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Researching Class Researching Society & Culture Week 7 Dr Alice Mah.

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Presentation on theme: "Researching Class Researching Society & Culture Week 7 Dr Alice Mah."— Presentation transcript:

1 Researching Class Researching Society & Culture Week 7 Dr Alice Mah

2 Lecture Outline Researching class British and American sociological debates on class and class identity British and American quantitative and quantitative studies Conclusion

3 Researching Class What is class? Sociological concept with different theories: – Karl Marx: class antagonism between capitalist bourgeoisie and working class proletariat; – Max Weber: stratification theory, based on class, status, and group power; – Pierre Bourdieu: class is cultural as well as economic; – Contemporary theorists concerned with social stratification, inequality, class identity, class and gender, class and race, social mobility, and the relevance of the concept of ‘class’, et al. To study class we need to ‘operationalize’ it, to define it as a concept and how to study it (quantitatively or qualitatively), for example in terms of class consciousness, hierarchies of occupation, or class identity

4 Class identity Class identity and the meaning of ‘class’ has been the subject of both qualitative and quantitative research Debates about the meaning of class range between different positions: 1)class is relatively precise, contained, and measurable, related primarily to economic position (Goldthorpe 1996, Marshall 1988); 2)class is expanded, fragmented, contradictory, contested, and subjective, but still a very relevant social identity (Savage 2000; Skeggs 1997; Crompton 1998); or 3)class is no longer important in relation to other identities and issues, and indeed, we are witnessing ‘the end’ or the ‘death’ of social class (cf. Pakulski and Waters 1997; Clark and Lipset 1993).

5 British Sociology and Class 1950s-1970s: study of class consciousness central to research on stratification, community and family. Seminal work: Affluent Worker Study (Goldthorpe et al ), argued that growing affluence does not mean the end of class but that class remains central even in a prosperous consumer society Based on quantitative survey of 229 men from three work-places in Luton, interviewed twice (once at workplace and once at home when their wives were also present) Findings: Class was primarily seen by these affluent workers as related to money rather than to power, prestige, or status. Important for repositioning class as a structural, rather than a cultural, concept, with continuing importance in Britain. Goldthorpe subsequently built on this work to develop a social class schema for use in social mobility research, which was adapted and used by the UK government’s official social class schema

6 British Sociology and Class Mid-1970s- early 1980s: decline in academic interest in class identity, particularly with ‘cultural turn’ towards other aspects of social identity in sociology (gender, race and ethnicity, sexuality) Marshall’s social class survey (1988) revived interest in class consciousness and social class survey, building on Goldthorpe’s work (studied in term 1: Social Class in Modern Britain) Early 1990s-present: renewed interest in class identity among feminist writers and scholars (cf. Skeggs 1997; Lawler 2000; Evans 1992; Savage et al 2001) who challenged debates about the ‘death of class’ (cf. Pakulski and Waters 1997); drew on cultural studies literature (from Bourdieu ) about cultural as well as economic aspects of class

7 American Sociology and Class Generally weaker tradition in America of studies of ‘class’ re: explicit class identity and consciousness, related to myth of America as a ‘classless’ society with strong social mobility 1950s-1960s: Weberian tradition of American sociology framed class analysis in terms of either: 1) a ruling elite, or 2) pluralism – Elite class theory: C. Wright Mills (1956) argues in The Power Elite (1956) that there is a concentration and centralization of the ruling power elite in American society – Pluralism: politics as a matter of competing interest groups, none are completely dominant (Dahl 1961)

8 American Sociology and Class 1970s-1980s: decline in academic interest in class (both Marxist and Weberian), with some notable exceptions: – Richard Sennett and Jonathon Cobb’s (1977) The Hidden Injuries of Class – Lillian Rubin’s (1976) Worlds of Pain: Life in the Working- Class Family – Paul Fussell’s (1983) Class: A Guide Through the American Status System- counteracts American myth of social equality 1990s: death of social class arguments (Clark and Lipset 1991) 1990s-present: renewed academic interest in inequality and income mobility in America, but not generally framed in relation to class (with a few exceptions including the New York Times ‘Class Matters’ survey, 2005)

