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Mary Berry Doffs Her Bonnet – and Legitimates the Class Structure (Again)

I’ve blogged about how Mary Berry’s uses her middle class cultural capital to maintain the class-order through demonising working class taste , but in her latest series of outings – Mary Berry’s Country House Secrets, she takes this to another level…

Mary Berry Age.jpg
Mary Berry’s Country House Secret Hegemony?

I could only stomach one episode, which I watched to confirm my suspicions about the general format and broader function of this series – it basically consists of The Berry visiting Lords in their large estates, and having a jolly nice time cooking for them and dining with them….. making it seem as if ‘they’re just like us’.

From a Marxist Perspective the narrow and uncritical agenda of this show perpetuates the class structure through suggesting that we should identity with the elite.

The truth is, according to a broadly Marxist analysis, that these Lords and Ladies are are not like us- they mix in their own privileged circles and ‘fine dining’ is precisely one of the mechanisms they use to distinguish themselves from us ‘plebs’.

The deeper truth is that this ascribed status, which people are born into through sheer luck, is an affront to meritocracy – and needs to be challenged, or at the very least questioned, rather than ‘doffed’, like The Berry does.

Then again, and again from a Marxist point of view, what would you expect from The Berry? Doffing to the elite class above you is a widely used tactic by the upper middle classes (you see it in the Daily Mail a lot, when they defer to the royals), suggesting that the majority of the rest of us, like Gregg Wallace, in The Berry’s case, should doff their working class caps to her.

At least according to Marxism… these views in no way represent my own on the matter!

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Cultural Capital, Practical Intelligence and Success

Being an analytical genius is not necessarily enough to achieve success in life – it also helps if your parents have sufficient cultural capital to provide you with ‘practical intelligence’. 

In this post, I continue my summary of Malcom Gladwell’s most excellent ‘Outliers: The Story of Success’ (chapter 5: the trouble with geniuses part 2).

Chris Langan started talking at 6 months, and taught himself to read at the age of 3. He was born with high levels of analytic intelligence, and and as a child he always wanted to be an academic, but he never managed to make it.

Langan came from an incredibly disadvantaged background and him and his four brothers endured severe material deprivation. Despite this, Langan won a scholarship to Oregon University at 18, but had the scholarship removed when his mother didn’t complete the appropriate forms for its continuation: he dropped out and returned to Montana to do manual work.  He later enrolled in Montana State University but again had to drop out due to poverty related issues (his car broke down so he couldn’t get to class).

Gladwell contrasts Langan’s  life course to that of the nuclear physicist Robert Oppenheimer:

Oppenheimer managed to complete his PhD in physics despite attempting to poison his tutor half way through because they didn’t get on: he talked the board into sending him to a psychiatrist rather than to jail); years later Oppenheimer managed to talk his way onto the Manhattan Project  – despite not being the best qualified person for the job.

The difference between Langan and Oppenheimer is their respective amounts of  ‘Practical Intelligence’  which Robert Sternberg says includes ‘knowing what to say to whom, knowing when to say it, and knowing how to say it to maximum effect’.

Where does Practical Intelligence Come From?

Perhaps the best explanation comes from sociologists Annette Lareau who conducted a study of third graders.

Laureau selected a sample of both black and white children, from both rich and poor backgrounds, zeroing in on 12 families and the research team visited each family at least twenty times, for hours at a stretch, following them as they went about their daily routines.

Lareau found that there were only two parenting philosophies, and they divided almost perfectly along class lines: the wealthier parents raised their kids one way, the poorer kids were raised another way.

The wealthier parents were heavily involved in their children’s free time: shuttling them from one activity to the next and quizzing them about their teachers.

This kind of intensive scheduling was almost entirely absent from the lives of the poor children. Play for them involved making up games with their siblings.

The middle class parents talked things through with their children, reasoning with them. They didn’t just issue commands, they expected their children to talk back to them, to question adults in authority.

One child Lareau followed just missed qualifying for a gifted programme, so the mother had her re-tested privately, petitioned the school and got her a place on the programme, whereas poor parents are much more reluctant to take on authority.

Lareau calls the middle-class parenting style ‘concerted cultivation’ – an active attempt to foster and assess child’s talents, opinions and skills, whereas working class parents engage in a strategy of ‘accomplishment of natural growth’ – they see it as their responsibility to care for their kids, but to let them grow and develop on their own.

