Train Journey – Class, Caste, Kinship…anthropological heaven?

In America there are two classes of travel – first class, and with children.

~Robert Benchley

Today marked a momentous occasion in my life – it was the first time in the history of my existence that I had to pay the full adult fare and purchase an adult Oyster card (needed for cheap travel around London) for my usual train journey into town. No longer were the ticket barriers to double beep as I passed through, no more photo IDs and no more discount. I knew the time to pay full fares was approaching – I’m already paying much more at the cinema and starting back at a paid job in the City I knew I had no excuse. So why is this such a big deal for not just me but any other new 19 year old Londoner?


I think the answer lies in caste, class and kinship concerning a train/tube journey. I’m sure that any Anthropologist can vouch for you that a simple situation like travelling on a train or plane with new strangers, along the same journey but with very different purposes is an Ethnographer’s heaven. Oh the things you could study – clothing, how they spent their time, who they interacted with, the items they carried, their reasons for travelling… it could fill many notebooks. In fact, for my first ever Ethnographic assignment at University, I chose to study passengers waiting at a departure gate at the airport and I don’t think I have ever filled a moleskine so quickly and had so many things to consider.

For this symbolic rite of passage, as Van Gennep (look him up!) I’m sure would argue, is a form of ritual into adulthood for the common Londoner and means so much to me, as, in short, it is completely symbolic of how my place in society has changed. Up until now I had enjoyed free travel on buses and discounted tickets on the Tube but that had brought with it looks of disgust by other passengers as I sat in seats that they possibly felt were theirs considering that they had paid more for their tickets and arguably had a much harder and more important day at work. Especially when travelling with another non-adult Oyster card holder, from the minute you walk into the carriage, it can be expected that you will be loud, move around and not simply keep to yourself. It’s almost as though we did not fit into the “grown up” daily working routine of the Tube.

Being in professional attire today rather than my bright red school uniform, and picking up the free daily newspaper the Metro (I’m to old to play on loud video consoles, and listen to loud music ey?) the attitudes that people had to me  changed completely it seemed. In fact I think holding a Starbucks coffee even showed some classiness. It was like people knew I was now contributing to the economy and not just living off my parents and society. As I left to get off the train, I had forgotten my umbrella (typical English weather) which the lady sitting next to me alerted me to. Not once in my 7 years of taking the same journey whilst at school had anyone told me of my forgotten Art project, school blazer, retainers and calculator. (Had they done they have no idea of the amount of money and yelling from my parents and teachers that I’d have saved!)

I think there is something endearing though between the slight animosity between the adult and child travellers. In the years after the 7/7 bombings, whilst people became more aware and vigilant, there has been a noticeable increase in the feeling of unity. I think the unified stance against loud music, children, smelly foods etc is simply a way of these travellers, of similar destinations but differing purposes, coming together and keeping routine.

So in my title I have mentioned class, caste and kinship, to name just three. Whilst I have not explicitly referred to these (I had originally intended to), I think you probably get where they fit in to a simple train journey. No, I don’t just mean the First Class carriage (though that is relevant.. perhaps I’ll post about that another time), but the attitudes and ways that the different classes exist on a train journey. The younger class and the older class. And Kinship.. well before I write another essay on that, perhaps you could think about it and leave a comment on how it fits in?

Speaking of which, this is just day 2 of this blog and I am very flattered and grateful for all the views and support so far (The American Anthropological Association, wow!!!!) but do please leave any comments and feedback so that I can learn and make this better.

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One thought on “Train Journey – Class, Caste, Kinship…anthropological heaven?

  1. Beatriz says:

    These are in fact enormous ideas in on the topic of blogging.
    You have touched some pleasant points here.
    Any way keep up wrinting.

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