READING GUIDE TO SELECTIONS FROM: Hopper,
A Study of Social
Control and Insatiability, Oxford: Basil Blackwell
[The subtitle is just as
important as the main title in
understanding this study, and explains the focus on status and social
as consequences of different kinds of mobility.
Hopper is normally seen as a functionalist, but he
is an unusual and
critical one, in the style of Merton.
The other interesting thing about
reading these notes again,
after a gap of 20 years or so, is to consider how relevant it is to the
contemporary situation. I attended a
session on the recent work on the knowledge economy at the British
Association annual conference 2009, and was interested to hear the
argue that: first, the strategy of producing highly skilled workers for
knowledge economy was probably finally bankrupt, since the so called
world were producing highly skilled graduates of their own, who were
work at considerably less cost; and thus that a major role for schools
universities in the future might well be to regulate the ambition of
call the amount, get them to adjust their ambitions, and accept work in
graduate occupations. This is exactly
the terrain of Hopper’s sociology of education, and it is the
sentiment in this piece as well].
There are different levels of
status and of status rigidity
in different societies. There also
educational routes. Together these
affect mobility [in the social psychological sense], rather than
change. Mobility itself is not really
the issue here, but levels of anxiety are, and these levels can serve
measure the degree of status rigidity.
Industrial societies face a major
problem in that they have
no system of stable expectations and rewards, and thus status. People can experience relative deprivation
even after having experience social mobility.
There are structural sources of ‘insatiability’ [as
a kind of anomie], a
failure to set clear boundaries and limits.
Insatiability is both a cause and a consequence of
social mobility. However, insatiability is
social rather than
just psychological, although personal perceptions and actions do
events. Social properties are the
independent variables, though and personality factors the dependent
social properties here refer to properties of the education system and
system. Social mobility does contribute
to changes in personality variables [as one of those mediating
It is possible to draw from
Turner’s work on types of social
mobility [see file here] . Contest mobility is the most
likely to produce social problems, since aspirations are not equal to
achievements, competition can be excessive, individuals can experience
difficulties with their personal values and with a sense of isolation. What school should do is to regulate
ambitions [the theme in Hopper’s work elsewhere -- see file] The problems have been
described in structural terms in the work of Merton [see the file on
social disorganization here]. Merton’s
typology needs modification, however, since types of mobility and
routes had developed, and there have been changes in the stratification
especially in the degree of status rigidity.
Educational experiences themselves have pathogenic
example. Occupational roles pursued
after school were also important.
Further, there are different types and patterns of
different types of goals [not just the official ones discussed by
We need a theory to explain the
outcomes, or dependent
variables, which in this case are patterns of anxiety.
We need to explain feelings of relative
deprivation in terms of obtaining economic and status goals. We should also explain levels of discontent,
usually expressed in terms of anomie, alienation or powerlessness.
We need to explain these outcomes
in terms of intervening
variables such as personality types. These
might be further specified as
achievement orientations and goal orientations: pathogenic goal
can produce relative deprivation, a product of unobtainable or
goals when compared with actual achievements.
There seem to be three types of pathogenic goals:
(1) anomic types where
insatiability is permanent in the face of rising normative
blocked pathogenic goals where people need a raised level of
order to gain satiability (here, initial achievement in itself can be a
trigger); (3) comparative pathogenic goal, which is like (2), but
because expectations change rather than achievement levels.
The social structure can be
anomogenic, offering blocking,
or chances for reference groups to adversely compare each other. The first case relates to community norms and
their decline. Blocking can arise from
the demand that the actor possesses new skills, which in some cases can
a sense of powerlessness if the demands are excessive.
Comparative problems arise when new reference
groups appear for people to compare themselves with—although
with reference groups can vary. These
factors can interact, for example comparative problems persist because
Thus the independent variables
are best considered as social
structures and patterns of experience.
Social structures offer different combinations of
mobility and non
mobility. These vary according to the
existence or nonexistence of routes between the initial social class,
social class, the educational route, and amount of education. [This is the stuff of the usual UK work on
social mobility, but Hopper points out that occupations can vary in
situs as well as status].
Patterns of experience include
the degree and type of status
rigidity – whether there are different and distinct lifestyles, whether
newcomers are accepted or rejected, whether there is considerable
distance between initial an adult social classes, and between core and
groups. Educational experience can also
vary in terms of whether it provides career training or status training. There are also different kinds of
organization of ‘authority structures in which the work role is
giving different patterns of authority, such as those of the
those of the bureaucrat.
Taken together, a number of
interacting patterns are
possible. Sometimes there is overlap,
for example between status rigidity and educational experiences. Some patterns combine to be decidedly
pathogenic—for example high status rigidity, and low status of training. Hopper points out that status rigidity is
supportive for the non-mobile [that is, they practice class closure to
different terms, using matters of status, such as lifestyle].
