The Class System is Static | Frances Varley | Part 1 of 6



the motion is this house believes the class system is static irrespective of wealth acquisition and I looked at Frances Valley again do you open the case for the proposition thank you [Applause] thank you at first glance this seems rather illogical doesn't it that I'm standing here in front of you all tonight to add you for the rigidity of the class system me the librarian of the Oxford Union with my northern accent and state school education surely I should be telling you that our class system is fluid that it's mobile and that is possible to overcome the so-called challenges of our origins because I like so many others in this room and well on my way to achieving social mobility but I'm not I'm standing in front of you all tonight to argue precisely the opposite I'm going to stand here in my ballgown in this hallowed Hall and tell you that the class system that we continue to oppose on us upon ourselves is immovable that it isn't changing and that is if it isn't affected by how much wealth you may come to acquire in your lifetime because the class system as I understand it is our organization of society around distinct groups each with intrinsic tendencies and interests that differ from other groups whether this is in terms of the social the cultural as political when arranged in a hierarchical structure the differences between these groups can become antagonistic or indeed they can become subdued and absorbed into the system I can't pretend to know about statistics or surveys or Marx in philosophy I'll leave that to the experts but what I do know about are the inherent often unconscious biases that we as students at the University of Oxford have with regards to class tonight I want to dwell on some of these issues and try to show that actually no matter how much money we'll earn on the back of our Oxford degrees class mobility is nothing more than an illusion but first it falls on me as always to introduce your opposition speakers tonight first we have the indomitable Simon Jacob a second-year lawyer at hwadam and a member of the unions secretary's committee Simon is participating in the elections tomorrow as a candidate for the Standing Committee and I wish him the very best of luck rumor has it that the election is going to be wildly contested with an incredible 5 candidates for five positions democracy at its finest I'm sure you'll agree anyone who knows Simon will probably be a little surprised to see him on the opposition benches tonight all I can say is that I'm indebted to him for allowing me to exploit the institutional hierarchy so that I could speak on the proposition for my final Union debate microderm goujian is the current world and european number-one in competitive debating and will be the chief adjudicator at the upcoming World Championships in Mexico in a former life Michael was also a student politician and served as the president of the Cambridge Union I can say with the utmost honesty that speaking against him tonight is a terrifying prospect indeed finally Lord Christopher Moncton is a businessman newspaper editor hereditary peer and political adviser he assisted with mrs. Thatcher's right to buy policy after writing a paper for the CPS on the privatization of council housing since 2009 Lord Monckton has been a regular although unsuccessful you get Candida I do hope tomorrow's candidates haven't been asking him for advice on behalf of everyone who's been working on putting together this debate I'd like to offer my sincerest thanks to both Michael and low Moncton for stepping in to participate the last minute after series of scheduling classes until her ill health mr. president easier guess and they are most welcome I went to a state selective grammar school near Huddersfield in West Yorkshire my parents never went to university my grandparents certainly didn't I'm from a corner of the country that has an inherent and profound pride in its industrial and by extension working-class past everywhere you look there are remnants in the Industrial Revolution whether it's the grand old woolen mills that have now been converted into fashionable flats the labyrinth of canals that are now more commonly visited by dog walkers the narrow boats or the endless rows of sustained terraced houses that haven't changed for decades in truth most things haven't changed for decades but that's part of the beauty of it I'd always been told and I'd always truly believed that where I came from was the best place on earth after Ellis why else would they call it God's own County so coming to Oxford was a shock to the system my new friends would laugh every time I asked if anyone was off 12th tee or that somewhere was right mad when the run over but even just every time I said no with two flats of a vowel suddenly I had become the other and I realized that I just wasn't part of the same world as the vast majority of my peers now for the first time in my life I was doubting some of the most fundamental parts of my identity and I wasn't alone your feeling like this an actor gets a poor review for their attempt at a regional action in a student production out of an obscure postmodern play at the Burton Taylor except it's not an attempt that's their voice but of course any regional accent on the stage can't possibly be natural because people who sound like that don't exist in universities like this a tutor remarks that there's a surprising eloquence in your work front which means they fully expected you to write like that big weathering Heights where Joseph's style actors transliterated one of Oxford's slightly less famous but equally notorious drinking societies buys out the Duke of Cambridge on the spot for drinks because that's normal and acceptable thing to do whether through unconscious microaggressions are a genuine sense of entitlement class disparity is on a show every day in Oxford so let's return to first-year front some of my new friends belong to an elite world that was wholly and completely inaccessible to me they had a kind of unique unassailable confidence that only a private education can provide they already knew each other from their affluent neighborhoods in South London their gap peers in Thailand or had been in the same boarding house since they were it was becoming increasingly apparent to me that this elite bubble was something that I could never enter I could have won the lottery in third week and it still wouldn't change the fact that I could count the number of people in Oxford from my grammar school in my ear with the fingers on one hand and that I just wasn't a part of this world sure we were all the Oxford but our experiences and expectations could not be more distinct I've grown to learn now that actually this sense of distinction and other Nastasha homesickness it was exemplar of a much deeper problem these circles are networked the ones that people can never be truly a part of don't stop once you leave the city of dreaming spires or Boys Clubs favors getting intership because she went on varsity with a girl whose dad works at Morgan Stanley they're all just by words for nepotism you can't buy access to these networks overnight you can't buy access to the motto not even a self-made millionaire could worm their way into the exclusive club of elite society now it is true to say that money and this kind of status do often go hand in hand but it is not true that what is necessarily dependent on the other an aristocratic family can lose their family seat as a result of years of financial mismanagement but they're still meant to maintain the same kinds of social privileges and expectations that they've always had a working-class teenager can sell things out the back of the dad's van and turning it into a multi-million pound business but the specter of their humble origins will prevent them from being truly equal to their more blue blooded peers but why why when our working-class hero manages to make it big and they're not wholly absorbed into the social equivalent of the economic group to which they now belong perhaps only matters if you're the ones with something to lose within the power structure that is the class system perhaps it is the case that social mobility is nothing but an enticing aspirational fallacy to keep the unruly populace in their place however overtly or subconsciously we're told that to be part of the lower echelon of society is inherently bad and then we ought to strive to remove ourselves as quickly as possible we're told that coming to Oxford is the first step to achieving this so we suppress our accents we apply vaguely to that age-old question so where'd you go to school and we work ourselves into the ground to try to fit in but really it's impossible because no matter how hard we try never be able to get away from our backgrounds research conducted by the certain trust in 2015 showed that privately educated graduates from the same institution with the same degree would earn on average 7% more than their state school counterparts three and a half years after graduation the system is a vicious cycle and a self-fulfilling prophecy now said Hilda's College recently announced the creation of a class liberation officer within their JCR and move that I've not quite made up my mind about but wonders showing the acceptance of the significance of classism and the difficulties faced by those from lower class backgrounds in Oxford the value of class isn't access by which we ought to understand our society is one that is criminally overlooked in this university we pride ourselves on our liberalism tolerance and understanding but I argue that we cannot truly be intersectional without ascribing the same value to class as you do to gender sexuality or race without discussion surrounding class our intersection intersectionality is limited by the echo-chamber of our environment and Oxford is one of the biggest echo chambers of them all ultimately social mobility in the sense that we understand it in this country doesn't exist it doesn't exist because the caste system is perpetuated and upheld by those that benefits from its rigidity and in doing so keep those who do not at its mercy but just because social mobility doesn't exist that doesn't mean we should turn our backs on it the pursuit of equality if I've learned anything from my time in Oxford and indeed my time in the Union as both Jo ever closer to a close is that we don't have to conform to whatever it is that is expected of us you don't have to change yourself because some arbitration system disapp demands it I've come to realise that actually I'm not entirely sure if I'm that bothered that I might never escape them my metaphorical working-class chains and I'm not that bothered that I'm not going to be a part of the elite that opposed the system to try to change that word to be to deny a fundamental part of who I am and I'm not willing to do that instead we can be proud of who we are and where we come from of where we went to school and the jobs our parents have of the rows of terraced houses in the abandoned coal mines because they are so much more valuable than we're conditioned to believe so for those of you in this room who know what it is to feel like who you are isn't quite enough take some advice from a boring old finalist and vote for the proposition tonight thank you you




