How to support egalitarian society and what to avoid when doing it?
Exploring (social) Class
A workshop in Sheffield ‘Exploring Class’ gave insights into capitalism, social classes, people’s lives and stories and by the end causing pain, anxiety, anger, frustration, guilt and regret in a social experiment.
This article is also written with the participants of the workshop in mind to help us understand a different perspective on it and create a collective understanding, in an expected dialogue and feedback afterwards, of what was going on especially in the second part of the workshop. Also contributing to our learning processes about supporting a fair and just society, and question the unquestioned.
I am expressing my appreciation in the article towards the organisers of the workshop and the first day and half of its duration including constructive insights it gave me. Also, I am criticizing the social experiment mentioned above, its destructive and damaging forces which have deepened some of my prejudices, I will work on from now on again. After, I am suggesting and a proposal of a possible nurtured, constructive collaboration between the social classes as a replacement of the criticised as I feel that the replacement would not bring short-term financial rewards but has a great potential to create other projects which could unlock the working classes potential further and dismantle the exploitative tendencies within the capitalistic hierarchy in the long run and in the future.
Excuse some details, however, they may give you a better understanding which might also help in developing further ideas of what else is needed to support the shift towards an egalitarian society.
12 minutes read
I have attended the ‘Exploring Class: A Workshop in Sheffield’ (England) on 1. February 2020 organised by D.Hunter from Chav Solidarity (autobiography) and Lumpen Journal (a journal of poor and working class writing).
Before the workshop we received instructions related to accommodation, food and location which was considerate and useful especially for people commuting from other cities. Furthermore, we received articles and educational videos related to the history of capitalism from left, centre and right perspectives which gave us good insights. Then discussions around social and cultural capital, class, race, gender among history of white people including an essay to read was forwarded to us. Homework was also given to write our class story testimonial.
The well organised event with the forwarded materials to study made me eager to learn more about the topics, understand them and attend the workshop in the hope of coming up with constructive ideas to support equality when finished.
The first day was long but rewarding. I understood the structures of society better including social classes, capitalism and whiteness among others which I was not aware about as much before. This was also via group work with various people, where I enjoyed discussions and generally the interactions with people from all social stratas. To see people around me joining the workshop and willing to contribute towards a positive social change speaking honestly about their experiences was connecting me with them on deeper levels.
I would name just a few values resonating with me that day, feeling that those are the keys to open doors to a fair and a just society, including open mindedness, compassion, respect, and willingness to accept the differences and diversity.
The other words or concepts from that day were; enriching communication, collaboration, constructive and inspiring. All those made me want to work towards an egalitarian future with even more passion than I do now with the people present there hoping for a future joint project we could all work together on.
However, the second day completely shattered my expectations, not necessarily the experiences of our classes but the relationships I was building during the first day of the workshop.
So called ‘Fishbowl’ was introduced. Which is basically a form of dialogue that can be used when discussing topics within large groups. Four chairs were put into the middle of a circle made out of 20 other people from various social classes. Two chairs were taken by working classes, one by middle and the last one by a high class person. Anytime, anyone from the large circle formed around the middle four chairs could step in and tap a member from hers/his/theirs social class on the shoulder and swap with the person to enter the dialogue.
Nevertheless, the Fishbowl in the given context and coached working classes firing prepared questions to middle classes and high classes, shifting the power dynamics from one side onto the other, the tool became a dangerous social experiment bringing up pain, anxiety, anger, frustration, guilt and regret.
What I mean by ‘coached’ is that before the Fishbowl started I passed by a meeting for working classes, the other groups were not aware about, led by all three facilitators. When I wanted to join in I was told ‘this is just for capital minimum (the working class was called like this during the workshop, together with capital plenty for middle class and capital high for high class) and a waving hand was directing me to the exit.
My impression was that they were coached or advised as to how to perform better with the agenda of the Fishbowl, which I will come back to later, perhaps which questions to ask, how to ask them, and how to express themselves.
Just before the Fishbowl started the facilitators including D.Hunter, facilitator S. and facilitator H. said that we’re going to be left to our own devices and that they will be impartial. I found this irresponsible especially after they said it might be emotional and that’s in the environment they have constructed.
Despite the announced impartiality I was pulled down from the discussion when a young woman H. from working class wanted to talk things through more in depth with me in a non-abusive constructive dialogue and that is when D.Hunter encouraged St. (a guy from the middle class group I was a part of) to swap with me after I asked questions back which were not what the facilitators wanted to hear I think. I will come back to my questions shortly.
During the Fishbowl working classes were asking questions related to middle classes and high classes plans for a possible future interaction between various social stratifications or what the other classes planned to do to change the status quo and improve equality. Seeing struggling people from the middle class and high class answering clearly the questions or coming up with ‘proper’ expected plans by the working classes under the ever increasing emotional heat of the Fishbowl, was the reason why I had to call myself into it again in its second round.
Fishbowl and an exchange of participants representing one group.
When I told the working classes that they have a lot of expectations from others to come up with something real and tangible it seems, I asked them if they have some plans in mind which could lead to an equal and just society.
Moments of quietness and frustration past in no time. An angry swap between working class firing questions back at me without any answer ‘What plans do you have?!!’
When I was coming up with an idea of a possible future collaboration between the social classes, in the middle of the Fishbowl, to foster collaboration and equality I was almost ‘shut down’ by another person. This time from the high class when she was filtering her frustration on me she might have accumulated throughout the day and in the Fishbowl, as I understand it, as she could not give me any reasonable answer except being aggressive towards me and swearing at me.
Later on after the Fishbowl a similar scenario of being told down happened when another person C. from high class felt disturbed when I was speaking out in the session about the coaching meeting which I witnessed happening saying that I am patronising others by not trusting the working class and their own abilities, as it would be me coaching them not the facilitators.
