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8. Cultural class analysis


Manchester sociologists, in collaboration with the BBC, used cultural class analysis as part of the largest-ever class survey.

Cultural class analysis is a way of researching class that argues that the class you belong to does not depend solely on your job. Whilst jobs are a very important factor affecting people’s social position, if we take a wider look at ‘class’ and consider people’s education, their other cultural ‘assets’, as well as their social connections, then we get a more dynamic picture of how inequalities in people’s wider set of resources can dramatically affect their lives.

Extending the work of the theorist Pierre Bourdieu, sociologists at Manchester (led by Mike Savage, Bev Skeggs, Fiona Devine and Alan Warde) have used this approach to argue that ‘class’ inequalities are generated in every sphere of social life (not just in production or workplace relations) and are transmitted through people’s very uneven access to economic, cultural and social resources.  For cultural class analysts, class inequality is about more than just the economics conditions of people’s lives, because  – as a question of uneven access to a range of valued social and cultural resources  – class relations are also about how some people come to be judged as less prestigious, less worthwhile, less valued or esteemed than others.

These influential arguments have helped to shape overlapping strands of work giving a new and distinctive direction to British class analysis: for example, in work exploring class differentiation; in work on access to capitals in processes of class reproduction; and in work on class identities and subjectivities. By incorporating status relations within the concept of class, many of the practices once taken as signs of the death of ‘class societies’ (lifestyle differentiation, the information revolution, home ownership, rising educational qualification, the flexible worker) are now seen as intrinsic to class distinction and struggle. Most recently, this cultural approach to class has been adopted in collaborative work with the BBC on the ‘Great British Class Survey’.

Key books

Bennett, T.,  Savage, M., Silva, E., Warde, A.,  Gayo-Cal, M., and Wright, D. (2008) Culture, Class, Distinction, Routledge

R. Crompton, F.  Devine, M. Savage and J. Scott (eds.) (2000) Renewing class analysis, Blackwell.

F. Devine, M. Savage, R. Crompton and J. Scott (eds) (2005) Rethinking class: culture, identities and lifestyles, Palgrave Macmillan.

Devine, F.  (2004) Class practices, Cambridge University Press.

Savage, M. (2000) Class analysis and social transformation, Buckingham: Open University.

Savage, M., Warde, A., and Devine, F. (2005) ‘Capitals, assets, and resources: some critical issues’, British Journal of Sociology, vol. 56, no 1, pp 31-47.

Skeggs, B. (2004) Class, Self, Culture, Routledge


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