If “it matters what matters we use to think other matters with; it matters what stories we tell to tell other stories with; it matters what knots knot knots, what thoughts think thoughts, what descriptions describe descriptions, what ties tie ties. It matters what stories make worlds, what worlds make stories” as Donna Haraway notes, then we have to look who are the ones designing design.
The following text is an excerpt from the zine “working_lass_hero_ine”. Personal stories, social theories, statistics, song texts, photos, and blog entries about social class have built its foundation. They belong to poverty class academics, workers’ children, educators, and workers. They’ve all formed the basis of a fictional character named working_lass hero_ine, meant to serve as a visual manifestation of hierarchical and classism-based structures and dynamics. This rendering makes no claim to completeness but indicates in which areas class is effective, e.g. embodiment of social class, aesthetic attitude, and habitus. It is unambiguous and diverse, just like the experiences with classism and the view on (creative) work, education, career.

“I began my journey to class consciousness as a college student learning about the politics of the American left reading Marx, Fanon, Gramsci, Memmi, the little red book and so on. But when my studies ended, I still felt my language to be inadequate. I still found it difficult to make sense of class in relation to race and gender. Even now the intellectual left in this nation looks down on anyone who does not speak the chosen jargon” – wrote bell hooks, Afro-American literary scholar and intersectional feminist, in Where we stand: Class Matters (2000).

Likewise, my engagement with social class and class consciousness began with social advancement, as an increase of cultural capital, where I nonetheless noticed a decrease in the proportion of fellow students whose parents had a workers’ or unemployed background. From comprehensive school to grammar school and from a technical college to the University of the Arts Berlin, class seemed to change. While in the USA, France, and England “classism”, i.e. the “discrimination of persons on the basis of the actual, presumed or attributed social or educational status”¹, is increasingly addressed as a topic, class in Germany still receives little attention. Or, in bell hooks’ terms, it remains an “uncool subject”. Yet Germany is one of the European countries in which education is still strongly dependent on one’s social origin.²

Talking about inequality of opportunity in the educational system:
Andreas Kemper, ref. (2012) in “Klassismus im Bildungssystem: Zur virtuellen Gewalt des sich senkenden Blicks”, Kunst. Theorie. Aktivismus. Emanzipatorische Perspektiven auf Ungleichheit und Diskriminierung , eds Fleischmann, A. / Guth, D. (2015) p.201. back
Barbara Rothmüller, “Soziale Barrieren beim Zugang zu einem künstlerischen Studium. Konzeption und Ergebnisse einer empirischen Studie in antidiskriminatorischer Absicht (2012), p.96f back
Pierre Bourdieu after Beate Krais, Gunter Gebauer, Habitus (2002), p. 41 back
Bourdieu, after Krais/Gebauer, p. 47 back
Andreas Kemper, (2015) ; Barbara Rothmüller (2012) p.96 back
Barbara Rothmüller, pp. 101; 96; 98 back
Pierre Bourdieu, Die feinen Unterschiede: Kritik der gesellschaftlichen Urteilskraft, (1979), p. 238 back
People who have little cultural capital do not usually have the right amount of information to invest in an education that will put them in higher positions. They lack familiarity with the structures and values of the school or university, material security, as well as habitus security. And this security is necessary, especially for riskier educational paths and decisions, which do not promise a concrete job or a regular income.
According to a 2010 study for the Hans-Böckler-Foundation, they prefer “shorter, more structured and application-oriented courses of study that have a practical, accessible job description.” (see link

Familiarity with certain structures, concepts, rituals and people of a particular milieu is what generates this security, which is why terms like success, courage and strength should always be discussed and reconsidered according to one’s starting conditions. “One can see what distinguishes the abstract information that a high school graduate from the lower and middle classes can obtain about scarce positions from a specialised counselling institution, from the familiarity that a child from the ruling class gains from dealing as a matter of course with people who hold these positions [...]” - as Bourdieu explains.³ When this kind of social advancement through the education system happens, Bourdieu describes the “rising stars” as “uncertain in their evaluations, half following their inclinations, half of their educational zeal.”

