitter
when child-care checks stopped coming; and another
found herself homeless after her father ran off
with the rent money.31 (Parenti 112)

And when such "pain" is not impacting upon the lives of

students, as Feagin and Feagin point out, the irrelevance to

their lives of the type of learning they receive can be pain

enough. My mother told me recently that the remedial

schooling program she attended before entering community

college included instruction by a retired, middle-class,

white high school English teacher. She taught my mother--a

31 These examples highlight the materiality of both
gender and class oppression.

white, disabled woman on welfare with a dying husband at

home--along with the other women in the course--four single,

black women on welfare who, like my mother, had several

children--irrelevant vocabulary words such as "trousseau,"

which angered and alienated the women in the class. When

the black women finally quit, walking out complaining that

they were "tired of the bullshit," the teacher turned to my

mother and asked, "What did I do wrong?" to which my mother

replied, "What in God's name do marriage dowries have to do

with those women's lives? Don't you get it?" She obviously

did not.

This instructor did not understand what many feminist

educators emphasize: "that most women (and perhaps men, too)

learn best through a pedagogy that emphasizes connectedness

between learner and educator, among learners, and between

learners and experience" (Wright 29). They also learn best

when their "experience" does not include class oppression.

Perhaps what is most disturbing about the multiculturalist

rhetoric widely disseminated in the academy is the way in

which it covers up the class oppression of poor and working-

class people who have managed to gain "access" to the

academy. Materializing their oppression is extremely

important because part of the myth of classlessness and the

"normalization" process involved with it includes treating

poor and working-class students as if they are suddenly,


miraculously middle-class simply because they are attending


Working-Class Women in the Academy: Laborers in the

Knowledge Factory begins this important re-materializing

process. The authors in this anthology contextualize their

personal experience of class oppression within a

theoretical/political examination of the academy; as Lillian

Robinson notes, "some (in fact I think most), women from

working-class backgrounds talk about the academic world as

an alien place" (Ellis 43). They detail the enormous debts

they have accrued in college (Kadi says her "college loans

are as big as many home mortgages, and so are the monthly

payments"32 (65), as well as what it was like to go through

undergraduate and graduate school with "no savings, no

decent car, furniture or clothes" (Kadi 66); they explain

how the different values they encountered, the "different

set of 'manners,'" the "pretentious small talk" required of

them constituted "an exhausting experience" (Kadi 67), as

32 It is important to note that due to our downsliding
economy, many middle-class graduate students are now having
to acquire huge debts; of course, the impact is just that
much greater on poor and working-class students. Many
middle-class students are able to go through their
undergraduate years without accumulating much debt, whereas
less class-privileged students usually have a $10,000-
$20,000 "head-start." In addition, many middle-class
students, at least during their undergraduate years, are
covered under their parents' health insurance policies,
whereas poor and working-class students are not. These
potential medical costs make student-loan debts even higher.

did taking on extra jobs to pay for school;33 they describe

the consequences of not having "the launch pad of a middle-

class upbringing" (Annas 167): no money for books or

tuition, poor housing, poor health, no ability to pay for

decent childcare--in short, with the exception of particular

educational expenses, all of the same problems that poor and

working-class people face. They discuss the inequalities

that exist at the faculty level and the way in which

working-class women academicians tend to be tracked into

part-time adjunct positions at community colleges.

They also discuss how "acknowledging the claims of the

working class as marginalized and disadvantaged would throw

wrenches into the machinery of academia's programs of

affirmative action" (O'Dair 244), posing questions such as,

Who is the more disadvantaged? Or the more
historically disadvantaged? The son of, say, a
black lawyer who practices in Gadsden, Alabama; or
the son of a white mechanic who works somewhere in
Southern Pennsylvania; or the daughter of a
Japanese grocer who owns a small market in Fresno,
California; or the daughter of a single white
woman who works as a data entry clerk in Boulder
Colorado? (O'Dair 244)

33 It's interesting to note that these extra jobs are
not usually taken into account on scholarship applications;
in fact, these applications often require that students show
evidence of "community service"--ironically, such service
could mean helping out the "underprivileged" poor and
working classes through volunteer work. Students from these
classes, however, do not have the luxury of being able to
work without pay: they need such money to survive as well as
to pay for college. Thus, they are effectively shut out
from receiving many scholarships, while their middle- and
upper-class competitors are deemed more "worthy" because
they volunteer five or ten hours per week, when a working-
class student might work forty hours.


