Social Class Stereotypes in Upper-Secondary School

  • Dennis Beach


This chapter is a little different to the two preceding ones, in the sense that although it has been produced within an ethnographic research project, it is not primarily an ethnographic chapter. It is based on reconsidered data and analyses from an article from 2015 called Institutional discrimination: Stereotypes and social reproduction of “class” in the Swedish upper-secondary school by Anna-Carin Jonsson and Dennis Beach that was published in the journal of the Social Psychology of Education. Following up on findings described in an earlier publication it is based on a questionnaire submitted to upper-secondary school pupils and discusses some alarming effects of separating 15–16 year-old school pupils for isolated academic and practical study programmes. It considers specifically the creation of stereotypes by youth on academic programmes regarding themselves and people like them (in-group characteristics) on the one hand, and young people who are enrolees on vocational programmes on the other (out-group characteristics). These are shown to be very discriminatory stereotypes about the self and others that are very negative toward students on vocational, so-called practical programs. Academic programme pupils describe themselves as civilised, aware and cultivated individuals and others as uncivil, uncultivated and irrational beings who need a form of moral surveillance in both their own best interests and the collective (common) interests of the societies they are part of. Like the ruling colonial elite as described in books such as Orwell’s Burmese Days, they see themselves as members of a special group who are the bearers of civilisation, rationality, self-control and autonomy due to their possession of bourgeois cultural and educational capital and the purported absence of cultivation in the other group.

The investigation involved 224 individuals from upper-secondary school academic programmes. It showed how they produced strongly polarised statements about themselves and others with extremely negative potentials in relation to future social solidarity and equity. Two stereotypes were constructed from the statement sets. One was an in-group stereotype describing clean, moral, intellectual and hardworking upper-class individuals who were globally and environmentally conscious, politically aware and responsible. The other was an out-group stereotype that was principally diametrically opposed to this. The out-group stereotype described rough and tough, scary, ignorant and unintelligent anti-intellectual and primitive lower class individuals who gave in too easily to their basic instincts to smoke and drink excessively and party too much instead of studying. The out-group members were also constructed as essentially uninterested in education, and lazy, with this reproducing therefore findings and suggestions in earlier research in the USA, and in post-colonial theorists’ accounts of cultural imposition, colonisation and oppression by imperialist conquerors over what they considered to be a more primitive less than human people.


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Authors and Affiliations

  • Dennis Beach
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Education and Special EducationUniversity of GothenburgGöteborgSweden

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