Lareau states that these two parenting styles are morally equivalent, and in fact the working class kids are often better behaved, less whiney and more independent and creative, but concerted cultivation has enormous practical advantages – it helps them deal with authority, to speak up and gives them a sense of entitlement.

Although ‘entitlement’ has negative connotations – Lareau means it in the best terms – middle class kids know the rules and they know how to pursue their self-interest within institutions – they have ‘practical intelligence’, they have the attitudes they need to succeed in the modern world…..

 

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Bourdieu’s Structuration Theory

Bourdieu didn’t like the label ‘social theorist’ because he insisted that there was a fundamentally important relationship between empirical data, research methods and ‘theory’.

He was not interested in making grand theoretical claims, but rather was engaged in examining particular substantive areas (fields) of social life that existed at particular times and places, such as fields of education.

Drawing inspiration from Marx and Weber, Bourdieu argued that all aspects of social life must be examined in terms of the power relations they embody – the main aim of sociology is to expose the power of elite groups, which would normally not be visible without sociological analysis.

This ‘exposure’ element is different to Giddens’ structuration theory, who generally assumes the knowledgeability of subjects, while for Bourdieu actors are not necessarily conscious of the operation of power.  Bourdieu also focused more on the group, rather than the individual agent.

Bourdieu has been criticise as just being  a Marxist, for seemingly analysing power relations in terms of how structure and ideology reproduce individuals. However, Bourdieu saw his position as successfully mediating between objectivism and subjectivism. He claimed these are transcended by his key concept of habitus – a term meant to describe how social conditions act upon and shape individuals’ actions and how also people are –within certain limits – capable of creative responses to the situations they find themselves in (Reay 2004).

A habitus is the characteristic ways of thinking, feeling, acting and experiencing shared by all members of a certain group.  It describes how social structures act on individuals in a group and how individuals actively respond to the social situations created by those structures – a person’s practices can either maintain or transform the social situations people operate within.

For Bourdieu the primary groups in society are social class groups. He understands power as the domination of one class over another, via attempts at legitimising their world view.

For Bourdieu, the habitus encompasses both  objective and subjective, passive and active, material and ideal elements.

The more objective elements concern wealth and power, and the socialisation processes – socialisation happens at a mental as well as a bodily level — the tiniest details of how we walk, or blow are knows signify aspects of our socialisation, mostly our class background, and for Bourdieu we are not fully aware that everything we do is expressive of the habitus into which we’ve been socialised. Instead the habits disguises itself by making people see the world in common sense ways, and these do not allow critical attention to be paid to it. People just experience what they experience as ‘common sense’.

We do not even realise we have a habitus until we step outside it, into a different context – e.g. a working class person going to a society wedding, realising their ordinary ways of being just don’t fit.

The habitus ‘adjusts expectations to reality’ – so that our subjective outlook meshes with our objective conditions – thus a working class person would just not expect to eat caviar for breakfast, we just accept this.

Bourdieu maintains that habitus does not simply constrain individuals – it also allows action to take place, but it always provides a limited set of possibilities, most of this happens within the realm of practical consciousness.

Bourdieu has been criticised for understating the extent to which people are reflexive today – i.e. it appears that people do increasingly reflect on themselves and their habitus and consciously seek to change what they are.

More to follow>>>

Related Posts 

Cultural Capital and Educational Achievement

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The Apprentice Final Five and Class Inequality

The Apprentice – The Final Five demonstrates some of the subtle ways in which the class structure disadvantages those from working class backgrounds –

apprentice

To focus on just one example, Frances was a straight A student who dropped out of the University of Durham because ‘it sounds ridiculous’ but she didn’t feel liked she fitted in.

francis-bishop-the-apprentice
Frances Bishop – eventually fired after the interview round

Here’s some class-based theorising about why she may’ve dropped out… of course it’s just theory, with any luck she’ll comment and say whether there’s any truth in it or not, can’t beat a bit of qualitative feedback after all…

From a broadly Marxist perspective, the 18 year old Frances’ naive lack of awareness of the class structure may have played a role in her dropping out – had she realised in advance that elite universities are are chock full of hot-housed middle class students then she might have been better prepared to endure three years of alienation and anomie.

francis
Better days?

