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Social mobility: the politics, the reality, the alternative

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Abstract:

Shows how the idea of social mobility chimes in with the neoliberal agenda: if individuals can be seen to be able to move between social classes, inequality becomes less of a problem. Or, in commonsense terms, as long as there are ladders available the cleverest will always be able to climb them. Criticises notion of the ladder, e.g. David Cameron (quoting Churchill): 'We are for the ladder. Let all try their best to climb.' In the postwar period there was some mobility because of the expansion of the middle class - but not because those at the top swapped places with anyone. But now that the middle class is contracting and becoming poorer while position-swapping remains off the agenda - and at a time when inequality is growing exponentially - the notion of meritocracy or equality of opportunity is wearing very thin. The metaphor of the ladder misleadingly implies that all have the potential to climb on their own. Much better to return to the old slogan: rise with your class, not from it.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.3898/136266213809450275

Publication date: 2013-12-13

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