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Class Degrees

Smart Work, Managed Choice, and the Transformation of Higher Education

Evan Watkins

Publication Year: 2008

A current truism holds that the undergraduate degree today is equivalent to the high-school diploma of yesterday. But undergraduates at a research university would probably not recognize themselves in the historical mirror of high-school vocational education. Students in a vast range of institutions are encouraged to look up the educational social scale, whereas earlier vocational education was designed to cool outexpectations of social advancement by training a working class prepared for massive industrialization.In Class Degrees, Evan Watkins argues that reforms in vocational education in the 1980s and 1990s can explain a great deal about the changing directions of class formation in the United States, as well as how postsecondary educational institutions are changing. Responding to a demand for flexibility in job skills and reflecting a consequent aspiration to choice and perpetual job mobility, those reforms aimed to eliminate the separate academic status of vocational education. They transformed it from a cooling outto a heating upof class expectations. The result has been a culture of hyperindividualism. The hyperindividual lives in a world permeated with against-all-odds plots, from beat the oddsof long supermarket checkout lines by using self-checkout and buying FasTrak transponders to beat the odds of traffic jams, to the endless superheroes on film and TV who daily save various sorts of planets and things against all odds.Of course, a few people can beat the odds only if most other people do not. As choice begins to replace the selling of individual labor at the core of contemporary class formation, the result is a sort of waste labor left behind by the competitive process. Provocatively, Watkins argues that, in the twenty-first century, academic work in the humanities is assuming the management function of reclaiming this waste labor as a motor force for the future.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii

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pp. ix

Among so many colleagues and friends who have contributed so much, I want especially to thank Marco Abel, Amitava Kumar, John Muckelbauer, and Jeff Nealon, who put up with hearing me go on and on about all kinds of vague ideas...

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1. We’re Going to the Show

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pp. 1-16

The current truism suggests that an undergraduate degree is today’s equivalent to a high-school diploma a couple of generations earlier. Undergraduates at a research university would probably not recognize themselves reflected in any historical...

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2. New Selves / Old Selves, Class Dreams / Class Nightmares

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pp. 17-38

Frederick Taylor’s story about Schmidt and the pig iron is one of the founding legends of scientific management. It is usually remembered now for the derogatory terms in which Taylor characterized the worker he was looking for and the arrogance...

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3. School to Work to School to Work to . . .

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pp. 39-59

Educators have found it difficult to keep up with the intensifying pressures of a winner-takes-all culture. Because very few clear pathways to ‘‘winning’’ exist for most people, secondary-school teachers especially are faced with few options...

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4. How the Inequality Connection Was Timed Out

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pp. 60-73

You need a good camcorder to shoot inequality in consumption. Not only do mobilities of desire keep everything in motion, but also—and equally important—the superimposition of image acceleration over taste fills the screen to the point of overflowing...

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5. Class Processes 101: The Purpose of Competition

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pp. 74-91

A letter to the editor appearing in the Sacramento Bee of May 16, 2002, from Curt Augustine, the executive vice president for the California Coalition for Construction in the Classroom, suggests that a college-degree-for-all mentality...

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6. Competition, Choice, and the Management of Class Doubling

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pp. 92-118

Undergraduates at colleges and universities are frequently linked in more and more complicated ways with community-college, distance-educational, and vocational-technical students. Very often the same person is all of the above. Transferring...


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pp. 119-122


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pp. 123-126

E-ISBN-13: 9780823246410
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823229826
Print-ISBN-10: 0823229823

Page Count: 128
Publication Year: 2008