Such questions probably upset many in the academy who uphold

multiculturalism and the current policies of affirmative

action, yet who ignore the class aspects of these programs.

Affirmative action based solely on race becomes especially

problematic when the people most in need of such action--the

poor and working-class people of color--benefit from it the

least. When upper middle-class and upper-class students of

color receive affirmative action over far less class-

privileged people, the cultural "diversity" of the academy

becomes a "diversity" of an elite kind.

Perhaps some academics would also be upset by the

following scenario: a white female undergraduate from a

poverty background, who has transferred from a community

college to a major state university in Florida, does not

receive her financial aid money until six weeks into her

first semester there. She has no family members from whom

she can borrow money. The university has small emergency

short term loans of $400.00, but after one month of paying

for rent, utilities, and books (the university book store

has no program set up to "loan" her the books until her aid

comes in), she has no more money for food. She eats what

the Hare Krishnas provide for free every day in the center

of campus, but one meal a day is not enough. She finally

goes down to the blood plasma center to sell her plasma,

make thirty dollars, and buy food, but the nurse there tells

her she is "underweight" and not a suitable donor. "But I


have no money for food. I promise if you buy my plasma I'll

use the money to eat, then I'll gain weight," she pleads,

but is turned away. She could sell her body in a different

way, but she chooses not to. She drops down to 83 pounds

before her aid money comes.

I was that undergraduate, and when I speak of the

"hardest part" of my undergraduate or graduate education, I

do not mention exams, or papers, or anything academic; I

speak, rather, of the bodily, material experiences of

poverty. I have taught students who also went without food,

without medicine they needed, without proper heating in the

winter, without books; who were raped in the unsafe

apartments where they lived. So when I hear "diversity" and

"multiculturalism" yet see the long lines of students in the

financial aid office, mostly black and Hispanic, but also

many whites, waiting week after week for their money, I

wonder how many drop out, or commit suicide, or prostitute

themselves to stay in school. When I learn of new policies

proposed at my university, policies such as requiring

financial aid recipients to take fifteen versus twelve

credit hours per term to receive aid (as if these students

are not already overburdened by the additional hours they

put in working to support themselves), when I learn that

lower tuition might now be offered to those students--those

class privileged students--who complete their Bachelor's

degrees in four years, versus the five or more years it

takes most poor and working-class students (and even a

number of middle-class students, especially those who are

above the traditional age and/or have children), I have to

wonder how devoted to "diversity" and "multiculturalism" my

university really is. When I see "academic progress"

guidelines in my department which mean that poor and

working-class students who become ill must drop out, or

rather, be "pushed out,""34 perhaps losing forever their

chance of completing graduate school (while middle- and

upper-class students have more resources with which to take

a "leave of absence"--parental support,35 selling their

$10,000 to $40,000 car to buy a $600 "working-class" car6,

These students must remain enrolled in graduate
courses to continue receiving financial aid; an ill student
can hardly work a minimum-wage job full-time (or more) to
support himself or herself during a leave of absence, and,
if he or she were to do so, that student's health would
probably decline to such a point that re-entering graduate
school would be impossible.

35 The flattened wage scale in this country has made
such support more difficult for middle-class people than it
was in the past. However, such people undoubtedly have far
greater resources to liquidate than poor or working-class
families in the event of a health crisis that might result
in a graduate student losing his or her chances at a career.
Liquidation of such resources--a car, a house, etc.--could
of course bring that family down to a lower socio-economic
level, but at least one family member would complete
graduate school and have a greater chance at acquiring a
middle-class income to re-purchase the car, house, etc. in
the future. For already poor or working-class families,
such chances are not possible in these "academic progress"

