A Touch of Class…

10 09 2008

Today Harriet Harman has been harping on about narrowing a class gap in Britain. She has explained that greater equality is needed in Britain, going on to imply that inequality stems from “where you live, your family background, your wealth and social class”. Great.

I find this really hard to pin down though. During the writing of my dissertation I tried to understand, and explain what ‘class’ was in the 1940’s. I found this hard work, as, obviously, there are no clear boundaries. As I was writing my dissertation though, I became aware that the class boundaries were more obvious in the 1940’s than they are nowadays. I also thought that if I was struggling to pin down various class boundaries for that period, how could it be done in today’s politically correct climate?

As I see it, ‘class’, as a label, is just one set of prejudices imposed upon someone different to yourself given their accent, wealth, or where they live. All the things that Harman talks about. That said, it is obvious that there are different classes, not only in this country, but worldwide. The trouble is, there are these unfortunate people who straddle the lines. There are quite a lot of them. In fact, I would go onto suggest that there are no explicitly ‘middle class’ people for example. You are either now ‘upper’ or ‘lower’ middle class. There is no ‘middle’ middle class. The same applies for the lower classes too.

The upper class is different. It is an entity unto itself. I don’t think there are such variations of the upper class, either you are, or you aren’t. For the upper class it’s easy. For everyone else, it’s much harder.

So how do you define class? Using Harman’s suggestions is a good place to start, but only to start. In my work I used other indicators too, such as language, how someone talked, the words they used, the accent they spoke with. Again, in the 1940’s this was, I feel more apparent than today, but we could still use such methods of identifying which class someone belongs to. It isn’t a water-tight indicator, there are people who vary their language for the situation they are in. There are people who naturally talk ‘posh’.

I considered other things too, like the person’s job. It was easier to place someone in a lower class if they were a miner, for example, or a factory worker. The doctors, or lawyers, tend to be placed into the upper middle classes. Traditionally, MP’s were upper class. Obviously that isn’t true now, in that you don’t need land, or be very rich to become an MP (a peer however…). Defining class has changed through the years, what is now upper class, is vey different to what was upper class 100 years ago. As a consequence, it has become harder to define class. Most people now own some land, a century or so ago, that would have made you upper class. But not today.

As I worked through my class related issues, I also worked out that everyone’s definition of class is different. There are obviously many permutations and combinations to someone. You cannot necessarily define someone by where they live, or what job they do. To do that is foolish. Which is why I would be interested to hear what Harman’s definitions of class are. It’s no good to simply say that we need to narrow boundaries.

At some point, I may post the section on class I wrote for my dissertation. I make no promises about it’s thoroughness, it was obviously limited by time and space, and it was not the important part of my dissertation.




One response

10 09 2008

Careful what you say. This blog was blocked by Google.


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