Prior to joining the psychology department at Salem State University, Professor Anne Noonan worked at the Wellesley Centers for Women as a research scientist, where she conducted studies interviewing men and women workers over the age of 50. In one of the interviews that Noonan conducted, a participant uniquely relayed their personal story through a lens of social class—a mode of self-storytelling that intrigued Noonan.
As a psychologist, Noonan began thinking about what the field of psychology knew about social class and came across a theory developed by counseling psychologist William Ming Liu, whose social class worldview model suggests that people come to see the world through a social class psychological lens. Noonan was fascinated by Liu’s work and began teaching classes informed by his worldview theory when she arrived at Salem State in 2007.
Professor Noonan notes that there is a common misconception that social class only applies to sociology; however, as her work and recent publication proves, there is indeed a psychology of class and classism. When she began teaching this content to her undergraduates, Noonan noticed a general sense of discomfort among students, who had difficulty discussing classism and its nuances. In response to this unease, Noonan decided to assign her students creative non-fiction essays that included real stories from real people. Noonan noticed that allowing students to read about lived experiences—rather than just theoretical notions—created a better dialogue on which to base discussions about social class.
As she developed her curriculum, Noonan continued to add narratives to Liu’s social class worldview model and, as she found the blend of these two methods successful, daydreamed about knocking on Liu’s door to ask him to co-author a book with her. This vision would eventually turn into a real product.
In 2015, Noonan was using the copy machine in the psychology department when her colleague, Professor Michael Mobley, noticed she was photocopying a journal article written by Liu. As they chatted, Noonan told Mobley that she wished there was a book that combined Liu’s theory with accompanying narratives, like the model she used in her courses. Mobley mentioned that he knew Liu and would be happy to introduce the two. The casual talk at the copy machine turned serendipitous: A year after meeting, Noonan and Liu began working together on such a resource.
After drafting a competitive proposal and securing a publishing contract with Routledge, Noonan and Liu began actively writing and meeting by telephone in 2018. Noonan discusses that, for her, the writing process was slow-going in the beginning. The onset of the pandemic in early 2020, however, inspired Noonan’s writing to flourish; as she was teaching classes remotely and no longer devoted time to commuting, she found both the time and creative energy to draft chapter drafts very quickly. To test these early drafts, Noonan paced her writing with content she planned to teach in the fall 2021 semester.
In December 2021, Professors Noonan and Liu—who have still never met in person—published Psychology and the Social Class Worldview: A Narrative-Based Introduction. The cover image of the textbook represents Liu’s social class worldview theory and its notion of “seeing” through a metaphoric image of a camera lens. Within this notion of lens and viewing, Noonan and Liu’s text discusses how every person on the social class ladder is constantly shifting through two psychological states: homeostasis (feeling okay about social class) and disequilibrium (a negative state of social class). Using this framework, Noonan and Liu investigate how social networks, economic cultures, human values and various forms of classism inform the development of personal worldviews and influence our psychological states. Using Noonan’s narrative-based curriculum as an instruction manual, the text includes accompanying creative non-fiction essays, written by a number of authors, that illustrate real-world evidence of these concepts.
During the writing process, Noonan contacted former students and asked for their permission to incorporate their past coursework as part of Psychology and the Social Class Worldview’s instruction manual. The manual includes a list of creative project ideas, like photo essays and books for children, that offer specific examples of what instructors and students can do to apply and explore Liu's worldview theory. Overall, Noonan understands that this theory is well-known in psychological literature, but, as both she and Liu recognize, it does not always exist in undergraduate curriculums. Therefore, the instruction manual provides the opportunity for other educators to begin teaching this theory.
Every fall semester, Noonan teaches a section of PSY 344: Topics in Social and Cultural Diversity, a W-II and Diversity, Power Dynamics, and Social Justice (DPDS) course she co-developed five years ago with Professor Sophia Evett. This semester, the students in PSY 344 are learning about the psychology of social class with Noonan and Liu’s textbook, which, Noonan notes, is the first time Salem State students have had her book in their hands. (Any profits that Noonan makes from her course-related sales of the book are donated to the SSU food pantry as a gift from both sections of the course.)
When introducing PSY 344, Professor Noonan typically begins by telling students that they already know so much through their personal lived experiences. The aim of the course is to take that existing knowledge and translate it into practical psychological theory. Now, Noonan says, students can do so with a book that is dedicated specifically to them.
Overall, Noonan says that her current students are responding positively to Psychology and the Social Class Worldview and continue to appreciate its accompanying narrative essays. This more person-centered element continues to create a space for students to express and reflect on their personal experiences through writing and discussion. For some students, this reflection hits a little too close to home; as Noonan reports, she often hears students jokingly lament that her course on social class “ruined their life,” prompting them to see the world through a class-conscious lens that they never used before.
Professor Noonan feels that the text that she co-authored is truly a homegrown Salem State product. The students at Salem State were the reason that she began teaching Liu’s theory with the narrative-focused slant that inspired the text. In working with Liu, Noonan discovered how much she really loves writing and figuring out how to say things—a love that Noonan also channels into her own creative non-fiction writings. Without that fateful encounter at the Psychology department copy machine, and, of course, without Liu’s willingness to work with her and offer such a valuable resource to the psychology community, this project may not have come to fruition.
Congratulations on your publication, Professor Noonan!
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