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the service class, rewarded for faithful service to

employers by career progression and material

benefits.

The identification of class with employment

and property relationships emphasizes the economic

dimension of the class concept. However,

throughout much of the twentieth century, explorations

of the economic and the cultural dimensions

of class were linked via a continuing

interest in class consciousness or identity. In the

nineteenth century, Engels had identified the

presence in Britain of an aristocracy of labor,

that is, the better-paid elements of the (skilled)

working class who were thereby induced to disidentify

with the proletariat. In a similar vein, the

failure of a unitary working-class consciousness to

emerge as capitalism developed was widely attributed

to the fragmentation of class identities dependent

on diverse community and employment

experiences or cultures (Lockwood, “Sources of

Variation in Working-Class Images of Society,”

1966, Sociological Review). For example, the relational

proximity of some employees (such as agricultural

workers) to their employers was held to

generate a “deferential” class identity, whereas

the employment and community experiences of,

say, miners were more likely to generate a “traditional

proletarian” consciousness. The protagonists

in these debates were not necessarily Marxists,

but in respect of consciousness, these kinds of

arguments implicitly employ a structure → consciousness

→ action model of social behavior, in

which structure (that is, material circumstance) is

assumed to be causally dominant.

This broadly materialist approach to class and

the generation of identities was buttressed by

H. Braverman’s influential Labor and Monopoly

Capital (1974). Although Braverman was explicit

that he was describing a class in itself rather

than a class for itself, nevertheless, his account

of the inexorable deskilling of work in the circumstances

of monopoly (large-scale) capitalism apparently

seemed to resolve a number of issues for

materialist, Marxist-influenced approaches, which

were enthusiastically taken up by a number of

authors (R. Crompton and G. Jones, White-Collar

Proletariat, 1984). The processes of deskilling were

seen to be leading to the potential homogenization

of proletarian employment, thus removing

the barriers to working-class unity. Moreover,

the deskilling of clerical (conventionally assigned

to “middle” occupational categories) employment

would increase the ranks of the proletariat

itself. Nevertheless, the question of actually

existing class consciousness remained problematic.

Some writers (notably social historians; see

E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working

Class, 1963) had never subscribed to the distinction

between classes in and for themselves. For these

authors, classes were called into being by the generation

of consciousness itself, rather than any

deterministic structural factors. Besides the apparent

failure of consciousness to materialize,

however, during the 1970s wider social changes

were calling into question the utility of the class

concept in sociology.

The origins of many critiques of class as an analytical

tool lay in the global economic and political

transformations that followed successive economic

crises from the 1960s onwards. C. Crouch (Social

Change in Western Europe, 1999) has described the

period after the end of World War II as the “mid

[twentieth] century social compromise.” This was in

a broad sense a class “compromise.” Governments

of left and right supported social protections and

social class social class

563

increasing welfare, and left-wing (“working-class”)



parties and their representatives did not seek to

destabilize existing social arrangement in any radical

way. An important argument that captures the

prevailing mood of these times is expressed in

Thomas H. Marshall’s (Citizenship and Social Class

and Other Essays, 1950) identification of the rise of

“social citizenship,” that is, those rights which

enable the citizen “to share to the full in the social

heritage and to live the life of a civilized being

according to the standards prevailing in the society.”

In an oft-quoted phrase, Marshall described

the ideals of citizenship as being at war with the

class system.

These arrangements may be described as characteristic

of Fordism, a term that has been widely

employed to describe the industrial and social

order that emerged in many advanced capitalist

societies after World War II. Fordism was characterized

by mass production, full employment (at

least as far as men were concerned), the development

of state welfare, and rising standards of

consumption. However, no sooner had it been

identified than western Fordism began to unravel.

Rising prices (in particular for oil) and inflation in

the West were accompanied by rapid industrialization

in South East Asia and an influx of cheaper

goods to the West. Pressures on government revenues

as well as a sharp increase in unemployment

(associated with deindustrialization) put considerable

strains on welfare spending. In the West, the

election of Ronald Reagan’s administration (1981–9)

and Margaret Thatcher’s government (1979–90)

signaled a turn to economic neoliberalism, while,

in the eastern bloc, state socialist regimes began to

collapse from the end of the 1980s.

