“This is bullshit,” the student muttered under her breath. The tutorial topic assigned for that week was class. I’d kicked things off by asking whether class existed in modern Australia, or whether it was a relic of 19th century Europe.

Struck by the student’s response, I asked her to elaborate. She did:

Look, I went to a private school and my Dad’s a CEO and most of his friends are business people. So I guess that’s supposed to make me upper class? But class has nothing to do with it. Going to a private school was my parents’ decision. And my Dad’s friends are just his friends.

I suggested that the choice of school – not to mention the capacity to afford the fees – and her father’s friendship network might have been shaped heavily by their class position. That wasn’t to say there was anything wrong with it, but it did show how our lives are shaped by larger social and economic forces we don’t control.

The student was having none of it. It was clear that she’d encountered the notion of class before and found it singularly unconvincing. In her world, everything was simply a matter of individual choice – choices that were unconstrained.

She didn’t say it, but class seemed to be an excuse for people who made the wrong choices in life. Alternatively, it was a way to unfairly label people like her and her family who’d worked hard for their success, presenting their achievements as little more than the luck of being born into the right family.

Her response isn’t surprising. Many Australians share her view.

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