Social Class Identities

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Transcript Social Class Identities

What do we mean by social class?
What social classes are there in the
contemporary UK?
What social class are you – and how do you
We tend to discuss social class in the UK in terms
of three main classes:
Upper Class
Middle Class
Working Class
However, this gets more complex, as sociologists
often divide the upper and middle classes into
two types of each, and add a fourth class (the
Other sociologists believe that the term ‘social
class’ has no real meaning in the contemporary
UK: It is an outdated concept.
What social class are the following?
A builder
A teacher
A plumber
The Queen
A lawyer
Simon Cowell
A surgeon
A rapper
A shop assistant
A novelist
A cleaner
Bruce Wayne
A waitress
(Lord) Alan Sugar
This means the social class you believe you
are (or someone else is).
It is based on your own opinion/view – linked
to your own experiences and values.
Upper Class
Type of
Accent/Way they
What they do for
What they wear
Where they live
Middle Class
Working Class
This is when a person social class is decided
using some kind of pre-determined
...It could be seen as the social class that
society has decided you are.
In the UK, the social class of every household
is measured objectively. The main factor used
is a person’s OCCUPATION.
Study the worksheet, which shows the
classification system used.
Answer the questions on the worksheet.
Higher Managerial/
High Court Judge
Large employers
Higher professional
Senior Police Officer
Lower Managerial/
Small Employers
Farmer, taxi driver
Printer, plumber
Shop assistant,
Never worked/longterm unemployed
Labourer, waiter
Marx believed in two, conflicting social classes:
The bourgeoisie (ruling classes) and the
proletariat (working classes).
Social class was identified through proximity to
the means of production.
Those closest to the means of production (e.g.
workers in a factory) were the working classes,
those furthest away (e.g. the owners of the
factories) were the ruling classes.
The ruling classes exploit the working classes by
paying them a fraction of their worth and
keeping the rest as profits.
Bourdieu was a Neo-Marxist, who used the
concept of capital to identify social class
He claimed there were three types of capital
people could possess. Some were ascribed and
others achieved.
Economic Capital (e.g. Income, wealth,
Cultural Capital (e.g. Knowledge and taste of the
arts and other such pursuits)
Social Capital (e.g. Social connections and group
Complete the cultural capital quiz, to find out
how much cultural capital you have.
The BBC Lab UK (2013) study used Bourdieu’s
concept of capital to identify a whole new way of
categorising social class in the UK.
For homework, read through the study and use
to ‘class calculator’ to measure the class of
someone in your household.
Classes in the UK are fragmenting and
changing. The boundaries between workingclass and middle-class are blurred due to:
1. Globalisation (e.g. migrant workers
replacing the traditional working class)
Consumer Culture (people ‘pick-and-mix’
their identities based on lifestyle choices)
The growth of Popular Culture (pursuits
previously associated with one class now
popularised for the masses).
Features of and changes to
traditional social class
Traditionally, those involved in manual labour
had a strong awareness of their social-class
This awareness gave them a clear class
identity and communities based on a shared
Willis (1977), in his Learning to Labour study
identified aspects of this culture...
Traditional gender roles
Boys following in father’s footsteps
Strong, united communities; distrust of outsiders
Strong links with the Labour Party and trade unions
Immediate gratification
Rental housing in cheap, less-desirable areas
(usually within walking distance
of workplace).
What aspects of working class culture were
evident in the film The Full Monty?
What type(s) of capital did the characters
Do you think this type of working-class
culture still exists in the UK?
More likely to work in the service
sector and not in manual labour
Women increasingly likely to be
Better off financially; own their
own houses/cars etc.
Shared responsibilities in the
Live more private family lives (less
community based)
More varied aspirations and
The decline of heavy industries (coal, steel, shipbuilding etc). Areas that had specialised in these
industries experienced massive unemployment.
Growth of the service sector offering jobs
previously more associated with middle-classes.