Generally speaking, those who
have travelled a long way in
mobility terms are better off, since the higher status groups are often
rigid than adjacent ones, and there are fewer cross pressures. [This is another major Hopper finding, and it
might help to explain Goldthorpe’s data,
that long range mobile people tend to
be relatively easily accepted by the service class, while the
class is the one of volatility and uncertainty].
The rest of the book attempts to
go out and test these
propositions, choosing to examine a wide range of patterns [not a
sample]. Hopper wants to test especially
the effects of different educational routes.
He chose a sample of men who were aged 30 or 31 in
January 1965. 500 men were selected, but
only 200 were
interviewed. Educational routes were
defined in terms of levels. Hopper used
the Hall- Jones System to define social classes. Hopper
admits there are problems in
generalising from his data, and he further discusses problems of
(especially in chapters three, four and five).
This chapter offers examples of
blocking, comparative, and
anomogenic [anomie-producing] patterns.
Structural and societal blocking
factors include skills
(usually measured in terms of formal qualifications), but also other
and diffuse qualities, which may be both ascribed and achieved. Comparative factors, enabling reference group
comparisons, include the interaction system, the normative system, the
contact between different groups that are common and the norms of
individuals. Anamogenic factors can be
any of the above, including any new or disturbed interaction systems
Merton on social disorganization here].
Much depends on the level of ignorance or
incomprehension of other groups,
and these can also be affected by various sanctions, structures of
authority. Hopper discusses the split
between egoism and altruism here too.
This chapter considers empirical
examples from the data.
Comparisons with the social class
of siblings is quite
important, and thus status and situs of friends. Interestingly,
comparisons seem to follow an
M-shaped curve in terms of their production of anxiety [see diagram]. In essence, people do not compare themselves
with those groups who are socially remote, and thus do not experience
tension: it is comparisons with close or equal groups that provide most
relative to the position of a sibling
the crosses to get the M-shape)
patterns, especially the absence of a sense
of career, produce less experience of social constraints and therefore
greater sense of anomie. Anomie is
increased by an absence of friends, residential mobility, the absence
leisure, no integration into the family, the quantity and quality of
contacts (for example whether they are reciprocated, whether people
friends for help). So the evidence seems
to provide further material on Durkheim’s theory of anomie.
This chapter discusses patterns
of mobility and
Status incongruence increases
anxiety. Incongruence between economic
status can produce the classic M-shaped pattern of relative anxiety. Incongruence between personal income and the
kind of amount of education has the same effects. Incongruence
between occupation and amount
and kind of education produces a lesser effect.
Taking all these factors together, it is possible to
see a variation
between American and British systems, with the latter showing more
Hopper found diverse results from
examining patterns of
mobility and non-mobility. For example,
university graduates have lower levels of anxiety, since they have
high status route [Goldthorpe’s study found that going to university
the same pay off in occupational terms as working your way up through
firm—again, Hopper points to a possible status distinction, however]. Those who are not mobile have the highest
anxiety scores, especially if they happen to be members of the lower
classes. The upwardly mobile vary:
distance travelled is one difference, as we saw. Social
tensions and paradoxes return in the
finding that status rigidity comforts the non-mobile but threatens the
How do the anxious or relatively
deprived people actually
adjust again? There are complex patterns
revealed, in the structural sources of feelings, and in feelings
themselves. There is no determinism
here: some people in very strongly anxiety producing structures did not
relative deprivation. They managed to
adjust. There are different types of
adjustment on offer: people can adjust their feelings, responsible
or structural, and they do so with sometimes contradictory and
results. In some ways, such adjustment
could still qualify as a form of alienation [this reminds me of some of
classic old studies of deferential
workers—were they really deferential, content with their lot, unwilling
all sorts of knobs rule them, or was this just a rational tactical
to their powerlessness?]. Some succeeded
in reconciling their selves to their lot, but not all.
We need to modify Merton’s famous
five responses to social
strain, by adding two more.
typology of responses to strain
|Modes of adaptation
means people accept the goal or means, - means they reject it
We need to
split innovation into legal and illegal types, for example. Ritualism also needs to be split into
‘mechanisation’ [in the sense of mechanically performing the task], and
emotional or cognitive withdrawal.
Hopper finds lot of examples of all seven types of
discusses some possible connections between their occurrence and
structural sources of relative deprivation.
He seems to be arguing that the social structure
itself can influence
the choice and availability of the response [compare this with Cloward
Ohlin on the distribution of criminal responses to social strain].
There is a link between feelings
sources. There are a number of important
blocking factors which affect patterns of social mobility and status
rigidity. Anxiety commonly follows an
M-shaped curve, and is at its maximum with large negative discrepancies
ourselves and our reference groups. This
is not because we are still hoping to identify ourselves with those
groups, however. Nor do we classically
embrace fatalism or the notion of luck.
Instead, we attempt an instrumental adjustment – we
retreatists, innovators, or rebels. We
can choose alternative goals, although these tend to be very unstable. Small amounts of mobility often produce
embarrassment, but large amounts produce social distance.
The major sociological
implication is that the stability of
the system depends on normative expectations, not actual material
redistributions of income.