Under the Radar: The Role of Invisible Discourse in Understanding Class-Based Privilege


  • We express our thanks to Kate Billerbeck and Kimberly Kuhlman for their help with the coding the data.

Melissa R. Sanders, Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48105 [e-mail: mrsander@umich.edu]


Group-based privileges are supported and reproduced in part by control of discourse about identity and structural inequality. In the case of social class, this discourse is largely absent. This article explores the ways in which the lack of explicit and sanctioned discourse on social class affirms and reproduces class privileges. Qualitative thematic content analysis was used to analyze the final papers of students (N= 82) who participated in a semester long class-focused intergroup dialogue course. Content analysis found that students came into the dialogues with low levels of class salience. The dialogue course was an informative and fulfilling experience for most students, but the majority of students still had difficulty discussing class based privileges. This difficulty in engaging in an open and disruptive form of class discourse was in part due to the tendency to conflate discussions of class with race, taboos against discussing social class, and the presence of negative stereotypes about class groupings.