On Class by Deborah Dundas

A few years ago, I was describing an event I’d gone to, possibly for work. It was somewhat more formal than things I normally do, and I was talking about feeling somewhat uncomfortable and anxious during the event because it became very clear to me I was not used to or prepared for that kind of event. My younger sibling remarked that they would feel similar to how I did, while my dad laughed. “Alison,” he said, “you come from blue-collar, working-class stock.” This memory popped into my head while I was reading On Class by Deborah Dundas, a slim volume, part of Biblioasis’ Field Notes series. Dundas explores the notion of class through an overview of literature, interviews with people who have experience in different classes or class mobility, and her own story of class mobility, from poverty as a child to having a successful career, which pushed her into the middle class.

“Dundas pulls a lot of threads together in this volume, but it works really well and serves as an excellent, broad starting point.”

Dundas peels back the ways we think about poverty, the definitions of class, the way class intersects with the other “-isms,” and she does this in a very thoughtful if surface-level kind of way. On Class is certainly not a comprehensive examination of class in Canadian culture, but it does open the door for more conversations and considerations about class and how it impacts our lives. Weaving in the thoughts of great writers and thinkers like Catherine Hernandez and Desmond Cole, as well as the stories of people she’s known throughout her life, and their own interactions with class. Ultimately, Dundas explores the way class and capital are intrinsically linked, as well as the different kinds of privilege that mediate some aspects of class.

This volume does not presume to give an answer to the discussion of class or argue that there’s a class conception that is more right than the others (the idea that the 99% should be in greater solidarity than the class solidarity of the middle class, for example), it is merely an exploration of class in Canada, and the ways that class gets played out, such as access to jobs, or an understanding of what you have to do to gain access to this next level. Dundas has an accessible, warm, matter-of-fact tone, and also doesn’t shy away from exploring a number of the hot-button topics which tend to get people riled up, like privilege. But privilege is so important to discuss in relation to class, and Dundas does a really nice job of working with the nuances of privilege while acknowledging a lot of people are not ready to have the necessary conversation without some easing into it.

On Class is a great read, perfect for readers less familiar with the notion of class and what it really means, but also interesting and thoughtful enough for those who have already begun to engage with the topic. Dundas pulls a lot of threads together in this volume, but it works really well and serves as an excellent, broad starting point. I thoroughly enjoyed it – and possibly more so because of the day I’m writing this on, the coronation of King Charles III. Is my choice a comment on that? It certainly could be, and On Class is a very good read for such a day, regardless of your feelings.

Deborah Dundas grew up poor in the west end of Toronto. She is now a writer and journalist, has worked as a television producer and is currently an editor at the Toronto Star. She lives in Toronto with her husband and daughter and their loving, grumpy cat Jumper.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Biblioasis (May 9 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 128 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771964812
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771964814

 -- Website

Alison Manley has ricocheted between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia for most of her life. Now in Halifax, Nova Scotia, she is the Cataloguing and Metadata Librarian at Saint Mary's University. Her past life includes a long stint as a hospital librarian on the banks of the mighty Miramichi River. She has an honours BA in political science and English from St. Francis Xavier University, and a Master of Library and Information Studies from Dalhousie University. While she's adamant that her love of reading has nothing to do with her work, her ability to consume large amounts of information very quickly sure is helpful. She is often identified by her very red lipstick, and lives with her partner Brett and cat, Toasted Marshmallow.