Bake Off 2018 certainly packs a strong middle class punch…

While there’s a lovely ethnic and gender diversity shine on this year’s Great British Bake Off pie, the social class balance is just way off!

I’ve done a rough analysis of this year’s 2018 Bake Off contestants by social class background and compared these to the percentages of people working in different social class occupations (1) and found the following differences:

It’s all about class 2 in this year’s 2018 Bake Off!

There’s a very strong upper middle class skew, and a corresponding under-representation of especially the traditional working class.

The 2018 Bake Off contestants by social class…

Focusing purely on social class, and categorized using the National Statistics Socio-economic classification (NS-SEC), in this year’s 2018 Bake Off line up we have the following:

Class 1 – Managers, directors, senior officials – COUNT 3

  1. Antony the ‘Bollywood’ Banker,
  2. Briony the stay at home mum
  3. Dan the stay at home dad.
Antony: representing all actually working higher professionals

My logic for including the two stay at home parents in class one is as follows: only the very wealthiest of parents can afford to have one of them staying at home permanently, and given that class 2 (see below) is already well over-represented it follows that the most likely class fit for these two is in class one. NB – this isn’t necessarily the case, just my best estimate in the absence of any data on what Briony’s and Dan’s partners do. 

Class 2 – Professional occupations – COUNT 6

  1. Imelda, the Former teacher, now countryside recreation officer
  2. Kim-Joy, the Mental health worker
  3. Luke, the Civil Servant
  4. Manon, the Software Project Manager
  5. Rahul, the Nuclear scientist
  6. Ruby, the Project Manager
Kim-Joy: a good candidates this years social class Bake Off ‘median’

Classes 3-5 – count 0

Associate professional, technical profession (class 3),  administrative and secretarial (class 4) and skilled trades (class 5) have zero representation on Bake Off this year.

Class 6: caring and leisure – COUNT 1

Representing the 3 million workers in class 6…. retired air steward Terry

Class 7 – sales and customer service – COUNT 1

Karen represents the 2.5 million working people in class 7…. at least she is actually ‘working’.

Class 8 – Plant and machine operatives – COUNT 0

No representation from the ‘traditional’ working class at all. I guess custard creams are off this year’s Bake Off menu!

Class 9 – elementary occupations – COUNT 1

Finally…. Blood courier Jon represents those working in class nine.

Jon also represents all of Wales too. Quite a burden!

A few observations on the problems of social class analysis…

I had to limit myself to categorizing the contests by occupation, as this is the only valid, ‘objective’ data I’ve got about their class background. I would have like to have used the more up to date ‘New British Class Survey‘ (scroll down for details), but I can’t tell how much cultural capital etc. each contestant has got just from watching them of the T.V.

I might have mis-categorized a couple of the contestants: especially the two who don’t work, but even so, there’s still a middle class bias!

Discussion Questions….

Does this poor representation of the lower social classes matter? I mean, we all know that ‘trophy baking’ is a middle class affair, so maybe this sample of bakers actually does represent those who ‘trophy bake’ – i.e. those who can actually afford to spend that much time and money on baking?

Or should Channel 4 be trying a bit harder to find a machine operator to get their ass on Bake-Off?

Sources/ Find out More…

  1. U.K. population social class breakdown based on Office for National Statistics: Employment by Occupation, April 2017 figures.
  2. The Great British Bake Off web site (source for contestant images).


Sociology on TV August – September 2016

There’s a couple of really useful documentaries relevant to the crime and deviance module which have been on recently, which you might want to grab for college estream if you teach Sociology – As I see it you can get a good three-five years out of a good documentary.

Life Inside Wandsworth Prison demonstrates how under-staffing and overcrowding have resulted in a lack of care for prisoners, with many being locked-down for 23 hours a day, with scant mental-health care provision where required (which many prisoners do). In addition to this the documentary also shows how drugs are readily available in the jail, with weed being openly smoked in front of the guards and it’s clear that many of the prisoners are victims of violence. Available on iPlayer intil Friday 16th Sept – So either watch it now, or you should be able to grab using estream connect for another 11 months.

Britain’s Most Wanted Motorbike Gangs? is available on iPlayer until February 2017 and is useful for evaluating the relevance of all kinds of theories of crime – subcultural theories and interactionism especially.

Finally, don’t forget Bake Off – You can use this to demonstrate how social control works through the Synopticon – through the many watching the few rather than the few watching the many. I’m not going to explain this here, more on that later, but THINK about it and you should be able to figure out what Bake Off’s really about, and it ain’t just biscuits.



Mary Berry’s Cultural Capital and Gregg Wallace’s Love of Sociology

Mary Berry’s recent comments against deep fat fryers and Jaffa cake dunking could be interpreted (using Bourdieu) as an example of the unconscious process through which the middle classes assert and maintain their superiority by defining working class practices as ‘bad taste’ and ‘unhealthy’.

mary berry
Mary Berry – Inflicting ‘silent harms’ against the working class every time she bakes a cake?

