Wolfgang Lehmann on education and the working class

July 17, 2019

Wolfgang Lehmann - Associate Professor, Department of Sociology

Wolfgang Lehmann, Associate Professor and Acting Chair in the Department of Sociology spoke with Maclean's reporter Shannon Proudfoot on how Canadian's view class, and how students from working-class backgrounds carry their class forward through life.

Proudfoot, a graduate from Western, recounts her working-class background and how Lehmann's research connected to her life.

From the article:

“I think there is a way that you never completely become fully middle class. There is a certain sense of working-classness that remains with you,” Lehmann told me recently. “To me, that’s a good thing.” He’s always shocked when he talks about this in one of his classes and students approach him afterward to thank him for discussing the thing none of their other classes do; colleagues with now-hidden working-class backgrounds do the same at conferences. “I’m thinking, how can this be? We’re sociologists, isn’t this our bread and butter?” he says. “But I think if you haven’t lived it, maybe you don’t feel compelled to even deal with it.”

One of the most ubiquitous melodies in Canadian politics, guaranteed to feature prominently in the fall federal election, is the hopes and fears of the middle class (and, if you’re a Trudeau Liberal, “those working hard to join it”). But as Lehmann points out, that conversation is really about the working class under the wrong name: people who work in factories, auto plants or physical labour, whose jobs once provided a solid path to home ownership and a comfortable life, but now feel threatened and precarious.

“There’s this notion of conflating class in Canada and making everybody middle class who isn’t rich—there’s the one per cent, and the rest of us is all middle class,” Lehmann says. It’s nothing to boast about. “This idea that we’re kind of a post-class or a no-class society is maybe more dangerous than having some awareness of class,” he adds. “In the same way that it is dangerous to make the argument that we’re completely multicultural and there’s no racism in Canada.”

Read the full article in Maclean's