These political developments were accompanied

by the shift of academic Marxism in a more

culturalist direction. Post-Marxists E. Laclau and

C. Mouffe (Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, 1985), for

example, rejected the notion of objective (that is,

structurally determined) class interests and emphasized

the variable and discursive construction

of such interests. Indeed, this turn to culture was

reflected in sociology more generally. In any case,

the utility of class for the analysis of postmodern

societies (in which, it was argued, consumption

had assumed greater significance than production)

had already been challenged. Following

from the identification of housing classes in the

1970s, a developing strand of argument took

the position that consumption had become a

more useful axis than class via which to explore

group cleavages and patterns of identity in contemporary

societies. J. Pakulski and M. Walters

(The Death of Class, 1996), for example, argue that

culture and its consumption constitute the major

axis of stratification in postmodern societies. Individual

wants and desires, it is suggested, are in the

process of replacing past collective solidarities.

The current emphasis on individualism and its

consequences for class theory and analysis is an

issue to which I will return later, but first the

implications for class analysis of changes in the

occupational structure will be examined.

Deindustrialization in the West was associated

with a dramatic decline in what had been viewed

as unambiguously working-class occupations – in

steel-working, manufacturing, mining, and so

on. Lower-level jobs in the service sector (for

example, in retail, fast food, and caring occupations)

have expanded, but so have the number of

professional and managerial occupations – by

convention, service-class occupations. The numerical

decline in the working class was also

associated with the erosion of locality and community

structures that had been argued to generate

the collective proletarian identities of the

structure → consciousness → action model. More

importantly, the expansion of women’s employment

raised important questions as to how

women, as employees, should be located within

the occupational (class) structure.

Both the CASMIN and Comparative Class Structure

projects had devised alternative, sociologically

informed class schemes for the analyses of

their data (large-scale, random-sample surveys

conducted in a number of different countries).

Both of these occupational classifications are

argued to reflect patterns of economic class relations,

and both sets of authors distinguish their

classifications from commonsense status scales

such as those of the Registrar-General. Erikson

and Goldthorpe’s scheme (CASMIN) has been

described as “neo-Weberian,” although this is perhaps

a somewhat misleading description, as Goldthorpe’s

(On Sociology, 2000) post-hoc account of the

theoretical underpinnings of his class scheme,

grounded in employment relations, can be seen

as drawing insights from both Weber and Marx.

However, Wright’s occupational class classification

(Comparative Class Structure) was unambiguously

Marxist in its inspiration. There are two

versions of Wright’s class scheme. The first version

is structured around ownership, as well as authority

and control in employment. The second version

of the scheme, deriving from game-theoretic

Marxism, is based on relations of exploitation deriving

from the possession of different assets, including

capital, organization assets, and skill or

social class social class

564

credential assets. As many critics have noted, this



second version of Wright’s scheme has many parallels

with Weber’s account of class.

The major objective of the CASMIN project was

the investigation of social mobility. In the United

States, Peter M. Blau and Otis Dudley Duncan’s

research (The American Occupational Structure, 1967)

had apparently demonstrated that educational

background and early work experiences were

more important than social origin (class) in determining

mobility chances. These findings confirmed

the positive industrial-society thesis (C.

Kerr et al., Industrialism and Industrial Man, 1960).

This thesis argued that industrial development

would be associated with rising living standards,

middle-class expansion, and the triumph of

achievement over ascription. All of these factors,

it was argued, would lead to a less polarized class

structure and a decline in class conflict. However,

Goldthorpe and his colleagues (R. Erikson and J.

Goldthorpe, The Constant Flux, 1992) demonstrated

that, although rates of absolute social mobility

had increased, this was largely due to changes in

the occupational structure, as the expansion of

professional and managerial occupations (together

with the decline in working-class occupations)

will mean that an increasing proportion of

higher-level jobs will have to be filled from below.

However, relative rates of social mobility, that is,

the relative chances of achieving a service-class

occupation depending on class of origin, had

remained remarkably stable. Thus, despite outward

appearances, the class structure of industrial

societies had not become more open.