36 I drive a 1979 Toyota worth perhaps $300, and I will
have to continue to drive it, even after I receive a Ph.D.,
because even with a $30,000 annual income, after paying for
taxes, accumulated medical debts, credit card debts, and

moving to cheaper housing, etc.), I have to wonder what the

race, class, gender" triad means--a course on African

American women writers? (When I proposed teaching a course

entitled, "Writing About Race, Class, and Gender," I was

told, "We already have a course like that--"Writing About

Minority Women.") When I hear rhetoric like "graduate

student support" to refer to teaching assistantships,

rhetoric that covers up the fact that many graduate

students, especially in English departments, are not
"supported" by anything--they work long hours as "Teaching

Assistants" (another rhetorical cover-up; many of us
"assist" no one, but do all the work ourselves and for very

meager wages)--well, when I hear such rhetoric, I cannot

help but be suspicious. Given these material "realities," I

am, like Kadi, "paranoid."

But fortunately the academy, despite its flaws, does

allow for the possibility of "diversity" and
"multiculturalism" of a material, substantial kind. If it

didn't, I wouldn't be here. The work of liberal-left

scholars, especially feminists, has constructed a foundation

upon which to build. Critical and feminist pedagogy

enormous student loan debt, I will have less than $1,000 per
month to live on (for food, rent, utilities, clothing,
etc.)--hardly enough to make new (or used) car payments.
Thus, although I will be upwardly mobile and earning a
middle-class income, in many ways I will still live as a
working-class person. However, unlike my working-class
friends back home who never attended college, I will
eventually make it to a more solid middle-class status--a
privilege of which I am very aware.

theorists in particular have been open to critiqueing the

academy and their places within it.37 Such theorists have

stressed the importance of acknowledging and examining the

embodied subjects present in and absent from the academy at

the same time that we discuss those subjects as they are

present and absent from the canons of academia. Kathleen

Weiler, for example, argues that through "the complexity of

issues raised by feminist pedagogy, we can begin to

acknowledge the reality of tensions that result from

different histories, from privilege, oppression, and power

as they are lived by teachers and students in classrooms"

("Freire" 470). "[F]eminist teachers," she explains, "if

they are to work to create a counter-hegemonic38 teaching,

must be conscious of their own gendered, classed, and raced

subjectivities as they confirm or challenge the lived

experiences of their students" (Women 145).

37 See, for example, Reconstructing the Academy:
Women's Education and Women's Studies, particularly "The
Costs of Exclusionary Practices in Women's Studies." For an
excellent bibliography of feminist pedagogy, one that
includes a section on theorizing difference, see Carolyn M.
Shrewsbury's "Feminist Pedagogy: An Updated Bibliography."

38 Weiler is drawing from Patti Lather, who argues that
Women's Studies is "counter-hegemonic work" (54 Women).
Lather uses Antonio Gramsci's concepts of hegemony and
counter-hegemony to discuss the potential of such work,
especially curricular transformation. Defining "hegemony"
as "the terrain upon which groups struggle for power" (55
Women), she argues that Women's Studies mobilizes "counter-
hegemonic forces" which "stymie consensus present
alternative conceptions of reality, [and] develop" the
subjective conditions necessary for "struggle toward a more
equitable social order" (55-6 Women), including equity in
terms of socio-economic class.


Teachers can serve as role models for their students,39

especially if they are willing to discuss their specific

subjectivities within the context of critical analysis of

the culture in which we live.40 Hearing specific details of

how a poor or working-class instructor has survived and come

to thrive in the academy will not necessarily change the

immediate material circumstances of a poor or working-class

student, but it does have the potential to empower that

student psychologically and emotionally. And, if

instructors of all class backgrounds help poor students

through loaning them money for books, or photocopying

readings for students until they receive their financial

aid, or providing them with part-time jobs (or, as a

professor once did for me, anonymously giving them money for

something crucial such as prescription glasses), or perhaps

most importantly, advocating for their students by working

39 In Chapter Five, I discuss role models more
extensively, including both the possible rewards and dangers
for students. I link this discussion to ways of reading
cultural and literary texts as they relate to class, race,
and gender subjectivity.

