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Ryan Pickering


Darren Bernal


2023 SPSSI Conference:
Where are the social class conversations at SPSSI?

Ryan Pickering, Allegheny College
Darren Bernal, Howard University

Social class is a pillar of human existence, interaction, and community. SPSSI is the most promising forum for discussing social issues such as poverty, income inequity, economic oppression, financial stress, homelessness, food insecurity, environmental justice, and other issues. However, the level of social class involvement at SPSSI is inadequate. When social class researchers find their way to SPSSI, we are often left scouring the conference program for any mention of social class, socioeconomic status, or inequality and are often disappointed by the dearth of presentations centering or even mentioning social class.

Before this year’s interactive discussion, we searched for the role of social class at SPSSI conferences over the last eight years. We analyzed posters, symposia, 15-minute talks, and interactive discussions that used the terms social class, socioeconomic status, or income/economic inequality. This analysis confirmed the dearth of conference proceedings centering social class. Notably, these terms were often included within parentheses as afterthoughts, not as something central to the research questions being presented. Over the last 8 years (including 2023), the highest percentage of posters that included these terms within their title or abstract was 8%. In 2022, it was only 2%. Within that same eight-year timespan, symposium ranged from 3-13%, 15-minute talks ranged from 5-17%, and interactive discussions ranged from 2-11%. The largest number of interactive discussions in one year that mentioned social class was 2. In fact, Dr. Pickering led most interactive discussions centering social class. Although mostly a flat line across the last 8 years, mention of social class specifically in 15-minute talks has increased from less than 10 percent to 16 and 17% consecutively over the last two years.

Discussion during the conference this year began by validating our feelings that it is difficult to find research centering social class issues at SPSSI. We were able to find community and discuss historical attempts to increase social class at SPSSI and APA, including the Stop Skipping Class campaign and APA’s Committee on Socioeconomic Status. We also found hope in the numbers presented in 15-minute talks this year, discussed other language that could catch more research that is relevant at convention, and brainstormed ideas for increasing social class visibility at SPSSI and APA.

The discussion moved to other potential outlets to disseminate social class research, including the current efforts to create a new APA division for Economic Justice, Poverty, and Social Class. Opinions appeared split on whether the new division would enervate social class efforts at SPSSI or increase impact through a broader option to publish, present, and collaborate. Optimism that this new division might work well in collaboration with SPSSI was another theme of discussion. The sentiment generally was that SPSSI is currently the best optional available for presenting social class research and that we can improve social class representation while also working toward offering other arenas for social class researchers and practitioners. One consensus solution for improving SPSSI’s current model was to diversify conference formats to include hybrid programming (including pre- and post-conference programming), working on support for first-generation academics and/or academics from working-class backgrounds, and increasing conversations around social class.

Interactive discussions at SPSSI, in our experience, are incredibly impactful, and we hope more SPSSI attendees will take the opportunity to propose and join them in the future. We also hope that social class researchers will find a home at SPSSI in order to build a strong network for future collaboration and community.

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