Changing educational opportunities (education
age raised; student loans system means
university more affordable)
Improved educational opportunities for girls
More freedom and individualism promoted by
society; less expectation on people to follow in
parents’ footsteps.
Mike Savage (2005) studied people in the
traditionally working-class area of Cheadle.
Found some elements of working-class
culture (manual labour; community ‘feel’)...
...But most owned their own homes and cars,
didn’t live near their work and had money to
...41% of them had no clear class
identity; 18% considered themselves
middle class!
One of the biggest indicators of change in the
working classes is the arrival of the
...Although Karl Marx did hint at some kind of
‘underclass’, referring to them as the
lumpenproletariat (those who would never
realise they were being exploited).
“The women are slags; either scrawny with
straggly blonde hair, or grotesquely fat and
bulging out of their tracksuit bottoms. The
children are surly, whining, spoilt, wolfing down
their junk food with no concept of manners and
not much grasp of the English language...”
(Ferdinand Mount; Conservative commentator;
“Something has died in the working class: a
sense of grace, community, intelligence, decency
and wit. The salt of the earth have become the
scum of the earth; a huge tribe of tattooed white
trash.” (Tony Parsons; writer; 1999)
The concept is often used in a derogatory
way to describe individuals living in rundown housing estates, likely to be
unemployed, single-parents, drug addicts
Many right-wing theorists like Murray (1990)
link the underclass to criminality, idleness, a
lack of education and lack of morals.
They blame the welfare state for creating the
What do we mean by a ‘welfare state’?
Why do you think some people argue that the
welfare state has created the underclass?
Many disagree with such negative portrayals.
Jordan (1992) argues that people living in
poverty have the same values of work and
family as everyone else and often feel
ashamed at having to ask for help.
Traditionally, those in professional positions;
white-collar or non-manual occupations.
The middle-classes are seen as welleducated and possessing cultural capital.
Features of middle-class culture include:
Social mobility
Deferred gratification
Social and cultural capital
Have the middle-classes changed? If so, how?
Embourgeoisement is the theory that the
middle-classes are growing and the
upper/working classes are disappearing. This
is a Weberian view.
Proletarianisation is the theory that the
middle-classes are shrinking and we are
returning to a polarised two-class society.
This is a Marxist view.
Rise in low-paid white-collar jobs (e.g.
What class is a retail assistant?)
More education opportunities
Middle-class “split” into two. According to
Savage (1992) this is based on lifestyle &
employment e.g. private sector employees
versus managerial/government employees.
According to Devine’s study of doctors
(2005), few willingly identified themselves
in terms of social class.
The upper-class is the smallest class group, and
probably the least visible.
They are divided into the traditional upper class
(e.g. aristocracy) and the super-rich (e.g. People
who have achieved wealth through hard work or
fame – or even luck!).
Both groups have economic and social capital;
only the aristocracy have cultural capital.
The traditional upper-class values tradition,
hierarchy and order and operates a system of
social closure.
Aristocracy – ascribed status
Intermarriage (marrying those from similar
social backgrounds)
Value tradition, hierarchy and order
Tend not to flaunt wealth in the same way as
the super-rich
Achieved status
Glamorous Lifestyles
Use media to their advantage
Value material possessions, brand names,
Visibly rich lifestyle
High social and economic capital; very little
cultural capital.
Write a 750-1000 word essay on the
Outline and evaluate the extent to which
traditional social classes have changed in the
contemporary UK.
“How do you eat your dinner?”
Mealtime Rituals
The middle-classes are thought to sit down
together to share a family meal; workingclass mealtimes happen earlier (to coincide
with the end of work) and in front of the TV.
A vital role of the Family is influencing class
identities is in the passing down of capital.
In pairs, identify three ways in which each
different type of capital can be passed down
through a family.
What differences are there in the ability of a
working-class family to pass down capital
compared to an upper class one?