Wright’s original research objectives differed

considerably from those of Goldthorpe and his colleagues.

One of the major issues explored was the

characteristics of and variations in the class structure

itself (Goldthorpe and his colleagues took the

occupational structure as largely given, and the

statistical techniques employed controlled for

structural variations between countries). Inspired

by Marx’s analysis, Wright examined the question

of whether the class structure was, in fact, becoming

increasingly proletarian. In fact, Wright found

that, in the United States, the working class

was actually declining as a proportion of the

labor force, apparently confirming aspects of

the industrial-society thesis. However, the composition

of the working class has changed in that

women, and members of ethnic minorities, are

now in the majority. Wright also investigated the

interaction between sex and class, as well as the

question of class consciousness, which showed considerable

variation across different societies

(Wright, Class Counts, 1997). In general, this explicitly

Marxist class project has not served to demonstrate

the robustness of Marx’s predictions, but

Wright nevertheless continues to argue that

Marx’s analytical framework provides the theoretically

most coherent account of capitalism.

It might be suggested that both the CASMIN

project and Wright’s Comparative Project were

from the beginning relatively limited in what

they were able to achieve given their chosen

methods, for there are problems with the operationalization

of class via an occupational measure.

Most obviously, occupation gives no indication

of wealth holdings; thus the owners of capital

are lost to sight. The occupational structure is

also stratified by gender, race and ethnicity, and

age; that is, the occupational structure is shaped

by status as well as class. Indeed, the same occupation

may be associated with different life chances

depending on whether the employee is male or

female, old or young, black or white. There will be

an inescapable arbitrariness in the allocation of

groups to particular categories – for example, the

owner of an enterprise with fewer than twenty-six

employees would be placed in a different class to

the owner of a firm with twenty-six or more in

Goldthorpe’s scheme. A further problem lies in

the class allocation of individuals without an

occupation – for example, the long-term unemployed,

or women carrying out domestic work

in the home. It must be stressed that these kinds

of difficulties do not invalidate the employmentaggregate

approach to class analysis, but they

impose limitations on its scope.

However, one negative outcome of the dominance

of quantitative class analysis during the

1970s, 1980s, and into the 1990s was that debates

within this strand became increasingly focused on

measurement issues. As Mike Savage argues, “The

‘point’ of class analysis was rarely discussed,

rather attention focused on how best to define

class in occupational terms” (Class Analysis and

Social Transformation, 2000). In fact, occupational

measures of class (including status scales) intercorrelate

quite highly and, for the individual researcher,

the best measure may be a pragmatic

rather than a theoretical choice. One point that

should be emphasized, however, is that, despite

the many criticisms that have been directed at

occupational class schemes, they remain one

of the most effective tools available for the mapping

and exploration of social and economic

inequalities.

Debates within employment-aggregate class

analysis tended to be rather self-contained (and

social class social class

565

self-referential), although they ran parallel with



broader arguments as to the significance of class

in contemporary societies (see Rosemary Crompton,

Class and Stratification, 1998). The general

tenor of these wider debates (for example, C. Clark

and S. M. Lipset, “Are Social Classes Dying?” 1991,

and Ulrich Beck and E. Beck-Gernsheim, Individualization,

2002) has been to argue that, although the

class concept might have had some value as far as

the analysis of earlier phases of capitalist development

was concerned, it had lost its cutting edge in

relation to the understanding of postmodern, late

modern, or postindustrial societies. These arguments

might be summarized as follows: first, class

no longer serves as a basis for the organization of

politics or social protest more generally; rather,

social movements with a focus on particular

issues (ecology and the environment, antiwar,

antinuclear, and antiglobalization) had taken

their place. Second, it was argued that class no

longer made a significant contribution to the construction

of collective and individual identities.

Rather, gender, sexuality, and ethnicity (and age)

have become more important in defining the individual

as well as in providing a focus for collective

belonging. Finally, it is argued that class is no

longer relevant as societies have become increasingly

“individualized.” Thus Beck states that: “Individualization

is a concept which describes a

structural, sociological transformation of social

institutions and the relationship of the individual

to society . . . Individualization liberates people

from traditional roles and constraints . . . individuals

are removed from status-based classes . . .