As what C. was saying was not my intention at all and I was just describing what I saw I had to pull out from the dialogue as the tensions were increasing again.
Could it be that the person C. from the high class was indirectly reflecting on facilitators who were helping working classes out during the coaching session? Were they not trusting their capabilities?
Why were so called ‘high classes’ trying to talk me down in the game we were playing?
I think that it was because I did not play the expected role engineered* as an outcome of the Fishbowl and the other half of the workshop was feeling guilty, sorry and speechless as perhaps they did?
(*The term ‘engineered’ is referred to the space as it did not occur in the workshop naturally or by itself but it happened by giving us a certain set of rules to follow in the given context with an expected outcome and that were heightened emotions as we were warned about beforehand by the facilitators hence the term ‘engineered’. As the artificially created space had its expected outcome I refer to it as ‘agenda’ below.)
Simply I got out of the pre-packed box and said using other words ‘are you aware what’s going on in here?’ Is this construct really just and fair? This the participants did not expect or perhaps did not want to hear because the agenda was very different, I read.
Something like watching an English super drama packed with guilt and embarrassment, where suddenly someone is not quite performing the role and fulfilling the viewers expectations putting the drama into the question saying ‘this is not as it’s supposed to be!’ meeting feelings of confusion and frustration without really understanding what is going on in the movie as it is a drama not a constructive and collaborative platform.
I truly cannot imagine people coming up with relevant answers under the heat of the Fishbowl where anger, tears, crying, aggression, swearing, guilt and the eyes of the other 20 people carefully watching the show including all three facilitators are adding to the tensions.
Furthermore, the social experiment I refer to as the ‘Fishbowl’, in the given context, has discouraged me to work on possible collaborative projects in the future with working class as I am not ready to take their aggression and frustration whenever I would unintentionally trigger them as I was told I did trigger the young woman H. from the working classes by a single word referred to as ‘corporate jargon’.
The way I see it is that the second part of the workshop was victimising the working classes in the engineered environment further, dividing them from the other groups and creating more social class divisions, exposing them to their own harmful emotions and negatively affecting their wellbeing while feelings of guilt and regret were imposed onto the other groups.
To my other surprise an email after the workshop sent out by D.Hunter he was suggesting to put people from the same social classes but different cities on a separate mailing list or separate Facebook groups, to further reproduce social divisions as I see it, instead of creating a collaborative platform and bringing us all together where a real and a tangible change in the form of various projects and initiatives could sprout from.
The last impulse to write this article was when I received a newsletter from the Lumpen Collective after I sent them three emails including my detailed feedback for not receiving any answer yet, saying: ‘We know there’s some criticism of the workshop, mainly but not solely from class reductionist white men who believe that class is purely about the means of production and nothing else, we read those criticisms, smile, wave and move on.’
Why are they asking for feedback then?
The events above might or might not be related, nevertheless, is it not possible for there to be feedback from a white man even though not ‘a class reductionist’ to be constructive to help them to reflect and improve the otherwise very well organised and enlightening workshop?
Or do they really seek to be just praised and adored while ‘punishing’ middle and high classes in the heat and pressure of the Fishbowl, for all the traumas all three facilitators could have experienced as a result of inequality and class system. Therefore, being blind towards the damaging effects the Fishbowl has on people’s emotions, wellbeing and possible future collaborative relationships even friendships in between classes truly dismantling the class divisions?
I’ll leave it with you.
I believe that shifting the power balance from one side onto the other, blaming, imposing feelings of guilt, shame and regret while keeping us separate will not create an egalitarian and just society. We have tried this since perhaps the beginning of ‘human culture’ and the place it brought us to is only rapidly broadening inequality also here in England.
But collaborative platforms and guided constructive processes, encouraging an open communication and collaboration between the classes in a safe and nurturing environment to come up with real solutions and projects is the way to dismantle our social class constructs and inequality.
I feel grossly disappointed that such inspiring people as D. Hunter and other facilitators who were literally raised from the ashes of the oppressed and could be the bridges between the classes and people are possibly unintentionally creating more division and pain by reproducing and strengthening class divisions.
The old ways of punishment, guilt and regret which have been controlling us for millennia rising again from our wounds wounding others have to be stopped.
We can dismantle our own prejudices and fears by open mindedness, compassion, respect, and acceptance of differences and diversity to create a fair and a just society, not otherwise I have learned.
Sincerely, in mine and other people’s painful experience during and after the Fishbowl I have no idea how this could possibly bring a positive change.
If anyone thinks that to bring social justice and equality that this will happen by setting up a direct debit from people having spare cash on hand to support the working classes and therefore pay for their guilt while keeping us separate not collaborating together on a project and not dismantling the expected roles of all social classes by role exchanges or rotating roles, within any collaborative project between the classes, is on a very different page, I think.
It would be great to receive any feedback to help us create a collective understanding to learn from it and make the greatly needed shift in wealth distribution and stop oppression faster.
Artwork used for the Explore Class workshop promotion in Sheffield and in other cities which inspired the artwork for this article next to it (or below if seen on a tablet or a mobile). Art credit Socha Design
Further workshops on class by D.Hunter and Lumpen Collective
The study material forwarded to us by D.Hunter before the workshop.
Intros to History of Capitalism:
From the left perspective
Social and Cultural Capital
An Introduction to Pierre Bourdieu on Social and Cultural Capital
What Is Cultural Capital? Do I have It?
Discussions around Class
Working Class Perspectives: Every Part of Us Has Parts
Class and Caste System
Some race, gender and class videos
The History Of White People
The Urgency of Intersectionality by Kimberle Crenshaw
Silvia Federici: The Witch Hunts & The Transition To Capitalism
The Invention of Whiteness