Case Study: The Need to Teach About Class
March 12, 2007
The tangled discourse about class in the U.S. seems to be richly illustrated in this exchange about a panel on High Class, Low Class Web Design at South by Southwest. In this post, Christopher Fahey, the moderator, describes the panel and also links to bloggers who were at the session and wrote about the presentations and the Q and A as they happened.
We could start with the judgmental language of the panel title, but what is even more troubling for me is that these panelists and bloggers (seemingly all highly educated) seem to have no common referents for talking about class, few perspectives outside of their own experiences to draw from, little common language about what class might be.
The only references in this entire written exchange are to classism.org, to Paul Fusell’s book on class, and alas, to Ruby Payne.
Fahey writes that he did seem some substantive analysis:
Notably the general observation that technology could potentially serve as a very powerful social class flattening agent, and in many ways it is in fact already doing so. User-generated content, blogs, etc, are putting the tools of design into everyone’s hands, dismantling the top-down model of publishing and, by extension, design itself.
Yet these points –of access to information and access to the tools of public voice –seem to be somewhat lost in discussion of whether poor and working class people simply have poor taste.
One of the bloggers does mention that an audience participant noted that aesthetic “standards” can, in fact, be constructed as barriers to mobility. It’s not clear if that comment got much response.
Fahey mentions that they had a huge turnout for the panel. Interest in class seems high these days. Informed discourse about class may, perhaps, still be a way off.