Gregg Wallace picked up on this with his comments about Berry’s attack on fried food as an attack on the British way of life, in fact, from a Bourdieuean (if that’s even a word?) perspective  this is only really an unconscious attack against a working class way of life, part of the usual day to day process through which the middle classes (such as Berry) assert their arbitrary tastes (the ones they grew up with) as ‘normal’ ‘healthy’ or just ‘right’ against working class dispositions which are simultaneously defined as ‘abnormal’ ‘unhealthy’ or just ‘wrong’.

Mary Berry is here demonstrating a sociological concept called ‘cultural capital‘ – a simplified definition of which is the skills and knowledges a group uses to define itself as superior and thus gain or maintain advantage (more status, power, wealth) in society’.  A lot of sociological research has focused on how the middle classes are able to use their cultural capital to give their children and advantage in the education system, and simultaneously disadvantage working class children, but I think it applies quite nicely to the world of food, dining and health too.

As Steph Lawler (2014) says, in her excellent introductory text on the sociology of identity…

‘One of the ways class works is through marking identities as ‘wrong’ or ‘right’, pathological or healthy, normal or abnormal, and classed identities are part of the stakes in class politics – working class people don’t know the right things, they don’t value the right things, they don’t look right and they don’t act right, while the middle classes silently pass as normal.’ 

Class divisions and distinctions have not disappeared, class has not ceased to be a meaningful frame for analysis, instead it has become an absent presence – it circulates socially while being unnamed.

As Bourdieu has demonstrated ‘taste’ is now one of the primary means through which class is configured – that which is tasteful is seen as middle class, and vice-versa for ‘vulgar’ working class taste – the problem here is that there is nothing natural about taste – it is simply what the middle class say it is.

Expressions of disgust at working-class existence remain rife among middle class commentators and middle classness relies on the expulsion and exclusion of (what is held to be) working classness.

Where does this sense of disgust come from?

Bourdieu argued that the public bourgeoisie (mainly journalists and academics, and social commentators), those who are low in economic capital, but high in cultural capital, use their voices to express contempt for the working classes, and at the same time position their middle class selves against them.

So from this perspective, Berry herself must feel low in status compared to the ‘proper rich’, and makes up for this sense of status-frustration by defining her ‘good manners’ as superior.

This is ultimately all about power, about the broader practice of the middle classes trying to position themselves above the working classes by defining them as inferior along the axis of taste.

However, the fact that all of this is social in origin, and the fact that power is operating here is obscured, because

  • part of this process of constructing middle-classness (converting cultural capital into symbolic capital) involves using knowledge itself
  • because the cultural capital is marked as ‘normal’ the fact that it is classed at all is obscured.
  • the competencies and knowledges associated with the middle class are not generally seen as social mechanisms because they are believed to be part of the self, and thus class is not seen as an objective position but it becomes configured into ‘who we are’.

Mary Berry and Individualisation (?)

Another process which Berry is engaged in is that of individualisation – the cultural capital dimension of class is social in origin and circulation, but part of that circulation involves sending out the message that these tastes are all down to the individual – thus if someone has ‘superior’ ‘middle class’ tastes they believe they have chosen this, and vice versa for those with vulgar working-class tastes – they are invited by the middle classes to feel a sense of shame about this and to blame themselves for their own inferiority.

NOW do you think Mary Berry is such a sweet lady? – From this Bourdeuian perspective, in reality she’s the evil arbitrator of cultural capital, inflicting the hidden damages of class on  deep-frying, jaffa-cake dunking working class people all over the country, well, mostly up north.

If this all sounds like it’s making a mountain out of a mole-hill, that’s precisely the point of the post because what doesn’t seem like a big deal really is… this is precisely how class divisions are perpetuated in contemporary society…

‘What we read as objective class divisions are produced and maintained by the middle class in the minutiae of everyday practice, as judgements of culture are put into effect’ (Skeggs, 2004, 118, again taken from Lawler).

On this final point, Sennet and Cobb (1977) famously observed that class inflicts hidden injuries – in terms of the ridicule, shaming, silence and self-scrutiny which go along with a position of pathology.

I thus felt it my professional duty to point Gregg Wallace in the direction of Bourdieu in order to help him defend our working class position against such subtle injuries.

There’s nothing wrong with eating fried food, dunking biscuits, or anything else which may not be middle class, but if one lets such things pass in silence, such practices have a tendency to being internalised as wrong and thus silently annihilated.

And P.S. It’s official – Gregg Wallace loves Sociology.

Gregg Wallace Loves Sociology

NB – I’m not suggesting that this type of analysis is in any way correct, it’s merely an example of how you might interpret recent events using a Bourdieuean (is that a word?) framework.

Related Posts 

Cultural Capital (focusing on its application to educational achievement)

You might also want to have another look at some of those make-over programmes – surely this is just a case of middle class ‘experts’ empowering themselves through shaming the distasteful working classes?

Middle Class Identity – A Summary of a chapter of Steph Lawler’s book on class and identity