Social Class in the 21st Century by Mike Savage review – the emotional effect of the classroom | Company books


IIf there is a single fact that illustrates how social class works in Britain today, it is in the opening pages of this startling book. Of the 161,000 people who initially responded to the Great British Class Survey, which was published on the BBC’s website in 2011, 4.1% indicated their profession as CEO, which is 20 times their representation in the workforce. On the other hand, precisely no one declared that they were a cleaner. If it is pleasant to assert your status at the top of the social hierarchy, it is a little less pleasant to remember that you are at the bottom.

The classroom coffin, to paraphrase Richard Hoggart, remains stubbornly empty. Savage and his colleagues in the sociology department of the London School of Economics used the results of the class survey to create a seven-class diagram, which reveals the vast and growing disparity in wealth and power between the “elite” and the “precariat”. . The old distinctions between upper, middle and working class are no longer true, which necessitates a range of new intermediate groups which reflect the reality of social mobility for an enlarged lower to upper middle class. Savage estimates that a super-rich class now makes up around 6% of the population, with an average household income of £ 89,000 – boosted, he notes, by attending Oxford and one or two others elite universities.

The new elite is followed by the “established middle class” – affluent, socially gregarious and passionate about the arts (London theater ticket sales rose 191% in the week the class survey results have been published: a case of the established middle class remembering that they need to go to the theater more to maintain their status?).

Members of the “technical middle class” have as much money as the established middle class but do not know as many people and do not have as much cultural capital. The “affluent new worker” is working class, but relatively well-off and eager to live a good life, as is the group of “emerging service workers” below them.

But it is the latter two groups – “the traditional working class” and “the precariat” – that have suffered the most in both relative and absolute terms. “Precariates” are those whose lives are characterized by unstable and poorly paid jobs, who cannot afford long-term plans, and whose social ties with the most senior have weakened as the elite stop using public services. .

Long-distance social mobility, from the bottom up, is a feat summed up by the title of a chapter: “Climbing Mountains”. More common, Savage argues, is the short-range movement within the middle classes, enabled by the social and cultural capital accumulated through university education.

However, you don’t become a member of the New Elite by going to a former high school, or even a Russell Group university. If you want to make a lot of money – a lot more than almost everyone else in the country – you have to go to Oxford, King’s College London, or Imperial College and then find a job in London.

The authors are indebted to the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu and his detailed work on the psychological landscape of the class – the “symbolic violence” inflicted on the lowest of the social class through snobbery, exclusion and the constant denial of those who are. better off. their share of what Bourdieu calls “the weight of the world”. Savage’s commitment to bringing out the nuances of class relations and the experiences of individuals in the class structure makes this book invaluable.

When class is debated in the public sphere, it is too often a question of who has money and who does not, or who is and is not a member of the “establishment,” a term whom Savage sees as “unhappy,” not least because the London-based economic elite he identifies are almost as likely to have attended comprehensive schools as they are private.

A new level of snobbery has developed as inequalities have increased. Class judgments are increasingly personally derogatory, as if they were a prophylaxis against being seen as “common.” This is most clearly expressed towards the end of the book Lorraine, a forklift driver who refrains from identifying as a working class because “I don’t think I would like to be in the same class as someone. one that takes what he can and has the attitude of “Well, I better not work”, you know what I mean? “

Lorraine goes on to say that these people are “quite often fat, aren’t they? And then they wonder why. The crude / respectable divide retains a powerful grip on working class relationships and self-awareness, and is exploited by politicians election after election, as the new elite continues to consolidate its treasury of economic, cultural and social capital.

Lynsey Hanley’s book on class and social mobility, Respectable, will be published by Allen Lane next year. Order Social class in the 21st century for £ 7.19 (RRP £ 8.99) go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK delivery from £ 10, online orders only. Min p & p phone orders of £ 1.99.

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