"We're all ordinary people": perceptions of class and class differences in personal relationships
van Eijk, Gwen
OTB Research Institute for Housing, Urban and Mobility Studies Delft University of Technology Delft, the Netherlands
This paper examines people's perception of class and class differences through social network analysis of people living in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. First, data from an original survey on networks (n=195) shows that most people think they are middle class, although many lower class respondents classified themselves as working class. Additionally, most of their network members have, according to respondents, a similar class position. Secondly, in-depth follow-up interviews (n=30) focus on respondents' considerations. Contrary to what has been suggested by some scholars, the interviews suggest that people perceive themselves as middle class not so much because their network is class homogeneous (and people thus fail to recognize class differences) but rather because they contrast themselves with people of higher and lower class positions, finding themselves "in between" - ordinary - and thus middle class. Most people furthermore are able to classify themselves and others, and are able to talk in great detail about, and pinpoint various aspects of class. On the other hand, people seem less able or willing to recognize a class hierarchy, stressing equality and tolerance. However, people that deal with differences through work (e.g. social workers) or their network/living environment (e.g. ethnic minorities) seem more comfortable with recognizing class differences within their network. In this way class seems an important (although often hidden) aspect of people's social identity - either through stressing tolerance for differences or through distancing themselves from (more) deprived categories.