Speaking of Social Class…

Are you living in the UK and work as a cleaner, a caretaker, a retail cashier, or in a leisure and travel service occupation? If this is the case then according to the study of Savage et al. (2013) you may belong to the class of the precariat, the social class that is located at the bottom of their new model of social class.

From the abstract of their article we learn the following about the model: “We demonstrate the existence of an ‘elite’, whose wealth separates them from an established middle class, as well as a class of technical experts and a class of ‘new affluent’ workers. We also show that at the lower levels of the class structure, alongside an ageing traditional working class, there is a ‘precariat’ characterised by very low levels of capital, and a group of emergent service workers.” (p. 220)

Referring to my last blog entry and, hence, to Guy Standing’s thoughts on the precariat, being located at the bottom one might experiences challenges with regard to the development of an occupational identity, i.e. an identity that receives its meaning and value from the persons principle work. Due to the high degree of employment flexibility that is demanded from them, Standing argues, members of the precariat do not have the opportunity to belong to a community where norms and standards are developed and transmitted from generation to generation. Lack of community, however, prevents the development of feelings of social belonging in the present and for the future. Moreover, with the precariat we might see an instrumental employment orientation developing because the jobs that they have do not mean more to them than just a means to earn a living. As a consequence, a work-related identity may emerge that is grounded in self-interest and an instrumental (probably also opportunistic) orientation without much care for others or solidarity. This, however, is dangerous as in the long run, members of the precariat may turn into lone wolves, only fighting for themselves as individuals, as well as praising individualism and egoistic gains, what would lead into a future for our workplaces and our society that I certainly would not embrace.

Returning to Savage et al., the authors claim that 15 percent of the population in Britain belongs to the class of the precariat. “This is economically the poorest class, with a household income of only £8k, negligible savings, and they are likely to rent.” (p. 243). For these people, life means not only to be poor in economic terms but also to have very low scores on every other criterion, such as social contacts or highbrow cultural capital. I believe that hardly anyone of us would regard this to be a life to embrace. Moreover, if 15 percent of a country’s population has to life under such conditions this, and here I borrow again one of Standing’s arguments, cannot be sustainable in economic and social terms.

In turn, if you work as chief executive offices, marketing and sales director, judge, or financial managers, according to Savage et al.’s model, you may very well belong to the elite and therefore score very high on economic capital, high on social capital, and again very high on cultural capital. All these features, one can easily observe, can be translated in a number of further advantages, including a reasonable amount of economic, legal and social power. Therefore, as Savage et al. put it “Our findings thus clearly demonstrate the power of a relatively small, socially and spatially exclusive group at the apex of British society, whose economic wealth sets them apart from the great majority of the population.” (p. 235).

Savage, M. et al. (2013). A New Model of Social Class? Findings from the BBC’s Great British Class Survey Experiment. Sociology, 47(2), pp. 219-250.

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This entry was posted in human wealth, inequality, precariat, social class. Bookmark the permalink.

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