Postsocialist conflicts and the insecure middle: the fraught maintenance of cultural power

Year: 2018

Author: Rowe, Emma

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Fraser (1997) describes ‘postsocialist’ conflicts as an assertion of identity politics and the ‘struggle for recognition’, signifying a departure from class politics or the emphasis on redistribution paradigms. Certainly, political events across the global north indicate ongoing struggles for representation, particularly with the rise of anti-feminism and alt right movements. In schooling, the politics of representation are enduring, albeit heterogenous. This paper sets out to explore schooling for the insecure middle. Arguably, by exploring the relationship between schooling and the insecure middle class, this is illuminating for an analysis of social justice, and Fraser’s tenets of social justice: recognition, redistribution and representation.
In the market economy, and from the Australian context, schools are positioned within their own binaries and struggles for representation. This paper focuses on ‘elite’ public schools, as opposed to, or distinguished from elite fee-paying private schools and public schools for the power-marginalised. The insecure middle draw on an exhaustive inventory of tactics, methods and social systems to evade power-marginalized schools, as explored by Zipin and Brennan—but in doing so, replicate similar performativities of elite private schools (see, Kenway and Epstein).
The tensions that I focus on here are the politics of representation—although this is not to diminish struggles for recognition and redistribution—as the insecure middle endeavours to assert a particular cultural and social politics of distinction. The insecure middle is certainly struggling for progressiveness and politics of representation—left leaning, and aligned with anti- racism, sexism, and homophobia—but tenuously striving for cultural distinction in their schooling choices. Elite public schools maintain their distinction in material and immaterial ways: primarily through their community, as anchored in whiteness.