40 This analysis would be what Henry Giroux terms
criticalcl pedagogy as a form of cultural politics"--"a
deliberate attempt on the part of cultural workers to
influence how and what knowledge and subjectivities are
produced within particular sets of social relations," thus
"drawing attention to the ways in which knowledge, power,
desire, and experience are produced under the basic
conditions of learning" (Border 239); such an analysis would
recognize "that knowledge is produced, negotiated,
transformed and realized in the interaction between the
teacher, the learner, and the knowledge itself" (Kenway and
Modra, 140).

for policy changes within the academy,41 that instructor's

commitment to "multiculturalism" will become more honest and

may be the catalyst for a student remaining in college who

might not otherwise do so. Of course, such actions would

require what Weiler calls for--a consciousness of our own

subjectivities--as well as an acknowledgment of them to our

students. We would have to break the silence surrounding

class (thus requiring us to discuss how class intersects

with other aspects of our subjectivities), in many cases

acknowledging our own privileged positions in relation to

our students.

Such "silence" relates to what many feminist critics

have pointed out as a masculinist bias in the academy that

privileges reason, logic, and "objective" fact over emotion

and personal narrative, hooks points to not only the gender

bias here, but the class bias as well; she argues that the

promotion of these masculinist, nonemotional modes of

behavior in the classroom translates into an enforcement of

"bourgeois values" (Teaching 178):

As silence and obedience to authority [are] most
rewarded, students [learn] that this [is] the
appropriate demeanor in the classroom. Loudness,
anger, emotional outbursts, and even something as
seemingly innocuous as unrestrained laughter [are]
deemed unacceptable, vulgar disruptions of
classroom social order. These traits [are] also
associated with being a member of the lower
classes. (178)

41 See my Conclusion for suggestions of such policy

Students are taught to internalize a "proper" construction

of the body, one that M. M. Bakhtin refers to as the

"classical" versus the "grotesque" body. As Laura Kipnis

explains, following critics who also apply Bakhtin (such as

Peter Stallybrass and Allon White), this internalization

occurs because of a transcoding process "between bodily and

social topography, a transcoding which sets up an homology

between the lower bodily stratum and the lower social

classes" (376). The "highness" of culture occurs through

the "banishment of the low," through "suppressing the

grotesque body (which is, in fact, simply the material

body)" in favor of a refined, "classical body" that is

basically an "orifice-less, laminated surface" (376). The

"invention" of this "classical body" takes place culturally

through a sort of trickle-down effect, whereby "thresholds

of sensitivity and refinement," which begin within the upper

class as mechanisms of class distinction that evolve into

"standards of privacy, disgust, shame, and embarrassment,"

are then "gradually, although incompletely, disseminated

downward through the social hierarchy" (377). These

standards become the "very substance of bourgeois

subjectivity"; at first "socially generated," they slowly

"become reproduced in individuals as habits, reflexes, as

the structure of the modern psyche" (377).

Thus, when students in the classroom--perhaps due to

working-class or ethnic subjectivity--speak and behave in


ways that challenge these "habits" and "reflexes," they are,

as hooks explains, considered "rude and threatening" by

others (Teaching 187), most of whom have internalized the

bourgeois codes more thoroughly. But these supposedly
"vulgar disruptions of classroom social order" can be viewed

as ways in which working-class students might resist the

enforcement of "bourgeois values" in the academy and

reassert their own bodily, material presence. hooks argues

that professorsos cannot empower students to embrace

diversities of experience, standpoint, behavior, or style if

our training has disempowered us" by encouraging only "a

single mode of [classroom] interaction based on middle-class

values" (Teaching 187). She explains that professors often

cling to "more comfortable" methods of dealing with class

subjectivity--"through the material studied" rather than

through "interrogating how class bias shapes conduct in the

classroom" or through "transforming their pedagogical

process" (Teaching 187).

I believe that such a transformation might begin with

an open acknowledgement of one's class subjectivity, an

acknowledgment that would involve violating the masculinist,

bourgeois codes of behavior in the classroom; students'

bodies, as well as our own, would become more visible,

"louder" one might say, as emotions (linked dialectically to

the body) are given voice along with reason (linked

dialectically to the mind). It is important, however, that

during this process we make explicit to our students which

behaviors and discourses are normally upheld by the academy

and by the dominant culture and which are not; after all,

students do need to learn the dominant, "bourgeios" forms in

order to succeed in the academic and corporate worlds.