I imagine her first sense of dislocation came from her material disadvantage – it’s likely that many of her peers would be familiar with going for regular meals-out/ regular wardrobe changes/ maybe even ski-holidays, which someone from a poorer background (her step-dad was a truck driver) wouldn’t be familiar with – I’m sure Francis’ weekly budget was considerably lower than the average, and with no middle-class-daddy safety net to back her up, her days keeping up with the fillees were always going to be numbered.

Then you have to add to this her lack of cultural capital – Frances’ lack of knowledge of middle class values and tastes would further alienate her – I’m sure concepts such as weekend breaks , ponies, and ski holidays would be misnomers, for example, hardly grist for her conversational mill.

(UPDATE 30/12/16 – Frances did comment, and my speculation seems to have been ‘close to the mark’! What can I say – looks like social class barriers are a social fact!)

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If only Frances had read some Bourdieu in advance of going to uni, she might not have expected to fit in at all,  and maybe this would’ve helped her to endure and get her degree – then again, maybe that would’ve left her worse off, she seems to have done alright for herself in the end, even if she doesn’t win Sugar’s cash.

Frances isn’t the only media celebrity to fall fowl of the evils of cultural capital – Mary Berry tried doing the same to Gregg Wallace as the Durham fillies did to Frances, but Gregg seemed to be more able to resist the affront.

I feel like I’m gradually collecting celebrity victims of cultural capital, maybe one day we’ll all find each other on the front line of the coming class war… it’d make for a good selfie.

Related Posts 

Lies, Damn Lies and The Apprentice – How we’re supposed to think The Apprentice works compared to how it actually works

The Myth of Meritocracy and The Structure of Luck – The later half of the post focuses on the role luck played in Alana’s (the eventual winner of The Apprentice 2016) eventual victory – the blonde one to the left in the above picture.

 

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The Hidden Privileges of Identity: On Being Middle Class

A summary of Steph Lawler’s ‘Sociological Perspectives on Identity’, chapter 7

During summer 2000 and in January 2001, there were two separate community-protests over the housing of child-offenders in the local community, one in a working-class area, by working-class people, another in a middle class area, by middle-class people.

The first protest took place in a working class housing estate in Palsgrove, Portsmouth, in which local residents were demanding the removal men believed to be sex offenders already living in the area; the second protest took place in middle-class Balham, London, where locals were protesting against a proposition to build a residential centre for sex-offenders, including child sex-offenders.

Both received press coverage, but both the amount and the tone of the reporting differed.

The working-class protest received an enormous amount of coverage, and commentary, with the women involved presented in dismissive and disgusted terms and not a single broad sheet newspaper reported their protest as rational or understandable, preferring to cast the protesters as a mob of rioters. In addition, frequent reference was made to personal aspects of their lives – such as their appearance, how they furnished their homes, their relationship status, as well as details of their past relationships.

In contrast, the middle class mothers in Balham were almost entirely sympathetic – they were presented as ‘vigilant’ rather than vigilante, and identification was invited so they became part of an imagined ‘we’ uniting against the sex-offenders; there was minimal reference to their personal lives – other than details of their children’ ages and their jobs, which were all ‘solidly professional’.

The Paulsgrave women were vilified across three different axes:

  • Their bodily appearance
  • Their ignorance or lack of understanding
  • Their inadequacy as mothers

And through this vilification their protests were rendered ridiculous through assumptions of immorality, incompetence and ignorance.

Lawler now asks what can these representations tell us about identity? They tell us nothing about the subjectivities of the people involved – but they do tell us something about how class is conferred on people: there is a long tradition of representing the working class as a mob, against which middle-class individuality is asserted, but it is doubtful that anyone identifies subjectively as part of a mob, so mob-identity is conferred on the working classes rather than coming from them and/ or how they feel about themselves.

One of the subtlest ways this works is through the middle classes claiming to ‘know’ the working classes, thus claiming the right to identify them (when in reality, they don’t know them at all).

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.

This chapter looks at how middle class identities are normalised, and defined as ‘right’ against a working class identity which is defined (by the middle classes) as wrong. This is important for two reasons

1. We have traditionally understood class in economic terms, but increasingly cultural markers matter.

2. Class still matters as a source of identity but recently it has taken a back seat as academics have focused on other aspects of identity – such as sexuality.

‘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).

The persistence of class

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.

The drawing of class distinctions has become displaced onto individual persons and families who are approved or disapproved of.

