PsycCRITIQUES Spotlight

PsycCRITIQUES Spotlight

March 8, 2017

Psychologists and Social Class: Williams and Cabiles review White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America

young children in front of house in disrepair with trash and broken bicycles in the front yardThis issue of the PsycCRITIQUES Spotlight highlights a review of an important and best selling book, White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America.

The lead reviewer, Wendy R. Williams, is an Associate Professor of Psychology and Director of Women's Studies at Marshall University. Dr. Williams serves on the APA Council of Representatives for Division 9, the Society for the Psychology Study of Social Issues.

White Trash was written by Nancy Isenberg, a historian teaching at Louisiana State University. However, despite being written by a historian, the book is highly relevant to psychologists.

The reviewers note

[T]wo main aspects of this book make it important for all psychologists to read. Although some divisions of psychology have been studying poverty for more than 80 years (e.g., Division 9; Bullock, Lott, & Truong, 2011), as a whole, psychologists have devoted less time to studying social class than other stigmatized identity groups (e.g., Williams, 2009). Consequently, this book is an important primer in the history of social class in America…[P]sychologists need to know the history of class in America in order to understand how to destigmatize lower socioeconomic standing and to help alleviate its pernicious effects. This is particularly true for psychologists who work directly with low-income or working-class clients or who wish to engage in scholarship about socioeconomic status.

The reviewers note that professors can draw on APA resources to introduce students to the relevance of class (e.g., the Public Interest Directorate's "Resources for the Inclusion of Social Class in Psychology Curricula") and reports from APA's Committee on Socioeconomic Status.

These resources provide

an opportunity to engage in conversations about the pitfalls of "make America great again" type of thinking (most recently touted in the 2016 presidential campaign), as well as the specific kinds of existing or new policies that can directly address systemic economic inequality.

It is clear that wealth and income inequality has grown dramatically over the past 30 years, and that race, poverty and class are inextricably linked.

Psychologists will be well served by reading this review and then reading White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America.

Note: This review is in the Social Psychology & Social Processes topic area. View more reviews in the Social Psychology & Social Processes topic area.

Read the Review


  • Lott, B. (2012). The social psychology of class and classism. American Psychologist, 67(8), 650–658. doi: 10.1037/a0029369
  • Williams, W. R. (2009). Struggling with poverty: Implications for theory and policy of increasing research on social class-based stigma. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy (ASAP), 9: 37–56. doi: 10.1111/j.1530-2415.2009.01184.x