A Class Act by Rob Beckett
A Book Review
A Class Act draws heavily from Rob Beckett’s experiences but is not an autobiography as such. The book is an exploration of class and how this corresponds to identity. Rob grew up in a working-class family but, through his successful career and income, his middle-class wife, their house, area they live in and the middle-class setting that his children are growing up in, he questions his whole identity. The chapter headings are nods to different areas of his life where class has seemingly heavily affected him.
Prior to reading this book, I thought I had a decent understanding of social mobility. It turns out that on paper I did but, in terms of people’s real lives and experiences, I think I had a very limited grasp of the concept.
By definition, social mobility is the ability to change class or social status. This used to be unheard of but, nowadays, with increased opportunity and freedom, it is more common. My only thoughts around this before were that it was great for people’s upbringing and backgrounds to have limited effects on their adult lives and that this impermanence was a really positive thing. If you are born with social and financial disadvantages, for example, then you should still be able to pursue whatever career and lifestyle you dream of. It works the other way too: being born into a financially and socially privileged household should not innately heavily affect your future affluence and prospects.
However, I hadn’t considered what social mobility meant to an individual on a personal level. Rob details experiences he had as a working-class boy and then compares them to being a middle-class man or to his middle-class children. Interestingly, having now experienced both worlds, he feels like a combination of both of these classes rather than either one or the other. By the end of the book, I had the light-bulb moment of ‘class is not just a theoretical social construct – it is a very real part of someone’s identity’.
Something I appreciated about the writing style was how Rob supplies the stories and his feelings, but he leaves it to you as a reader to draw the conclusions. He confesses his confusion and asks rhetorical ‘why’ questions, but it is through your own inference and reflection that you learn about what class and privilege, in this context, really mean.
Rob clearly does not feel middle class despite technically being that now in his adulthood. I have learnt that being in a class and feeling or identifying with that class are two different things. I also hadn’t appreciated how much your class affects not just your outlook on life, but actually an element of your behaviour, personality and identity. This doesn’t have to be a good or bad thing and I think it is important to move away from taking an opinionated position on privilege. Instead, we can be more factual and upfront about how it has affected us. Reading this book made me more honest and ok about things that are out of my control.
Identity is a culmination of so many things and I don’t necessarily think that class itself is a huge factor in this, but rather the connotations of our class. Rob had a pretty rough and boisterous relationship with his siblings that he identifies as his children not having whatsoever. Even just verbally in terms of how they communicated with each other and their nicknames, he describes this as quite harsh and blunt and that he would be taken aback if his children spoke in the same way. His social circle when he was younger seemed to be filled with highly spontaneous people who didn’t take much to heart and were more familiar with taking risks and living in the moment.
Rob was quite careful not to stereotype: he didn’t make sweeping remarks about the classes but drew purely from his personal experience. Everything that I have described is in reference to what he outlined in the book. Through my own reflection though, I was suddenly able to pinpoint conversations and situations I have been in where I now believe class to have been an important factor. Again, this is not to put people into boxes but to understand that one thing can be perfectly appropriate to some people and totally inappropriate to others.
Like Rob, I don’t want to project my subjective viewpoints onto you as facts. I believe that opening our eyes to privilege is enlightening and actually puts us in a better position to understand where others may be coming from. I would encourage you to read this book and see how it adjusts your own mindset.
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