Reading Guide to : Pakulski, J and Waters, M (1996) 'The reshaping and dissolution of social class in advanced societies', in Theory and Society, 25, 5: 667 -- 91

Class is 'no longer... a meaningful social entity' (667). Economic relationships have become decentred as 'determinants of membership, identity and conflict', in favour of new and important social groups. The whole 'class mechanism' has to be rejected, even weak versions of it.

Curiously, social class remains as an important issue for discussion, however. The topic needs to be clearly defined, measurements over time are important, and so are the ideological commitments of the researchers. The concept is limited because:

(a) It can't explain current inequalities or forms of conflict

(b) The study of new inequalities needs to break free from class analysis

(c) It is no longer likely that class persists in non-advanced societies.

It becomes easier to question orthodox views of class these days. Economism has been much criticised, as has the notion that classes are actually social groups. The idea of class as an important causal variable of aspects like leisure, for example has been brought into question, and nor are classes seen as principally collective actors. 'Strong' theories (including Wright's) still try and argue for class in all the senses that have been criticised,  while people such as Goldthorpe and Marshall have accepted criticisms of economism and the issue of collective action. Even so, economism is often smuggled in to privilege the concept of class. Most sociologists would except that we now have 'post class' societies, divided according to people's 'lifestyle, consumption, or values' (671).

Capital has decomposed There has not just been a managerial revolution, which can clearly be salvaged still for marxism. It is now the case that there is much 'indirect ownership', through unit trusts, pension schemes, and employee buyouts. Income has been redistributed substantially. There is also lots of non-productive ownership, such as owning houses. The classic boundary has been blurred between market struggles and political groupings.

Capital now often consists of human capital anyway, including cultural capital, and skill-- hence the emergence of the service class. Further, the importance of factors such as 'trust' [something to do with the 'disembedding' of the traditional social bonds, I recall]  and hypersimulation increases the importance of cultural, 'aesthetic and infomatic signs', and the 'cultural capital that produces them... [as]... the dispersed, nonaccumulable and decreasingly heritable human expertise' (673). These changes are shown in the growth of self-employment, down-scaling, and re-professionalisation in a number of countries [some might call this unemployment!].

The weaker version of class theory says that the labour market is still important, however, and it has produced historical aggregate of occupations which still affect our life chances. Empirically, however, such a view is poor at predicting male income in current economies -- only 20 per cent of it can be so predicted (674). The idea of class closure does not explain the large amounts of social mobility, both individual and structural. Further, any relative closure in the present has arisen only after a genuine extension of opportunity in the recent past. There is also a great deal of class heterogeneity. The influence of hereditary wealth is declining -- social origins as a predictor [of future destinations] has lost a quarter of its effect on occupations between 1962 and 73, and a further third between 1972 and 85 (citing an American study, page 675). Marriage across classes is also common, except at the extremes of the range, and it is now far more influenced by status, such as educational and cultural aspects, rather than class: there are also influences from 'racial, religious and ethnic/national' variables (675). There is no collective expression of social class detectable in the market -- trades unions are in decline, and labour relations follow the new 'logic of markets' (675).

The articulation between class and politics is now 'paradoxical'. Class was diminishing already in its effects when trade unions and class-based political parties were still active -- between 1900 and 1970. Class politics then took place in the context of bureaucratically organised mass parties, a welfare state, with institutionalised conflict, with better political organisation on the left, and with a period of revolutionary events for inspiration as well.

However, the lasting effects came from corporatism, which  marginalised revolutionary action altogether [corporatism refers here to the attempt to unite workers and employers under some state leadership?]. There are different aspects to this in the USA, where class has always been a matter of local status, and where the issue of elites has dominated, rather than discussion of classes. European corporatism ironically prolonged class, but made it increasingly heterogeneous. It has been decomposing since the 1970s, with the eclipse of corporatism, and the emergence of new political groups.

Class dealignment is particularly visible in terms of voting behaviour. Important nonaligned groups include single - issue parties. Meanwhile, there have been declining allegiances to the main political parties, partly as a result of broader marketing by those parties. A new form of politics has become more important, based on new values, and new social movements are. The notion of life politics and generational struggles have superseded class struggles. The split between left and right has now been obscured.

Are these just the politics of a new middle class? The middle-class itself is very differentiated, and status is very important -- for example, the 'radical intelligentsia' is not a class at all. Defining collective action as a matter of class can only be tautologous, at least until we can establish how classes actually act.

Transnational politics, emerging with globalisation, is no longer secondary to class divisions [the examples given of alliances between car workers in different nation-states still seem to be class analyses to me, however double - see page 680].

Links between social class, culture, lifestyle and norms have been weakened -- the State now articulates these aspects, together with large corporations, replacing 'interpersonal exploitation and exclusion' (680). These trends have developed against a background of corporatist organisation of class parties. These efforts have diffused class ideologies, defined class issues, and shaped 'ideological packages' of goals and strategies. Socialism offered a working-class metanarrative of emancipation, but this has been elaborated amd systematised at the expense of '[non-revolutionary] popular outlooks ... and world views' (681). [Lipset and Parkin are cited as sources for this, and so is Abercrombie et al on the failure of dominant ideology to penetrate working-class world views].

Now there is no coherent service class ideology either -- post-modernism has had an effect in attacking the values of the old elites. The traditional values of working-class groups have also been disrupted by the youth subcultures of the 1960s [Lash on postmodernity is cited in support]. For both groups, consumption is now at the centre of culture and ideology.

Thus class identification is weakening, although people still recognise labels when they're asked to do so by researchers (682). [An Australian study cited here indicates that there is no class identification if no prompts are offered]. Single issues dominate politics. Class is not at the centre of most current political issues and tensions. Theorists can still save the category if they are prepared to redefine it to mean status, which is what the 'weak' versions do. Alternatively, class theorists can abandon their claims to theoretical privilege, or abandon their ideological mission and emancipatory promise. Certainly,  'One would look rather silly manning a barricade armed with Wright's 12 class scheme' (684) [Mind you, you can look a smug prat sitting in your seminar room telling powerless and alienated people that barricades should be replaced by agreeable conferences on the technicalities]. Continuing to emphasise class leaves us outside the real issues of gender and racial inequality, and struggles over 'authority relations'. These are the 'increasingly salient cleavages underlying the libertarian new politics'' (684).