The museum of them and us

A PhD research project exploring social class and museum work.


This research explores classed inequality within museum work. Since April I have been conducting focus groups and interviews asking people their thoughts on what it takes to work in museums, what is social class and how does it matter. Whilst data collection is almost complete, you can contribute your thoughts on how class matters in museums. See the taking part page, or you can contact me at

Why social class? This is one of the few characteristics not protected by law, unlike gender, race or age. Arguably, employers can legally discriminate against social class.  Whilst class identities have become obscured, many academics are arguing that classed inequality is increasing in the 21st century UK workforce. Work is more precarious (Standing, 2015), social mobility is declining, professions more exclusive and even if people are socially mobile they may find a “class ceiling” to earning top salaries or promotions ((Friedman, Laurison and Miles, 2015).

Why The Museum of them and us? To understand how social class matters within the workplace, it is important to explore it in-depth. This PhD explores how class matters within museum work. The research asks what does it takes to get in and get on, how has this changed, how is this different for particular roles, and what might this mean for people from different backgrounds.  Museums are an often overlooked aspect of workforce research, and yet our museums are important in telling stories about who we are, and in deciding what is important about our culture. Many in the sector are working hard to achieve greater equality, though recognise there are challenges.

In an initial scoping (phase one of the research), it appeared that museum work and careers were changing, becoming more flexible, yet also less secure, with the onus on the individual to develop themselves. At the same time, roles had become diversified and more professionalised. Social class, while talked about as important, was also noted as something difficult to define, see or know how to measure.

Friedman, S., Laurison, D. & Miles, A., 2015. Breaking the “class” ceiling? Social mobility into Britain’s elite occupations. Sociological Review, 63(2), pp.259–289
Standing, G., 2016. The Precariat: the New Dangerous Class 2nd ed., London: Bloomsbury Academic.