“Changing social class means having your ass between two chairs”, says Adrien Naseli

Their parents are workers, caregivers, salespeople. They are executives, liberal professions or deputies. Class defectors “thwarted the well-known statistics of social reproduction,” writes Adrien Naselli in his book And your parents, what do they do?, which appears this Wednesday in bookstores. “By obtaining their baccalaureate, these good students have already exploded the social glass ceiling of their family,” describes the author, who has experienced this same social rise. His father was a bus driver, his mother a secretary, and Adrien Naselli was admitted to the ENS d’Ulm, in Paris, before becoming a journalist.

A book that combines testimonies (like that of Aurélie Filippetti and her mother, Rokhaya Diallo and her mother as well…) and analysis. For 20 minutes, Adrien Naselli helps us understand the satisfaction and pride brought about by the change in social status, but also the psychological and identity cost it generates.

Are there fewer class defectors than twenty or thirty years ago?

Without a doubt. Because even if access to university has become more democratic, being able to pay for studies for your child when you are part of the lower middle class or a disadvantaged environment is increasingly difficult, especially in due to rising rents in large cities. Students are also sorted year after year. The pass rate in the first year of college hovers around 30%, and many students either fail or drop out of school along the way. And among them are often young people from the least advantaged social categories. In addition, the grandes écoles still have less than 30% of scholarship students based on social criteria.

According to you, they are “the totem of the Republic”, but does society still value these symbols of meritocracy as much?

Yes, because the media love the stories of those people who shouldn’t have been there and who succeeded despite the odds. They are rarely seen as upstarts, individualists ready to do anything to succeed. Their career generally arouses admiration. But storytelling is the tree that hides the forest of social reproduction.

Was it difficult to get the class defectors you encountered and their parents to testify?

Yes. My investigation lasted two years, during which I identified people whose backgrounds were similar to mine. I had about fifteen interview refusals, because some people were afraid that their testimony would be a form of exhibition or that they would be made fun of. Some parents were also worried about talking to a reporter. About fifteen people, as well as their parents, however agreed to speak to me. But I had to convince them of the benevolence of my approach.

You write: “when one of them crosses my path, what I feel is comparable to the feeling of love”. Why such intensity?

When I was at ENS, whenever I ran into someone whose parents were not from a privileged background, I stared at him. No doubt because the resemblance of our journeys reassured me and I felt less alone. And this is still the case today!

As children, the people you interviewed were good at school, but also often looked down upon by their peers. Is it out of jealousy?

They cause a form of rejection because in college, intellectuals are considered loosers. And in schools with priority education, there are often fewer students who perform well, and therefore more stigmatized.

You describe the role that parents often had in their stimulation …

Mothers, in particular, say that they read stories to their children every night because they felt it would benefit them later. They hadn’t had the chance to go to school and wanted their children to do well in school to get some kind of revenge. Other parents supervised homework, watched over notes, bought books for their children because they thought they had school predispositions and wanted to encourage them.

At the same time, parents from disadvantaged categories are less familiar with the channels and tend to self-censor the ambitions of their children. How do they manage to overcome parental reluctance to enroll in “elitist” training?

My parents didn’t want me to go to prep. They kept telling me: “you have everything you need at the University of Grenoble”. No doubt because they were afraid that I would go far from them. We had to convince them. Many of the parents I met felt that it was already very good that their child had his baccalaureate and did not see the need for him to follow a long study.

According to you, “the debt of class defectors to their parents is enormous”. Why ?

Because some parents have bled to pay for their children’s studies, to buy them clothes that meet the standards of their new universe. Children are aware of these sacrifices and often, as adults, they want to share their material success with their parents. But this feeling of debt is also due to their feeling of having left the ship when their parents wanted to keep them close to them.

You say that the family sometimes comes to see the change of social category as a form of betrayal …

Yes, like Martine Belliard, who felt that at one point in his life, her son David had lost track of money, that he was disdainful of his family. Some parents fear losing their child when he discovers another social universe, they wonder if they will still be able to interest him when he meets “important” people. They sometimes feel looked down upon.

According to you, “the chameleon side requires constant energy”. Do class defectors experience a form of permanent psychological fatigue?

To change social environment is to change way of life, relationships, vocabulary, leisure activities, travel…. This requires mobilizing strong adaptation capacities and it is sometimes exhausting. We often feel illegitimate, rough-hewn, we are ashamed of not having all the cultural references … But the fact of having been able to adapt to another universe is very useful in life because afterwards, we understand much more quickly how others react and what they expect from us.

You talk about the psychological cost of a change in social status. What is he?

To change social class is to have your ass between two chairs. Class practices specific to their new social environment can be shocking. Example: 90% of my family have never flown, so when I see people chaining city ​​breaks, that shocks me. Just like certain privileges authorized by CSP +. The fact of not having the same tastes as his family is also destabilizing. Winning more than them is embarrassing. And it even makes some people feel guilty.

Once they become adults, why do some defectors claim their popular social origins when others keep them quiet?

Some are ashamed to tell their friends that their mother is a hairdresser or their father is a truck driver. They fear being discredited. Now, those who do their coming out social very rarely arouse mockery, but interest.

Many of your witnesses talk about their difficulty in getting their parents interested in their profession, why?

When Elodie Royer, who works at France Inter, tells her father what she does on a daily basis, he replies: “it’s a lot of work for not much”. Because some professions remain too abstract for parents and not very useful socially. Often because the latter occupy “essential” jobs that we talked about during confinement.

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