expose useful but often painful questions for the education process
itself, allOWing faculty as well as students to think in new ways about the
experience of higher education when viewed through the lens of class.
Before turning to the aspects of class explored in the four parts of this
book, we need to define clearly the terms of discussion. When people in
the United States talk about class, it is often in ways that hide its most im-
portant parts. We tend to think about class in terms of income, or the
lifestyles that income can buy. The essays in this book contribute to the
growing field of working class studies by understanding class instead as
mainly a question of economic and political power.
Power doesn't exist alone within an individual or a group. Power ex-
ists as a relationship between and among different people or groups. This
means that we cannot talk about one class of people alone, without look-
ing at relationships between that class and others. Working class studies,
then, necessarily involves the study of other classes, most importantly the
capitalist class. But in working class studies, we look at all classes in so-
ciety from the point of view of working people-their lives, experiences,
needs, and interests.
The working class is made up of people who, when they go to work or
when they act as citizens, have comparatively little power or authority.
They are the people who do their jobs under more or less close supervi-
sion, who have little control over the pace or the content of their work,
who aren't the boss of anyone. They are blue-collar people like construc-
tion and factory workers, and white-collar workers like bank tellers and
writers of routine computer code. They work to produce and distribute
goods, or in service industries or government agencies. They are skilled
and unskilled, engaged in over five hundred different occupations
tracked by the U.s. Department of Labor: agricultural laborers, baggage
handlers, cashiers, flight attendants, home health care aides, machinists,
secretaries, short order cooks, sound technicians, truck drivers. In the
United States, working class people are by far the majority of the popu-
lation. Over eighty-eight million people were in working class occupa-
tions in 2002, comprising 62 percent of the labor force.