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.

(Lawler thus adopts a relational approach to class and sees it as dynamic, rather than static categories dependent on economic position).

She effectively argues 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.

Together this group, what Bourdieu refers to as the ‘dominated section of the dominant class’ construct a doxic understanding of class – they have a shared understanding of what working class and middle class means, and this is largely goes undiscussed.

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

Having the knowledge

Lawler begins by quoting a definition of cultural capital form Johnson (1993)…

Cultural Capital refers to a specific form of knowledge which ‘equips the social agent with empathy towards, appreciation for or competence in deciphering cultural relations and cultural artefacts…. cultural capital is accumulated through a long process of acquisitions or inculcation which includes the pedagogical action of the family or group members (family, education), educated members of the social formation (diffuse, education) and social institutions (institutionalised education)’

For Bourdieu, it it is only the cultural capital of the middle classes which is legitimised and becomes symbolic capital – around which prestige and status are conferred – it is only middle class tastes, knowledges, and dispositions which are encoded as inherently ‘right’.

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-class ness (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’.

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.

What Lawler’s basically describing above, I believe, is the process 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.

Habitus and the subject

Bourdieu’s concept of the habitus is central to his analysis of social identity and is his attempt to theorise the ways in which the social is incorporated into the self.

Bourdieu’s concept of the habitus has been described as ‘second sense’, ‘practical sense’, or ‘second nature’ that equips people with ‘know-how’. Habitus refers to both physical and psychological aspects of the self – it is the way we stand, how we move, how we look and how we feel, and it is our dispositions, attitudes and tastes, so it is a concept which cuts across traditional mind-body splits, with much of its force deriving from non-conscious elements.

In short, the habitus is not only something someone has, it is learned in the mind-body, it is what one is.

The habitus has also been referred to as ‘socialised subjectivity’, or ’embodied history’, a result of ‘deep socialisation’. It is learned, but we have forgotten that it is learned and so as far as we are concerned what we do and who we are ‘just natural’.

What all of the above suggests is that ‘taste’ is not innate but learned through deep socialisation of the habitus, furthermore what gets to count as ‘tasteful’ is what the group with the power to name things as tasteful decide is tasteful.

Habitus is not determining, but generative. It is dynamic, so it does not reproduce itself perfectly.

Central to the concept of habitus is relationality – habitus only makes sense in the context of specific local contexts or ‘fields’ – a field is a network of objective relations between positions. Fields are the games for which the rules of the game equip us.

Habitus are also relational in another sense – they exist in relation to one another – they carry the traces, or the lines along which society is divided – class, gender, ethnicity, the whole lot.

Habitus are also hierarchical – some are normalised, some pathological and they clash, and part of the embodied sense of habitus is the judgement of other habitus – however, only some people have the power to make judgements stick.

What gives habitus its power is that it’s not about what you do, or how you act, but about who you are, and some people (the middle classes) have more ability to make judgements about legitimate taste stick than others.

Disgusting subjects: narratives of lack…

Savage et al (2001) found that people were frequently uncomfortable and evasive when talking about class as a system, but middle class people consistently characterise working class people in the most horrific terms. The working classes being talked about are rarely named in class terms, but it is clear who the targets are.

Lawler now gives an example of Les Back (2002) who, when giving a paper on white working class youth was asked by an academic member of the audience whether ‘he was going to do the voices’ – imagine the outrage if this had been asked in relation to a study on an ethnic minority group, yet there was no such outrage surrounding ‘parodying’ the working classes.

Back observes that not only do the working class not deserve to be taken seriously, it is also assumed that they are easy to read and know, although they are seen as unable to know themselves.

The working classes are probably most obviously marked out by their appearance – their clothes and general demeanour – in the UK references are made to shell suits, large gold earrings and tightly permed hair – such easy signfiers do a great deal to code class difference and it is left to the reader (or viewer) to fill in the gaps by understanding that such appearances are the result of pathology.

Some commentators also comment with awed horror on the environments where working class people live and are often surprised that ‘people live there’, forgetting that for working class people these environments are completely normal.

There is also a discourse which has coded such working class areas as high-crime areas, given legitimacy through crime-mapping software.

Landscape and inhabitants are frequently described in terms of lack, but it in these discussions it is not so much money they lack, but taste.

