Classifying Class in a Context of Crisis: Exploring the nature of class in the early 21st Century
Applied Social Sciences Durham University Durham, UK
A decade ago serious authors felt able to propose not only that class no longer had social significance in advanced societies but that there had been a:
"....radical dissolution of what might be called the class mechanism." (Pakulski and Waters 1996 668)
Well things change. We are now in a context where as E.P.Thompson so vividly put it: "Experience has walked in the door without knocking" (1981) and in the midst of the most profound crisis of capitalism for three generations. The consequences of this basal transformation have enormous implications for the historically contingent formation of classes as potential social actors. All the super-structural aspects of culture which underpinned the view that social identities were now constituted by consumption relations dependent on a re- distribution of ownership of real assets, especially housing assets, have now been transformed by the implosion of the secondary circuit of capital. Crouch's identification of the failure of "privatized Keynesianism" (2008) shows how the class mechanism is very much with us. This paper will explore the consequences of this quantitatively, not by the reductionist multi-variate approaches which have characterized those working in the traditions of both Olin Wright and Goldthorpe, but through the dynamic use of classification approaches, drawing on longitudinal data resources. We need to know what classes as real entities look like as a basis for understanding what they might do. In particular we need to understand how lives have changed for collectivities through the crisis and what that implies for potential social action.