Relationship of Identity to Social Class

Relationship of Identity to Social Class

You need to know

Different ways of defining social class

IDENTITIES associated with different social classes

Reasons for different class cultures / identities

EVALUATE the view that social class is no longer an important source of identity in Britain

One way of defining social class

It’s based on WHO owns the MEANS OF PRODUCTION – the THINGS that make WEALTH – land, factories, raw materials etc

The class that do own all this are the CAPITALISTS (bourgeoisie)

The class who actually work on the land/factories to make the wealth are the PROLETARIAT (working class)

There is a CONFLICT between these two classes

There are ‘other’ classes such as the ‘petit bourgeoisie’ (middle class)

This is the TRADITIONAL Marxist view of class as worked out by KARL MARX and FRIEDRICH ENGELS in the 19th century – how useful is it to help us understand modern IDENTITIES?

A SECOND way of defining class:


This model is more complex than a simple capitalist/proletariat split

Focus here on STATUS/INCOME and links to different occupations

Used by government: 7-11 social classes •Defined by – relations / salary / promotion / job security etc

Strong evidence of EDUCATION as key factor

Inequalities based on LIFE CHANCES

Is this model MORE or LESS useful than Marxism in helping us understand the link between CLASS and IDENTITY?

A THIRD way of defining class:

It’s all about the ‘CAPITAL’ we have as individuals

‘CAPITAL’ has a major influence on our IDENTITY

Houseowner? High-paid career? Savings? = ECONOMIC CAPITAL

Professional contacts? Positive relationships? = SOCIAL CAPITAL

Leisure? Interests? CULTURE? (high/low etc) = CULTURAL CAPITAL

EDUCATION has a major influence on all 3 types of capital

Is this model MORE or LESS useful than Marxism /  NS-SEC in helping us understand the link between CLASS and IDENTITY?

Social class identities in the UK

FOUR broad social class identities –

1.The very wealthy UPPER CLASS

2.The well-paid, high status/skilled MIDDLE CLASS

3.Less skilled/status/paid WORKING CLASS

4.Reliant on benefits/long-term unemployed UNDERCLASS

Upper class

Who are the upper class?

Why are they significant?


Middle Class

  1. Defined as: non-manual, ‘educated’. ‘Work’ but not ‘physical’ work
  2. Savage (1995) FOUR middle-class ‘types’:
  • Professionals with INTELLECTUAL identities
  • Managers with identities/status based on standards of living and leisure (a less stable identity today?)
  • Self employed /  small business owners identity based on idependence, hard work and personal discipline
  • White collar / clerical – one step-up from the working class? Identity here is often based on middle-class attitudes and ambitions. A group in decline? Are they really working-class?

3.Middle-class identities and values – key research here from Roberts who argues that it doesn’t matter what ‘type’ of middle-class person you are, there are some SHARED identities and values across all of them. Such as –

•Focus on career success

•Focus (obsession?) with the ‘home’

•Commute / travel to work

4.Focus on the education of their children – private education (?)

•Middle class children get the best GCSEs

•Middle class children get places in the ‘best’ schools

5.Middle-class belief in MERITOCRACY (???)

•Status/identity is all about WORK and EFFORT

•‘Defer gratification’ – make sacrifices now, enjoy the benefits later

6.Major difference of identity between middle class people working for the state (education, NHS, government etc) and those employed in privately owned businesses

Working class and identity

Importance of MANUAL WORK in traditional working class identities. Key words to include here are:

  • Collective work
  • Factories
  • ‘Them’ and ‘Us’
  • Conflict between managers and workers
  • Politics (Labour Party, especially)
  • Class identity and support
  • Community

DECLINE of traditional working class identities. Key words, ideas to include:

  • Decline in manual work
  • Decline of class solidarity
  • Attitudes / awareness of class inequality
  • NEW working class identities (especially in the South East of England)
  • ‘Underclass’
  • ‘Chav’

Significance of unemployment, poverty and identity. Summarise the key facts and significance of research by –

  • Jordan (1992)
  • Charlesworth (2000)

PERSPECTIVES on social class and identity – here

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