Monday, 27 February 2012

Thoughts on class

From a comment of mine on the Telegraph news site:

"As soon as the word "class" is mentioned, you've opened  a can of worms. People will have entirely differing presuppositions of what the word entails.

Listen to sociologists talking on "thinking allowed" on radio 4, and you are listening to a group of would-be scientists who base much their work on a set of definitions of assumptions about "class"

But how can you do that? Who knows where one class begins and one class ends - where is that set out exactly? And if many sociologists agree on a particular set of criteria for being one class or another, who's to say those criteria aren't wrong, or completely artificial?

The word is useful for them because it immediately ties them to Marxist theory, but also to a whole set of very real problems in the UK over the last 150 years or more. Because of the Marxist link my heart sinks when people mention class.

But noone in this country seems able to forget the humiliations suffered by the lower classes here. Not just the poverty and hardship (and a certain amount of envy too), but some of the social behaviours that kept the system in place. Social competition in the higher classes, and the pressure to keep those from 'lower' classes - who wanted to join the higher ones - in their place, meant a lot of superior airs and aloofness, and plenty of resentment. 

(just the other day a neighbour told me how she had worked as a cleaner in a girls school in Oxford, and received some pretty haughty bad-manners from a 20-something woman working there.  I'm afraid that, knowing the school, that does not surprise me)

Many seem to blame the class system for all inequalities (which are probably inevitable anywhere to some degree). I think that is wrong. It provided structure, and something to aspire to. Take away the system, and the inequalities have not gone away

The dynamics, the social aloofness, can keep standards, but they can also be an ego trip for those in the middle to upper classes, and thoroughly divisive in relationships as well, to name just 2 problems. 

Now, though, the tables have turned, and some spit the meaningless phrase "White middle-class male" out with real venom..."

I notice that I said "Take away the system, and the inequalities have not gone away". Another interesting facet is that people of the left see that inequalities still remain (as they always will), and that people help their friends (ditto) and take it all as evidence that the class-system has not  died at all. I think they are very wrong. These are just ordinary social dynamics and the hand-wringing over whether a potential son/daughter in law is of the right class is a thing of the past.

We may still worry about our offspring's marital choice, and we may still dislike 'chavs', but this is far more to do with standards of behaviour - a different concept and entirely natural. We are not going to stop worrying about our children and their relationships, neither are we going to be happy about being gobbed on by some unpleasant kid who can't find anything better to do. This is nothing to do with old conceptions of 'class', no matter how much people like Owen Jones claim it is

No comments:

Post a Comment