The entangled and complex nature of everyday understandings of social mobility, life-course change and social change: The experience of Chilean school teachers
Author: Andrea Lizama, firstname.lastname@example.org
University: University of Manchester, United Kingdom
Supervisor: Dr. Wendy Bottero
Year of completion: 2018
Language of dissertation: English
Areas of Research: Stratification , Social Classes and Social Movements , Social Transformations and Sociology of Development
This thesis explores how Chilean teachers understand their life trajectories in terms of life-course change, socio-historical change and social mobility, examining whether they make distinctions between these different kinds of understandings of transitions. In a context of 40 years of transformations in Chile, teachers are used as a case-study for examination of the subjective dimension of social mobility, and people’s sense of class location and inequality. Methodologically, this research adopted the approach of exploring people’s sense of life course and social movement in its broadest sense, examining how teachers talked about their life trajectories in order to consider whether questions of social change, life-course change, social structure and social mobility featured. It is built on data collected through interviews with 41 teachers who live in Santiago, who were asked to outline their personal timelines as a way to reflect on the main changes which they regarded as significant in their life stories. The argument of this thesis draws on and contributes to sociological work on class and social mobility. Most social mobility research has been dominated by quantitative work about occupational patterns of movement, with subjective social mobility neglected because people’s subjective understandings of social movement have been seen to be contradictory and inconsistent. It has been suggested that ‘lay’ understandings fail to distinguish ‘social mobility’ from socio-historical change and life-course change, so people fail to recognise the true extent of inequality and the limited nature of social mobility. This thesis foregrounds subjective social mobility and critically examines these assumptions. On the basis of my empirical research, I argue that the apparent inconsistencies in ‘lay’ subjective social mobility disappear when we locate people’s understandings of social location, social change and social mobility within their broader sense of their life stories. These inconsistencies are partly the result of the complex ways in which people understand their life stories and position themselves within a broader social structure, and are best explained using an analytical focus which emphasises the multidimensional nature of trajectories in social space (Bourdieu, 1984) and a methodological focus which is sensitive to the multifaceted and practical ways in which people speak about their lives. The teachers in my sample resisted a linear summary of their timelines and issues of life-course change and socio-historical change also framed their accounts, adding additional layers of complexity to them, in narratives of trajectories along different dimensions which qualified or disrupted each other. Despite that the teachers framed their trajectories as complex, non-linear constructs, and some rejected ‘social mobility’ stories, they still all offered overall evaluations of their changing life circumstances. They looked beyond their own trajectories to make different sort of comparisons which helped them to establish a sense of relative social movement, characterising their lives as showing social improvement, stability or decline as different views of their relative social position, and of the social structure and inequalities. I argue that rather than focusing on whether or not ordinary people correctly recognise relative or absolute mobility, it is more pivotal to examine how these different understandings come into play when ordinary people reflect about their location in an unequal society. The thesis argues that subjective social mobility needs to be analysed in term of a multidimensional model of class location and class movement, and this also argues for a greater understanding of the complexities of issues of social location, trajectories and social mobility in which ‘class’ emerges in different way in people’s accounts. Therefore, a more open-ended approach to how people understand their relative situation is needed, in order to explore whether and how issues of class position, social inequalities and social mobility feature in the accounts of ‘ordinary’ people when they discuss the key transitions of their lives.