Presented by Rose Butler and Victoria Stead (Deakin University):

While the nature of class in rural and agricultural contexts is an established theme within historical sociological and rural studies literatures, the intersections of class with considerations of race, migration, coloniality and other axes of power and difference, have been perhaps insufficiently attended to in the present era of rural transformation and global migration. In this talk we examine these intersections through the lens of two situated case studies in south-eastern Australia.

First, we explore the role of class, migration, and the conditions of rural place in shaping young people’s social mobility in the small rural city of Mildura. Popular entrenched narratives about rural youth mobility reify white hegemonic norms as the unspoken benchmark of rural experience. These typically depict middle-class out-migration pathways of higher education, in tandem with working-class rural emplacement through accounts of despair and rural decline. In this example we contest these models through a discussion of complex experiences of rural migration, the transnational nature of class capital, and the role of asset holding in shaping rural young people’s classed futures.

Second, in Shepparton, we examine the contradictory ways in which horticultural growers understand themselves in relation to themes and questions of labour, and the classed and racialized relations that these produce. Here, narratives of work ethic are mobilised by growers who assert normative empathies with racialized groups of seasonal workers in their employ, while simultaneously decrying a lack of identification with white unemployed locals living  in Shepparton town who, they assert, ‘don’t know how to work’.  At the same time, however, these same imaginaries of labour and work ethic form the basis of growers’ Lockean claims to place that consolidate property-ownership on the basis of classed and racialized hierarchies. In placing these two different rural case-studies in dialogue, we consider what a renewed focus on class can bring to existing understandings of race, migration and coloniality in rural social worlds.

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