March 10, 2015

Inequality in daily life and the fastest semester ever!

It seemed like it was just yesterday when I came back from Sweden after my exchange. Time passed so fast and half the semester is already over. It has been more than 6 months since my return and I still suffer from withdrawal symptoms. I think I might have developed a bad case of wanderlust. I just want to go around the world and absorb the awesomeness of the world. Haha. 

However, I have to say that the modules I am taking this semester are rather interesting. For my major, I am taking HS3007 Religion and Society, HS2008 Inequality and Social Class and HS4001 Qualitative Research. They are all my favourite topics, but I have to say that HS2008 is quite a heavy module for a 2000 level course. I think the content is quite worth the effort though! It is giving me a lot of insights into how inequality manifests itself in the nitty gritty parts of life. 

For instance, our consumption of branded goods. Why is it that the people who are struggling to survive with everyday live would still partake in the consumption of luxury goods? I used to have a friend in secondary school who was under the Financial Assistance Scheme. However, when she mentioned that she had a PSP which her mom bought for her, I judged her. Why would she spend such money on a game console when she is under the FAS scheme? One of the readings from Pugh gave me some insights with regards to this. Such symbolic consumption is more than an allocation of monetary resource. My friend's parents partook in symbolic indulgence, to show that they were able to provide their children with material goods. In turn, my friend gets a sense of belonging, a feeling that she had membership with the group. However, I think it backfired on her in this case because I was truly troubled about her priorities at that time. I kept wondering why did she spend the money on the game console. I guess I see it from a different perspective now and I really regret judging her. 

HS4001 was more interesting in my opinion. The readings for the module was very interesting, but I think it is not as easy to score. It is not so easy doing an ethnography and my partner and I overlooked some aspects, causing our grades to suffer. However, I am glad that I learnt something from it. We were supposed to write a self ethnography about ourselves. And I thought it would be interesting to share it here. In case I lose the document somewhere along the way, at least there would be a record of it. My self-ethnography also has inequality embedded in it. 

"Do you have any staple bullets?" I asked the friend next to me.
She looked at me for a moment, then said, "It is not staple bullets, it is staples. And I don't have any."
At the age of seven, I never felt that there was anything wrong with "staple bullets". My parents called them as such, and I thought everyone used the same phrase to refer to the small metal pieces we used to attach papers together. It was only when I grew older that I realised my linguistic ability marginalised me from most of the school.
I was in a single sex,  mission school. During that time I realised a group of friends and myself were slightly different from the rest of our schoolmates. Most of the students in my school came in through religious or familial affiliation. Unlike the most of my friends, I got in through a stroke of luck. Having only a fifteen percent chance of getting into school through the last phase of balloting,  I got in. Majority of the students of my school came from upper middle class families and students under the financial assistance scheme (FAS) were a rarity. I was not in FAS, but my family was not very well to do either. I would say, I belonged in the lower middle class. 
I realised that I had a different level of linguistic ability when I was constantly being picked on by the English teacher and often got my compositions read out loud in class. Not because it was amazing, but because it was an example of a bad composition. Some of my classmates also laughed at some of my mispronounications and never hesitated to correct me while snickering. 
In introspect, I realised that my inability to use the English language as well as my school mates was due to a lack of social capital.  I learnt whatever I knew about the language from my mother. However, my mother was not that eloquent in the English language as well, because she came from as chinese speaking family and only started to use the English language when she started working full time. Despite her inability to speak standard English,  she chose to use it as the main language when speaking to my brother and I.
I was not the only one who spoke differently from majority of the school. There were a group of girls who often hang out together in my class because they did not speak in the English language as well as the rest of the school. They often used Chinese when communicating with each other instead. I realised I did not fit in with them either. My Chinese language ability was also limited and I found myself speaking my English while they reply me in mandarin. It was kind of awkward sometimes when they made the effort to reply me in English instead.
That was when I realised that linguistic ability was very strongly linked to the habitus of a person,  the language that one speaks most know a regular basis and how you used the language. This is what bordieu calls habitus. This habitus originates mainly from the household, because young girls usually spend most of their time at home. The linguistic ability of one child is highly dependent on the linguistic ability of the parents. The child linguistic ability becomes a form of social capital in school and also a tool in power relations. The corrections on my usage of the English language in school by my classmates were actually a form of power play where they tried to establosh some form of social hierarchy based on your linguistic  ability. People who were not able to use the English language proficiently were considered more inferior.
I hope you enjoyed reading my mini auto ethnography. Laavy mentioned that we will get back to this when we reach week 11 and I am kind of looking forward to it. It had been a while since I had to write a timed personal recount kind of thing and I really enjoyed it. 

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