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A matter of degree: Social class background and professional identity development in clinical and community psychology: A working class perspective

24 July 2001


This qualitative study explored the interactions between social class background and the professional identity development in the lives of 10 working class graduate students pursuing their doctoral degrees in community and or clinical psychology. The rationale for this study was based on three assumptions. First, social class is a primary feature in the development of a professional identity. Second, social class is a primary determinant in who will pursue a doctoral degree as well as how this goal will be pursued and achieved. Third, social class is a primary influence on how and where an individual will choose to practice psychology after graduation. Theliterature review examined research
and literary works related to the objective and subjective experiences of early social class membership and its effects on personal, social, and professional identity development. The narrative data gathered from both individual and group interviews was examined utilizing qualitative analysis; Seven primary themes emerged from the data illustrating family relationships, formative class-based familial beliefs, attitudes, and values, community relationships, experiences of social marginalization and belonging, experiences related to the decision to pursue a higher education, experiences related to class background within the system of higher education, and class-based character, values, and life skills that remain primary to the participants' personal and professional identities. Social class background was found to be a primary factor in the participants'
professional identity development. Class-based character attributes, values, and
interpersonal skills were sited by the participants as central to their initial attraction to and fit within the discipline of psychology. Differences in class culture experienced both in graduate school and in the work environment were experienced most intensely in terms of language, communication styles, and social awkwardness related to different social norms and mores. The assumption that social class background is a primary determinant in the pursuit of a doctoral degree was complimented by the life stories of the study's participants. Class-related experiences in the lives ofthe participants also served as a powerful influence on their career choices.


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