9 US AND UK QUANTITATIVE AND QUALITATIVE APPROACHES TO CLASS IDENTITY: SOME EXAMPLES

10 Great British Class Survey (GBCS) Examines whether class still matters in 21 st century Britain Criticizes tradition link between occupation and class (exemplified by Goldthorpe and Marshall) Includes three dimensions: economic, social and cultural (drawing on Bourdieu’s analysis of different forms of capital) Develops a 7-class categorisation: elite, established middle class, technical middle class, new affluent workers, emergent service workers, traditional working class, precariat Several criticisms: too simplistic/reductive to the seven categories; not rigorous enough in methods; too sensationalistic in the media headlines

11 GBCS: Take the test!

12 New York Times ‘Class Matters’ Survey Class is defined as a combination of income, education, wealth and occupation – a fairly traditional, structural definition, BUT: Addresses new trends (the ‘relo’ and ‘hyper-rich’ classes), other social identities and issues (health, immigration), and cultural dimensions (new status markers and representations of class in popular culture. Situates study in relation to the American ‘myth’ of equality, mobility, and opportunity. Research led by reporters/media rather than academics but draws on some academic research and US census studies

13 The Hidden Injuries of Class (Sennett and Cobb 1977)1/2 Qualitative collaborative research study based on 150 in-depth interviews and ‘urban anthropological’ participant observation in communities, schools, local clubs, and bars Focus: class identity and consciousness of working-class men in Boston in the context of post-industrial change (from manufacturing-based to service-based economy) Narrative approach: analysis focuses on in- depth cases (eg. Frank Rissarro and James) to illustrate arguments in detail

14 The Hidden Injuries of Class (Sennett and Cobb 1977) 2/2 Findings – ‘Hidden injuries of class’: social psychological feelings of lack of authenticity, respectability, ambivalent or fulfilment among working-class people who have become socially mobile outside of traditional working-class jobs Reflexivity and ethics: – reflexive about researchers’ position as part of the ‘educated’ and ‘cultured’ elite – challenges of trust and rapport – took certain ‘liberties beyond those necessary to protect anonymity’, such as condensing remarks of two speakers into one, and rephrasing some words of interviewees (p. 42)

15 Formations of Class and Gender (Skeggs 1997) 1/2 Qualitative study based on 12-year ethnography of 83 working-class women who Skeggs first met when teaching on a community care course at a further education college in northwest England Feminist perspective which draws on Bourdieu’s idea of cultural taste, markers and distinctions of class; focuses on subjective experiences of working class women Argues that class was central to women’s lives and experiences, and visible through their constant efforts to evade class.

16 Formations of Class and Gender (Skeggs 1997) 2/2 Findings: Women’s psychological difficulties of never having the right sort of body, the right sort of voice, the right sort of taste, of always being the wrong sort of person (relates to findings of the psychic costs of working-class identity in Sennett and Cobb’s study) Class is not experienced through occupation in the same way as with men, with complex expressions, negotiations, and disavowals of class identity in their daily lives. Importance of ‘respectability’ as a theme: women felt that they failed to live up to middle-class respectability, and this was a profound source of pain and discomfort.

17 Conclusion Researching class involves: – situating class in relation to sociological theories/definitions and different national (political, socio-economic) contexts; AND – operationalizing the concept of class in the research study in relation to specific research questions and methods Some studies have questioned the significance of class as a category and a status, drawing on empirical research, but despite these debates, many researchers emphasize the continuing importance of class. Quantitative studies of class have traditionally focused more on questions of economic position and structure, although more recently some studies have also attempted to address questions of culture. Qualitative studies of class identity have focused more on the subjective, contradictory, and complex aspects of class identity.


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