Reay (1998) on Education: MC mothers can
influence their children’s primary schooling
more than WC mothers because:
They have more time
They know the system
They had positive experiences of school
This is an example of how families might
influence cultural capital.
King & Raynor (1981) found that childcentredness is a distinctive feature of middleclass families, especially in terms of passing
on educational opportunities and attitudes
required for educational success.
Teenage Pregnancy
 The risk of becoming a teenage mother is ten
times higher for a girl from a working-class
 Family background and poverty are key
factors in girls’ decisions to become teenage
mums, which they thought would give them
purpose and identity (Cater & Coleman; 2006)
How does the media represent
different social classes?
What stereotypes does it rely
Programmes such as Shameless show the
working-class as aggressive, assertive and
sly. The Jeremy Kyle Show reinforces
prejudices and negative views of the
underclass, depicting them as irresponsible,
deviant, aggressive, immoral and lazy.
Medhurst (1999) found that middle-class
students believed The Royle Family was an
accurate portrayal of working-class life.
The Super Rich
Celebrities, like the Beckhams or the
Osbournes, have used the mass-media to
further their careers, raise their status etc.
New Technology:
In the 1990s, satellite dishes were regarded
as a symbol of the working-class (Brundson;
Are any social classes more
religious than others?
Contrary to the Marxist view, there is
evidence (from church attendance statistics)
that working class people in the UK tend to
be less religious than middle class people.
However, this may not be accurate: Just
because someone doesn’t go to church,
doesn’t mean they don’t believe!
You can “believe without belonging” (Davie;
Some New Religious Movements like ‘Scientology’
attract wealthier people, as they are expensive to
belong to.
The Church of England (and other ‘big’ churches)
tend to have a higher middle class following.
Many religious cults also seem to have attracted
predominantly disillusioned middle-class people.
Other religions, such as Rastafarianism, have a
mainly working-class base, as they are more
common in inner-city communities.
The type of school you go to will indicate
your class position (e.g. If you go to an
expensive public school, you’re probably not
working class! If you’re at Northampton
College, you’re probably not upper class!)
Old public schools are full of cultural signals
that indicate class position (e.g. The
buildings, the uniform, the crest...).
Homework: Find and look around the Eton College website.
Compare it to the Northampton College website: What
similarities/differences do you see?
Bourdieu (1977) claimed that schools were
middle-class institutions, run by middleclass teachers for the benefit of middle-class
...They reinforced the middle-class values
held in middle-class homes.
Universities are even worse: A middle-class
student is like a “fish in water” at university,
whereas it is an isolating and daunting
environment for a working-class student.
The Formal Curriculum: A student who
studies Latin, for example, will increase their
cultural capital, having a different
understanding of society to a student on a
vocational course, with low cultural capital.
Direct Pathways: Power (2003) showed that
public schools actively encourage
applications to elite universities, considering
this a measure of their success.
How many of your friends are
from a different social class
background to yourself?
Some studies suggest that social class is very
influential in the formation of peer group –
cultural comfort zones: We tend to be drawn
to people of the same social class
background as ourselves.
(e.g. A group of boys who play polo would
not identify themselves as working class).
Social class also gives young people a shared
identity; hence class identity can be crucial in
the formation of subcultures (Brah; 1999)
To what extent does where
you work indicate your social
The type of job you have is generally
considered the biggest social class indicator.
We know that scales like the RG and the NSSEC use this to measure class in the UK.
Some ‘traditional’ links between work and
class are changing as the nature of work in
society changes.
Traditionally, there have also been clear links
made between the working-classes and the
trade unions, who represent the rights of
Design and conduct a survey to find out the
extent of class identity among a sample of
young people. You need to find out things
What social classes do they think exist?
Do they think class is important?
Do they feel they belong to any particular
Use your findings (alongside some of what
you have learned in this unit so far) to write
an short essay on the following:
Is Social Class still an important source of
identity for young people in the UK today?