However, they need not blindly internalize these norms. As

instructors we can illuminate for them the power dynamics

involved in the norms, thus teaching them what is at stake

in their deployment. Doing so, however, can also involve

giving voice to subjectivities not usually represented or

valued by the academy and the dominant culture. As Pat

Belanoff points out,

[w]e need not to settle for teaching students the
discourse of the academy and thus invalidating
their personal discourse; we should not even be
acquiescing in the academy's dichotomizing of
disourse [including bodily discourse] into
academic and nonacademic. Both we and our
students can foster and produce a multiplicity of
discourses which all of us can learn to control.

Some of us in academia have become accustomed to

acknowledgments of our subjectivity in our written

scholarship; few, except certain liberal-left and feminist

scholars, have made them in the classroom. Yet such

acknowledgments in the classroom make the body present as a

classed subject in a way that is impossible within a written

text. Such a presence is crucial, for, as Kobena Mercer

notes, the "identity of the enunciator inevitably 'makes a

difference' to the social construction of meaning and value"

("Skin" 193), in this instance the meaning and value

students find in our pedagogy. As Patti Lather, quoting

Edward Said, points out, sometimes "who speaks is [even]

more important than what is said" (132). Our race, gender,

age and other subjectivity factors are already apparent and

"'make a difference'"; class does as well, but in more

subtle ways,42 especially perhaps in the way we might

"normalize" class subjectivity among our students or equate

it only with other factors such as race or gender. To begin

to avoid dealing with difference in this "normalizing"

manner--in the destructive ways Lorde pinpoints--requires an

awareness of the complexity of subjectivity, whether such

awareness is expressed through our "multiculturalist" work

of transforming the canon or through our work transforming

the academy; thus, class must be addressed with the same

seriousness and commitment as race and gender have been.

42 I believe it is important to resist this subtlety
and overcome "bourgeois" conceptions of the body and
behavior, when resisting them allows for more effective
pedagogical practice. For example, in my Women's Studies
classes, I point to the scars on my arm when discussing
sexual harassment and the complex intersections of other
factors such as class. The scars, I explain, are from
second-degree burns inflicted by a supervisor in the kitchen
where I had worked as a teenager. (He purposefully burned
me in retaliation for my refusing to have sex with him and
for reporting him to the feminist administrator of the
nursing home.) I explain that the outcome--his enforced
retirement, but not firing--would have been very different
had a feminist not been the administrator; I also explain
that due to my class position I had no recourse to legal
action or medical care, and that I felt extremely lucky to
have escaped the situation with only the scars--losing the
job might have meant becoming a prostitute.

What we need, then, in addition to the

"multiculturalism" that focuses on canon and curriculum is

what Henry Giroux, following Teresa de Lauretis, terms a

pedagogy of and for difference. Citing de Lauretis, Giroux

explains that a pedagogy of difference addresses how "the

representations and practices of difference are actively

learned, internalized, challenged, or transformed," while a

pedagogy for difference "is characterized by 'an ongoing

effort to create new spaces of discourse, to rewrite

cultural narratives, and to define the terms of another

perspective--a view from elsewhere'" ("Schooling" 142).

This type of critical pedagogy involves "a critical

interrogation of the silences and tensions between the

master narratives" of the academy and "the self-

representations of subordinate groups as they might appear

in 'forgotten' histories, texts, memories, experiences, and

community narratives" ("Schooling 142), and, I would add, in

"narratives" of the body. What I am attempting to enact,

then, and hope that other scholars will find relevant to

their own work, is a fusion of feminist theory/practice that

examines such "self-representations in 'forgotten'

. texts"--the multiculturalist work of canon

transformation--with "a critical interrogation" of the

"master narrative" of classlessness in the academy, a

narrative that effaces the presence of certain raced,

classed and gendered bodies. Such a fusion is a necessary


response to the "paranoia" I feel when I notice the absence

of self-constructed working-class subjects from the canon of

literature I happen to specialize in--Victorian literature--

and the absence of poor and working-class subjects from the

academy itself.

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