A mashup of individual, society and class

by Ruxi Pătrașcu

At the moment my brain is flooded by a list of misunderstood questions and mumbling voices desperately trying to point a direction. I stopped to read the previous line and my brain turned to silenzio stampa.

rich_pigeon_poor_sparrow

First part – Readings (part of them)

Class usually explain the economic distribution throughout a society, also is often underlines the inequalities. According to Wright class can be divided by 5 themes:

1. Class as a subjective location – (high-school all over again)

“Categories of class might change because of location or the historical frame(senses of economic difference of ”others”)”. Also it is collectively shared by sub-groups, can be a starting point for class analysis and it does “not depend on objective criteria but rather a lived awareness of social difference that can be traced back to economic difference”

2. Class as social position – (oh, really?!)

This one is measured by economical achievements, which will determine the standards of living. It divides class as it follows: upper class, working class, middle class. Social position is elementary measured by one’s income.

3. Class as life chance – (you don’t say)

Class becomes a predictor of one’s chance of life

4. Class as historical dimension of inequality  – (I have no idea what I’m doing here)

“This dimension refers to the way in which systems of economic production allow for the extraction of profits from labour.”

5. Class as a political category – (fun was had)

The battle of two concepts of two big, bright and dead men: Marx and Weber.

First, we shall see class as a normative concept or tool that helps us divide and structure society from a systematic point of view.

The idea of “class” started with Karl Marx, “it identifies and labels points of oppression and exploitation, and on the basis of these constructs a radical, emancipatory political project”. He saw capitalism composed out of two classes: the bourgeoisie(capital-owning class) and the proletariat(labour power to sell). Marx came up with a name for the difference between the monetary value that workers produced and their wages, he called it “surplus value”., it represents the engine of capitalism. Besides this, the system of capitalism is also supported by “ ideological apparatus like schooling and legal systems”. Marx thought that the unsatisfying wages and the poorly conditions in which the proletariat had to work would eventually constitute the end of stability for capitalists. Following this logic, a revolutionary mindset was expected to happen when the workers would have realised their power and how much capitalism actually depends on them.

rich-on-poor

Compared to Marx, Weber is multidimensional, he divides class and status. Class, in Weber’s conception is defined “in terms of an individual’s market situation, whereas your social status as a worker depends on the skills you’ve got in exchange for work different rewards are  allocated. Individuals with greater and better skills, also educated or with a bit of an income would have  different and improved life trajectories. This translates into greater profit/income which leads to a different social status. Life trajectories are in direct relationship with this, equally followed by life chances. According to Weber, ” societies were stratified not just by relationships to markets, but by various sort of status dimensions, which he called the status order.  The status does not directly affect material chances, but can do so indirectly by way of the influence of status and honour on one’s capacity to participate within various social circles and field”.  Status groups have general and normative agreements on a number of things such as manner, conduit, appearance etc. Of course, this can reinforce or re-estate the inequalities. Status does not determine life chances, but it associates with different stratifications based upon economic diversity. Weber also talked about ”party” as a final determinant of life chances: ” Parties refer to the groups to which people belong, which in some way have an associational character and an agreed-upon set of goals and aspirations. Necessarily, parties try to effect or have power over social outcomes by way of their group character. The collective energies of parties are directed towards particular goals, and work in conjunction with both class and status characteristics in trying to reach these goals”. ( Can community be considered a party? )

Another important character to social studies is Bourdieu with the cultural consumption and class reproduction. “His theory of social inequality is based on the relations between the personal, embodied and  performed world of everyday cultural practices, with an account of how such subjective capacities bind to matters of reproduction of social inequality”. Bourdieu introduces the idea of the “habitus”, something everyone posses but are unaware of it, which is a mechanism through which people sort out different classification with what they like or dislike, the way they form and chose to repeat different social practices, and it also outline a set of principles or guidelines that individuals work with in their relations with objects and/or others. “In short, it is a set of dispositions for use in practice that orientates individuals in their relations with people and objects in the social world” or as Bourdieu calls it “active present of past experiences”. In his work “Distinction” Bourdieu explains how how cultural tastes are distributed in a society and also, their power of influence when it comes to inequality. The culture capital of a society is being seen as a cultural form, such as film, music, manner, clothing etc.

Second part – Opinion (Warning: do not search for objectivity in here !)

BN-BX279_noonan_DV_20140313173648

A few things stayed with me after reading this, unfortunately fog wrapped my head and sent it to Crimea, in other words, I find myself caught in the middle.

Of course Marx’s division of class is a bit (or more) outdated but it is a figure-ground to social studies. At least, it was. Distinction between classes is not that easy to recognize nowadays, and most definitely it is not limited only by economic outcomes. It is also cultural divided, but if class influences culture then which is the root of inequality? Money  first comes to my mind but then, I stumble upon education, however, isn’t education supported ( and created ) by economic values? My answer depends if we are talking about formal and non-formal education, after all there is a next question, what is education? Once you’ve started asking questions it becomes a vicious circle without certain answers, just “shaky/shady” ones.

Saturday I met over a limonade with an old ( and much older) friend of mine and we started talking about individual and society. After I explained the context and also my frustration generated by a full sentiment of terrible terrifying he gently and naive said “There is no difference between them, they’re complementary. There would be none without the other” . This statement inspired my discourse.

Can I divide between them two? Yes <-> No. Can I say the work independently? No. Can I say they are strongly wreathed? Yes.

Individuals and society shape each other, but the changes that can be added ( or not ) lay within the individual, this applied by the rule of “man in the mirror”. No matter of stratification, or division, based upon culture or money, the influence of one another is greater nowadays than ever before. As Peggy Noonan stated “we have entered a time of war by at least temporary stealth”, different context obviously, but I find it highly applicable in here too. It is very hard to state steady differences nowadays, especially, I think, because of globalization and it’s speed. Indeed, class, helped developing a globalized pop-culture like never before, changed values and mentalities overnight, encouraging gaps of at least 10/15 years among generations.

Even though ahead of us is an era of grayness, there is already a positive outcome encouraged by uprisings: communities. This bigger groups created by the need of belonging and common beliefs might help settle the idea of “individuals vs/and society” as they seem to be a sort of mezzo between them.

Going back to the individual and to what may appear to be one of Marx’s belief, no change can rise over night, and no idea can be applied successfully on different generations at the same time. In order for a difference to be made, and utopia to stand a chance, personal developments at a micro level need to occur. Acceptance of  the fact that this transition won’t be an easy one is needed, and yes, it might seem that dystopia is happy and alive, but conclusions are not to be drawn under critical conditions. Following my own advice I’ll leave you in the company of a tv-series called “ The age of uncertinty ” co-produced by the BBC, CBC, KCET and OECA, and written and presented by Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith in the 1977:

Sources:

1. http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304185104579437630685108064?mg=reno64-wsj&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle%2FSB10001424052702304185104579437630685108064.html

2. http://anticap.wordpress.com/tag/social-darwinism/

3. Cultural Sociology: An Introduction, First Edition. Les Back et al – (with the mention that every quotation, except Peggy Noonan’s( see 1st link ) was made from this book)

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