On top of criticising working class landscapes and dress, character traits are also part of the construction of the working classes – Lawler now summarises the ways in which the working classes are demonised –

‘As cigarette-smoking teenage mothers, rearing children in deprived and arid backgrounds of instability, emotional chaos, parental strife, of moral vacuum.. whose children will grow up as socially autistic adults with little expectations and even less talent.’

Above all, she says they are held to lack everything perceived as having value.

This discourse of lack defines social policy – which mainly focuses around tackling social exclusion where social class is concerned.

Lawler is very critical of such accounts – especially of Simon Charlseworth’s (2000) account of working class life as picture bleak and empty, devoid of meaning – we have to ask – is this about working class life, or about a way of looking at it?

Two sociologists who argue coherently against such narratives of lack are Beverly Skeggs and Angella McRobbie

And narratives of decline…

Where discussion of the working classes is concerned, narratives of lack are accompanied by narratives of decline.

The narrative of decline is the tale that the working class used to be respectable, but that the decline of heavy industry has lead to the working class either moving upward to become middle class, or behind, effectively no longer having any value.

The working classes are also seen as suffering from outdated political values, or cultural lag, while progress and reason are on the side of the government and the middle classes. The characterisation of the underlcass has done little to change this.

All of this is worse for working class women get a double negative-label – not only working class but also characterised as unfeminine – and those who try to be feminine are themselves disparaged for it.

The move from working class to underclass also has a gendered dimension.

Representations of the working classes of the past emphasise masculinity – and radicalised, politicised male workers at least having respectability.

However, representations of the new underclass are feminised – with the teenage mother being the symbol of spite – hence we have a gendering of the ‘lower’ classes, all fundamentally tied into middle class attempts to empower themselves don’t forget.

We get the impression from current representations that the wc used to be OK but now they are a problem.

Savage argues that this is not the case – only a few wc members manage to claim the noble WC identity referred to above – the middle class have always seen an attempted to portray the WC as something problematic.

All that has changed is that today we don’t talk explicitly about ‘class’; instead the ‘disgusting’ traits are presented as the outcome of individual and familial pathology… representations of working class people are marked by disapproval or disdain not for the ‘objective’ markers of their position, but for (what are perceived to be) their identities. Their clothes, their bodies, their localities are all seen as tasteless, and faulty.

Lawler now notes that exactly how disgust comes to operate through class is relatively underexplored, but it is so important because it is an emotion which is literally experience in the body, so is very much part of us, but it is also social, because it needs collective affirmation – disgust is thus very much where the personal meets the social.

Lawler now reminds us that disgust does not arise because of something intrinsic within the object, but out of a relation between the disgusted and the ‘disgusting’ object.

Disgust is also bound up with identity – it works to push away others and establish one’s own identity as non-disgusting.

At the end of the day disgust is the opposite of taste, and the two are flexible – forever changing – what is tasteful today may not be so tomorrow – consider the way the middle classes adapt in the face of popularisation through mass consumption. This change however only serves to highlight the fragility of these classes boundaries via good taste and disgust – one is always aware that one can become the other, and hence the crucial importance of working on maintaining boundaries.

Concluding remarks

Basically a reminder that there lies an anxiety at the heart of all identities.

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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

 

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Social Class – An Introduction to the Concept

Social Class refers to divisions in society based on economic and social status. People in the same social class typically share a similar level of wealth, educational achievement, type of job and income.

Social Class is one of the most important concepts within AS and A Level Sociology because of the relationship between social class background and life chances (or lack of them) and the debate over the extent to which social class background determines an individual’s life chances.

Many people in the United Kingdom have an idea of what social class is, but Sociologists define the concept in more precise terms. Below I look at ‘common conceptions’ of social class before moving on to look at two ways of measuring social class – The Registrar General’s Social Class Scale and The New British Class Survey

Common Conceptions of Social Class

The classic formulation of social class in Britain is to see Britain as being divided into three classes: working, middle and upper class. Social Class, is however, open to change, and most agree that the last two decades have seen the emergence of an underclass, with little prospect of full time employment. These four terms are in common usage and we have to start somewhere, so here are some starting definitions which you should aim to move beyond.

Social Class

Definition/ Defining Features

Working class

Those individuals engaged in manual work, often having low levels of educational achievement. The classic, traditional working class jobs include heavy labouring and factory based work.

