The Remaking of the American Working Class
This chapter moves beyond the transitions to adulthood literature, asking, What does it mean to be working class in the post-industrial economy? What kinds of symbolic boundaries do young people construct to delineate who they are versus who they are not? In particular, it investigates why young people who would seemingly benefit most from social safety nets and solidarity with others cling so fiercely to neoliberal ideals of untrammeled individualism and self-reliance. Over and over again, working-class youth experience bewilderment and betrayal in institutions, learning that they can depend on others only at great cost. The more “flexible” they must become in their interactions with institutions—that is, the more they learn to manage short-term commitment and disillusionment—the more “hardened” they become toward the world around them. This “hardening” is particularly acute across lines of gender and race, as they see others as competition in the fight for stable jobs and secure futures.
Keywords: neoliberalism, emotion, institutions, education, betrayal, culture, symbolic boundaries, race, gender