Comments
  1. She is right, across a short time scale. Short run, she is spot on. She hits the nail on the head.

    Across the long-run, money does bolster class mobility, both upwards, and down. Time bifurcates both social class and money. When that chap from Eastenders goes on Who do you think you are and learns he is descended from some king, you see that perfectly. When you hear that a future Queen is from a family of northern miners, you learn that it works both ways.

    So, long term, it is not static. Short term, unless you are Ed Sheeran playing swords with Princesses, it is.

  2. thought the classist argument would hinge on personal or family wealth, but she lumps in "microaggressions" and "unconscious bias"

  3. So the class system is static because it is a mental thing? The class system exists in the mind, fixed? The speaker unfortunately underplays the role of economic inequalities in her definition of the 'class system', at one pointing stating: 'it is not affected by how much wealth you have'. Yet, the very oppressive conditions she talks of creating 'otherness'; the sense of entitlement of 'upper class'(I presume) kids at oxford; their 'expensive south london homes' and their 'gap years' (all paid for I imagine), the drinking societies that can buy out pubs (with money I presume), are in the end the result of these people having a different upbringing made possible by their access to greater levels of wealth! More problematically, she does not sufficiently prove that the 'psychological' barriers are actually static. Her attempts to do so often end up with her using examples which show that social immobility is a product of economic inequality. In short: we do need the stats (in addition to all she said).

  4. To me the upper and lower classes are linked by the want to enjoy themselves without interference. The middle class are the bane of enjoying life with their pretentious views of what is good for us and their need to impose norms of behaviour where it is not wanted. There is far more, irrelevant of wealth, that links the working and upper classes and that is the want to enjoy life regardless of how long or short it is.

  5. 6 parts, of which:
    3 parts with "statically" dressed male waiters claiming the system is not static and
    3 parts with "dynamically" dressed females claiming the system is static

    Is this intentional?

  6. What socialists mean by "class" doesn't exist, which is why Marx could never give a working definition of it.

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