Middle class

Those individuals engaged in non-manual work, often having higher levels of educational achievement. Classic middle class jobs include everything from doctors and lawyers to clerical workers.

Upper class

The elite class that controls the majority of wealth and power in British society.

A recent 2015 survey shows that 60% of people in Britain identify as working class, which suggests that these broad ‘class divisions’ have meaning for people.

The disadvantages of common conceptions of social class is that they lack clarity – although most of us have heard of social class and have some idea of what it means to be a member of a social class, exactly what constitutes middle or working class, for example, is subjective and varies from person to person.

This is precisely why socologists have striven to develop more objective classifications of social class – and below I look at two of these – The registrar General’s Social Class Scale and the New British Class Survey

The Registrar General’s Social Class Scale (1911)

Sociologists use more nuanced categories of social class, than the common sense conceptions above. The way in which sociologists group people into social classes has changed considerably over time, mainly because of the changing occupational structure. To illustrate this just two examples are provided below.

For most of the 20th Century social class was measured using the Registrar General’s Scale. When this was originally conceived in 1911 it was based on the alleged standing in the community of the different occupational groups.

Occupations were divided into the following:

  • Manual occupations – those that involve a fair amount of physical effort. These are also known as blue collar occupations and are seen as working class.

  • Non-manual occupations – those that involve more mental effort, such as professions and office work. These are also known as white collar occupations and are seen as middle class.

Registrar General’s Scale: 1911-Present Day 

Social Class

Examples of occupation

I Professional and managerial

Accountant, doctor

II Intermediate

Teacher, farmer

III Non-manual – skilled occupations

Police officer, sales representative

III Manual – skilled occupations

Electrician, bus driver

IV Semi-skilled manual

Farm worker, postman/woman

V Unskilled manual

Labourer, cleaner

Strengths and Limitations of the Registrar General’s Social Class Scale 

The problems with the above scale is that the occupational structure in the UK has moved on – there are many more unskilled non manual jobs – in call-centres for example, and there is no room for the long-term or intermittently unemployed in the above scale either.

However, even today the majority of occupations fit pretty unambiguously into one of the categories, and six categories broadly organised along educational achievement and income is very easy to manage if we wish to make comparisons, and if we stick to these six simple categories, there does appear to be a historical relationship between these social class groupings and life chances – especially where life expectancy is concerned.

health and social class inequality

The New British Class Survey 

The New British Class Survey is an attempt to update the Registrar General’s Social Class Scale and make it more relevant to contemporary Britain.

Social Class UK

The survey was conducted by the BBC, in conjunction with The London School of Economics, recently conducted an online survey of 161 000 people. The survey measured three aspects of social class – economic capital, cultural capital and social capital.

Economic Capital – Measured by a combination of household income, household savings and the value of house owned.

Cultural Capital – The level of engagement in ‘highbrow’ and ’emerging’ culture. The amount of ‘Highbrow’ culture people consumed was measured by scoring how engaged they were with classical music, attending stately homes and so on. How much ’emerging’ cultural capital people owned was measured by scoring engagement with video games, a preference for hip-hop etc.

Social Capital – Measured using the average status or importance of people’s social contacts and the number of occupations people said they knew.

According to this survey, there are now 7 new classes in the United Kingdom…..

  1. Elite (6% of the population) – The most privileged class in Great Britain who have high levels of all three capitals. Their high amount of economic capital sets them apart from everyone else.

    Social Class Britain

  2. Established Middle Class (25% of the population) Members of this class have high levels of all three capitals although not as high as the Elite. They are a gregarious and culturally engaged class.

  3. Technical Middle Class (6%) – A new, small class with high economic capital but seem less culturally engaged. They have relatively few social contacts and so are less socially engaged.

  4. New Affluent Workers (14%) – This class has medium levels of economic capital and higher levels of cultural and social capital. They are a young and active group.

  5. Emergent Service Workers (15%) This new class has low economic capital but has high levels of ‘emerging’ cultural capital and high social capital. This group are young and often found in urban areas.

  6. Traditional Working Class (19%) – This class scores low on all forms of the three capitals although they are not the poorest group. The average age of this class is older than the others.

  7. Precariat (15%) – The most deprived class of all with low levels of economic, cultural and social capital. The everyday lives of members of this class are precarious.