Current debates about classism in the educational system are, among other things, the subject of the sociologist Andreas Kemper, who founded the first autonomous department for studying working-class children. In Klassismus im Bildungssystem: Zur virtuellen Gewalt des sich senkenden Blicks (Classism in the Educational System: On the Virtual Violence of the Lowering Gaze), Kemper sketches class-related exclusions, as well as self-exclusion, bringing forward a study by Barbara Rothmüller (sociologist and philosopher) at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. Rothmüller’s work underlines that, even before the entrance examination, the first barriers to entry were already in effect. Prospective students from migrant groups, children of workers or children whose parents had low educational qualifications were strongly underrepresented in comparison to the population and shares at other universities. In fact, applicants with a ‘low’ social background were very rarely admitted to The Institute of Art: “Even other courses of study known for their social homogeneity, such as medicine or law, were surpassed”. The reason is not only the cultural but also the social capital. The applicants lacked knowledge about particular application modalities, tips, and knowledge passed on by acquaintances who already studied at the university. The argument „intuitive knowledge and feeling for the composition and presentation of the works” to be tested in the examination phase constitutes, in Rothmüller’s view, something that needs revisiting since portfolio preparation and design are social processes, whereby 6 of 7 applicants spoke with teachers or acquaintances. According to the study from Hans-Böckler-Foundation, besides knowledge, applicants from ‘low’ backgrounds also fail during institutions’ selection procedures because of their low self-confidence and the lack of practice in self-presentation. (link)

Kemper explains this self-exclusion of interested ‘low’ people (in terms of social origin) by means of the space of possibility or a topological pattern of thought in which the ‘university’ appears to be ‘high’.
Workers must succeed in seeing themselves not only as “Nach-Möglichkeit-Seiende” which translates to “according-to-possibility-beings” but also as “In-Möglichkeit-Seiende”, which means “in-possibility-beings” (according to Bloch), i.e., accessibility must appear to be possible.
According to Bourdieu, people of the middle classes orient themselves towards the upper class. They see their opportunities in social advancement and consider accessibility quite conceivable, which makes a realisation more likely. Kemper sees the self-organisation of workers‘ children and the so-called Poverty Class Academics as an essential means of breaking through these patterns of thought. 

There are already first initiatives in Germany, like the newspaper “The Dishwasher-Magazin by and for Workers’ Children” or the “” initiative, supporting non-academic children in choosing to go through university studies. Now more than ever, considering the effects and after-effects of the Pandemic, it will be even scarier to decide starting an expensive university design course with a future of uncertain employment and irregular or low payment, and student loans to pay off.
Stills from working_lass hero_ine

Kemper, A. und Fleischmann, A. / Guth, D. (Hg.), (2015), Kunst. Theorie. Aktivismus. Emanzipatorische Perspektiven auf Ungleichheit und Diskriminierung. Bielefeld: transcript Verlag

hooks, bell, (2000), Where we stand: Class Matters, New York: Routledge, Verlag/hooks, bell, (1994), Teaching to Transgress - Education as the Practice of Freedom, New York: Routledge Verlag

Bourdieu, Pierre, (1979), Die feinen Unterschiede: Kritik der gesellschaftlichen Urteilskraft, Suhrkamp Verlag 

Rothmüller, Barbara, (2012),Soziale Barrieren beim zugang zu einem künstlerischen Studium.Konzeption und Ergebnisse einer empirischen Studie in antidiskriminatorischer Absicht, in Uta Klein/Daniela Heitzmann (Hg.), Hochschule und Diversity. Theoretische Zugänge und empirische bestandsaufnahmen, Weinheim/ Basel,S.86-105ünstlerischen_Studium._Konzeption_und_Ergebnisse_einer_empirischen_Studie_in_antidiskriminatorischer_Absicht, Stand: 20.03.2019

Woltersdorff, Voker: scham/ Stand: 20.07.2019, Stand 20.03.2019 Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung:, Stand: 18.03.2019 

Anne-Kristin Winzer is a Berlin-based Fashion Designer and Care Worker. An apprenticeship as assistant in garment technology without job opportunities, but met Nele, someone who reads books; second-hand shop job in Dresden, met art students Melo and Raiko, who took me to exhibitions; did drawing courses, got into fashion design class at not so prestigious technical university; met Lola, she introduced me to intersectional feminism; visited lectures, got frustrated, got into more prestigious art university; met Pierre-Yves, queer filmmaker who dances; I always wanted to pole dance but pole dance courses are so expensive except when you are a student, and then, it‘s not so uncommon that dance teachers and dancers distance themselves from the dance‘s origin.
One question that has been with me for a long time, is that of the social background of the artistic players: Who has access to art and art universities? Who can afford it? Who dares to become artistically active?