While it has long been accepted that social class plays a significant role in the development of identity, in
the 1980s, some theorists talked of a period 'after class'. As class no longer clearly predicted voting
patterns along political party lines and social status could be gained through consumerism, some argued
that its influence had declined. People had become more socially mobile and more able to make lifestyle
choices. Some, while acknowledging inequalities between classes, were questioning whether these were
any more important than the inequalities arising out of being categorised on the basis of gender, ethnicity,
age, sexuality or ablebodiedness (Jamieson, 2000; Yates, 2000). Pakulski and Waters (1996) argue that the
'class mechanism' associated with industrial times has become so weak it is no longer important. They add,
however, that 'Social inequalities palpably exist and are even increasing despite class decomposition' (1996, p.669). Taking a contrary position, Wright (1996) argues that class divisions are of enduring consequence in our society and that boundaries between classes are not dissolving but becoming more complex. Economic factors continue to impact on life chances and to have wide ramifications for other
social phenomena. Evidence continues to indicate that class position still profoundly influences life chances and expectations (McGregor, 2001).
... class remains a significant and sometimes powerfol determinant of many aspects of social life. Class boundaries, especially the poverty boundary, continue to
constitute real barriers in people's lives ... and class location continues to have real, ifvariable, impact on individual subjectivities (Wright, 1996, p. 711 ).
The image of Australia as an egalitarian society cannot be sustained - merit alone is no guarantee of success. Social class continues to have a significant impact on how individuals view their place in society and on the choices they make. It continues to playa key role in identity construction.
The process of identity construction continues throughout life. Many of you will only recently have begun
to construct an identity as 'student' and 'pre-service teacher' - adding these new dimensions to who you are
as a person. How individuals do this is influenced by many factors including age, gender and ethnicity.
However, each person's perspectives are likely to be influenced by socio-culturally based perceptions -
grounded in experiences of family and school and significantly influenced by economic factors. While
identity is psychologically produced, it reflects the specific social, economic and cultural circumstances of
the individual (Nagle, 1999). People have many different identities which coexist. Class, itself a multifaceted,
complex phenomenon, provides a ready source of social identity that shapes and informs people's frames of reference and ways of thinking about their daily lives (Devine, 1992).
Before moving on to consider social class in more detail, it is important to emphasise that class is not
something abstract - something 'out there'. Class is about the lived experience of people, in day-to-day life.
It is about how people are positioned within society, the attributes they are perceived to have and how their
worth is viewed. Among other things, this includes 'encounters with hostility and deference and snobbery and exploitation' (McGregor, 2001 p53). Class is more than a system of material inequalities; it is 'a particular kind of social differentiation that permeates people's lives' (Probert, 200 I, electronic source, unpaginated).