Social classes have been detraditionalized.”

It might seem paradoxical that social theorists

were arguing for the redundancy of the class

concept at precisely the same moment as material

and social inequalities were expanding very

rapidly, in part as a consequence of the adoption

of neoliberal economic and social policies by

national governments and international institutions.

The erosion of the “mid [twentieth] century

social compromise” was accompanied by increasing

pressures on welfare benefits. Indeed, neoliberal

commentators (C. Murray, Losing Ground,

1984) argued that the collective welfare provisions

developed during the period after World

War II had contributed to the undermining of

individual capacities and thus the emergence

of a welfare-dependent “underclass.” Welfare

reforms, it was argued, had taken away the incentive

to work, giving rise to marginal groupings

(lone mothers, the long-term unemployed, and

people living off fraud and crime) who lived in a

different world from that of mainstream society.

Trapped in poverty and with no incentive to

work, the attitudes and behavior of these groupings

simply serve to reproduce disadvantage

across the generations.

Right-wing commentators, therefore, have emphasized

the moral and cultural deficiencies of

underclass groupings, which are seen as having

been brought into being by the excessive generosity

of postwar welfare states. Critics of the underclass

thesis, however, have emphasized the

structural developments that have served to increase

the numbers of those in poverty, as well

as being highly critical of the underclass concept

itself. In the United States (where the “underclass”

is overwhelmingly black), W. J. Wilson (The Truly

Disadvantaged, 1987) argued that economic restructuring

and the decline in manufacturing employment

had a particularly significant effect on the

inner city. Lacking in job opportunities, inner

cities in the United States became black ghettoes,

deprived of a resident ethnic middle class which,

taking advantage of the opportunities offered by

equal opportunity and affirmative action programs,

had moved out to the suburbs. More generally,

the underclass concept has been criticized

for its overemphasis on the moral deficiencies of

the very poor. This reflects the political differences

between the protagonists in the underclass

debate. It is often argued controversially that an

important justification for persisting inequality is

that the more successful and better-rewarded are

actually intrinsically and individually superior to

the less successful, and thus deserving of their

good fortune. However, critics of the underclass

thesis argue that the identification of a (morally

deficient) underclass effectively does no more

than blame the victims. In fact, survey evidence

has demonstrated that people without employment

are no less committed to the idea of work,

and no more fatalistic in their attitudes, than

those in employment.

In my concluding arguments, it may be suggested

that many contemporary criticisms of the

utility of class analysis may be seen as deriving,

ultimately, from the failure to establish a consistent

and enduring link between structure and

action, class and consciousness. The rapid increase

in inequality since the 1970s, for example, was not

accompanied by any sustained class action or resistance.

Survey data suggest that the majority of

the population does not consciously locate itself

in class terms. The position taken here is that,

while there may be numerous examples whereby

a link between structure and action might be

social class social class

566

demonstrated (most would want to argue that



capitalists have been remarkably effective in furthering

their own interests, for example), this

linkage is contingent upon circumstance, and

the absence of such a link should not be assumed

to undermine the validity of class analysis in all

of its many aspects.

The insistence on a rigid separation of class and

status or culture runs the risk of inadequately

acknowledging the role of cultural and status

hierarchies in the creation and reproduction of

class inequalities. Recent work on class has emphasized

the intertwining of these two dimensions,

rather than their separation. The work of

Bourdieu has been developed to demonstrate how

cultural processes are embedded within specific

socioeconomic practices. Socioeconomic locations

are themselves accompanied by fields within

which classed agents operate, guided by habitus

(see habitus and field), that is, mental structures

and dispositions that are socially inculcated

and go largely unremarked. These practices (for

example, the middle-class consciousness of the

benefits of education and practical awareness of

the competitive system) serve to ensure the reproduction

of class advantage (F. Devine, Class Practices,

2004). Savage has reworked the thesis of

individualization to argue that the increasing

dominance in contemporary societies of middleclass,

individualized culture lies behind the absence

of collective expressions of class; that is,

class practices have themselves become individualized.

However, in emphasizing the interdependence

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