    Social Class Sociology

Strengths and Limitations of the New British Class Survey 

This seems to be a clear improvement on previous class scales – it seems to describe social class divisions as they actually are in the UK (you might say it’s a more valid measurement of social class) – and the inclusion of  ‘lowest’ class – the precariat reflects the important fact that many people are in low-paid work are in poverty because of the precarious nature of their flexible and/ or part-time employment. It also includes more indicators (or aspects of class) and reflects the importance of property ownership which only typically comes with age.

However, because it includes more aspects of class and because it is more subjective, it is simply harder to ‘get your head around’ – the divisions aren’t as clear cut, and it’s more difficult to make comparisons – of which there are few available because this is such a new measurement. Still, these aren’t necessarily weaknesses if that’s the way social class really does manifest itself in reality in contemporary Britain.

Related Posts – Mostly on ‘why class matters’

Social Class, Income and Wealth Inequalities

The Reproduction of the Social Class Inequality in Education

Three ways in which family life varies by social class

Discussion Question: To what extent do you believe someone’s social class background affects their life chances in Modern Britain today?

Research Task – Use this link to do the survey and find out more about your class background (you could either enter your parents‘ details, if you know them, or think about where you think you will be in 5-10 years time and enter those details.

British Class Survey

 

Further Sources 

 

 

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Cultural Capital and Social class differences in educational achievement

Cultural Capital refers to the skills and knowledge middle class parents have that they can use to give their children an advantage in the education system.

A closely related concept is Social Capital – which is the support and information provided by contacts and social networks which can be converted into educational success and material rewards.

cultural capital

Three ways in which middle class parents use their cultural capital

  1. Middle class parents are better educated and are more able to help their children with homework
  2. Middle class parents are more skilled in researching schools
  3. Middle class parents teach their children the value of deferred gratification

Two ways in which middle class parents use their social capital

  1. They speak to parents of children who already attend the best schools
  2. They are more likely to know professionals who work in the best schools

Supporting evidence for the importance of cultural capital in education

Diane Reay (1988) – Mothers make cultural capital work for their children. Her research is based on the mothers of 33 children at two London primary schools. The mothers of working class children worked just as hard as the middle class mothers. But the cultural capital of the MC mothers gave their children an advantage.

Middle Class Mothers had more educational qualifications and more information about how the educational system operated. They used this cultural capital to help their children with homework, bolstering their confidence and sorting out their problems with teachers.

Stephen Ball argues that government policies of choice and competition place the middle class at an advantage. Ball refers to middle class parents as ‘skilled choosers’. Compared to working class parents (disconnected choosers) they are more comfortable with dealing with public institutions like schools, they are more used to extracting and assessing information. They use social networks to talk to parents whose children are attending the schools on offer and they are more used to dealing with and negotiating with administrators and teachers. As a result, if entry to a school is limited, they are more likely to gain a place for their child.

The school/ parent alliance: Middle class parents want middle class schools and schools want middle class pupils. In general the schools with more middle class students have better results.. Schools see middle class students as easy to teach and likely to perform well. They will maintain the schools position in the league tables and its status in the education market. 

Analysis point

For the sociologists in this section, the cause of lower class failure is the very existence of inequality itself in society and differences in power held by the working and middle classes.

The role of Cultural Capital – Evaluations

Cultural capital has proved difficult to operationalise and measure

However, more and more research suggests this is important in explaining middle class success and working class failure

Helps to explain why the Middle classes always do better despite compensatory education

Related Posts

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The reproduction of class inequality in education

This video explores the role of social and cultural in the process of the reproduction of class inequality.

https://emb.d.tube/#!/revisesociology/dpf4yejg

This video shows a hypothetical dialogue in which two middle class parents discuss how they might translate their material and cultural capital into educational advantage for their offspring, thereby reproducing class inequality.

material capital is basically money and resources,

cultural capital refers to the store of skills and knowledges middle class parents might have which give their children an advantage in life over working class children.

The reproduction of class inequality through education may be defined as the process whereby middle class children succeed in education and go on to get well-paid middle class jobs, and vice versa for working class children. As a result class inequality is carried on across the generations.

This was one of the first educational videos I ever uploaded to YouTube, but since the company decided to demonetize my account I am deleting everything from YouTube and bringing it to Dtube – a decetralised, blockchain based social media platform – get on the chain, I say!

 

 

Related Posts

Cultural Capital and Education – Extended Version