Sayer (2002) 'What Are You Worth?: Why Class is an
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Received: 27/9/2002 Accepted: 27/9/2002 Published:
"This disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful, and to despise, or, at least, to neglect, persons of poor and mean condition, . . . is . . . the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments." (A.Smith, 1759)
"I do think it would be nice for her to go to Royden Girls'. I know it's got a very good reputation but then again I thought what if the other girls think she's not good enough to be there." (Reay, 1998a, p. 271; see also Reay 1998b, p. 62).
" . . . within academic sociology, the internal connection that often holds between the emergence of social movements and the moral experience of disrespect has, to a larger extent, been theoretically severed at the start. The motives for rebellion, protest, and resistance have been transformed into categories of 'interest', and these interests are supposed to emerge from the objective inequalities in the distribution of material opportunities without ever being linked, in any way, to the everyday web of moral feelings." (Honneth, 1995, p.161)
2While I shall use the terms 'ethical' and 'moral' interchangeably in this paper I am aware that they are sometimes distinguished, so that one refers to rationally-derived principles and the other derives either from a particular community or way of life or (less commonly today) from human nature. I do not need to distinguish them for the purposes of this paper and I wish to include all of these senses.
3 Such a view reveals a lack of reflexivity, for those who are currently professional sociologists have similar class positions, even if they originate from different classes, so in talking class with one another they have less to be embarrassed about than have lay persons when asked about class by those from other classes.
4" . . . respondents may show themselves quite incapable of answering the question as to the existence of social classes or even as to their own position in the social structure (do you belong to the lower, middle or upper classes?), while having a quite infallible sense of class." Diane Reay also notes the common middle class preference for euphemisms such as 'inner city' or 'rough types' for the working classes (Reay, 1998).
5This double basis to the politics of class is similar to the double meanings of 'la misere' in French, pointed out by the translator of Bourdieu's La Misere du Monde, referring to " . . . both poverty in economic but also in spiritual and indeed moral terms, and also misery, that is the suffering, unhappiness, and misfortunes of the collectivity as well as the individual." (Bourdieu, 1999, p. viii).
6I refer here only to classes in capitalist societies.
7This of course still allows us to recognise that cultural distinctions such as those of status and gender and ethnicity can affect whether one changes or keeps one's class position. These might be called secondary rather than primary determinations of class since class can exist and be reproduced even without this.
8Nevertheless, a colleague of mine, Maureen McNeil, reports that some students think of class in these terms (personal communication).
9Again, sometimes distinctions made on the basis of gender or ethnicity may push individuals into a particular class; for example, gendered systems of inheritance may allow the eldest son to become a petty-capitalist through inheriting a family firm, while daughters are disinherited and propelled into the labour market as wage-labourers. However, the position of capitalist or wage- labourer can exist independently of these mechanisms and hence such practices are merely contingently related to capitalist classes, not necessary conditions of them.
10This does not mean that these identity-neutral mechanisms have identity-neutral effects, since it is common for workers of different gender and ethnicity to be segregated in different kinds of work, and in particular, for those who are subject to racism and/or sexism to be confined to those jobs most vulnerable to redundancy. Yet even then, if they lose their jobs because consumer tastes have changed, this is still a case of an identity-indifferent mechanism impacting on an identity-differentiated context, and it is the latter, not the former, which is responsible for the gendered or 'raced' outcome.
11The concept of class is disputed not only because different authors see the same thing - 'it' - in different ways but because they are also talking about different objects or referents; there is no single 'it' to which 'class' refers but rather a set of overlapping phenomena.
12I imagine that Bourdieu would accept that economic capital has different kinds of origin from social, cultural and symbolic capitals, but he is primarily interested in other questions - their distribution across the social field and how they interact, especially through the conversion of one kind of capital into another (Bourdieu, 1993, p.32).
13However, ascriptive processes responding to class may contingently help to reproduce it.
14I refer here to the Adam Smith who wrote this as well as The Wealth of Nations, and who bears scarcely any resemblance to the Adam Smith invented by neoliberals on the basis of a handful of quotations taken out of context from the latter.
15On similar lines, see the Appendix to Bellah et al's (1996, 2nd edn) Habits of the Heart
16I am aware that there is some evidence of variation according to gender and class in the way in which people think about ethics (Gilligan, 1982; Tronto, 1994; Sevenhuijsen, 1998). There is not space to pursue this here, but my hunch is that it is not fatal to the arguments of the current paper.
17Those who are alarmed by the (correct) implication that this assumes the existence of 'false consciousness' should note that it is a corrollary of fallibilism, and if they believe in fallibilism, they should ask themelves how they can exempt lay beliefs from fallibility, but not their own.
18Diane Reay also found that anxiety about their new position was common amongst upwardly mobile women of working class origin (Reay, 1997).
19Compare Parkin's classification of meaning systems of class (Parkin, 1972).
20Of course we now know that there are other important sources of distortions of moral sentiments and judgements besides those of inequality of wealth. They concern gender, race, age, sexuality, cultural difference, style, beauty and ugliness, all of which are associated with double standards and undeserved kinds of recognition; what is acceptable in a man is unacceptable in a woman, what the beautiful can get away with the plain cannot, and so on. However, as we argued earlier, in these cases, the distorted moral sentiments are not merely reacting to inequalities caused by other means, as in the case of Smith's example of responses to inequalities of wealth, but are a prime cause of the inequalities in the first place.
21Though it now seems perverse, Smith criticised this distortion while defending class on other grounds.
22Sometimes egalitarianism mutates into a kind of relativism - one which is reluctant to acknowledge any kind of inequality as (un)deserved/(un)merited e.g. a reluctance to accept that some forms of knowledge or some explanations are better than others - 'they're just different'. Relativism, of course, is a conservative doctrine in the sense that if anything goes everything stays, as John Krige put it. So you get a spurious egalitarianism which allows the lowly to say the dominant are equal to them - when of course they are not - an egalitarianism that tolerates inequality, including unmerited inequality. Saying those above us are no better than us may be a way of challenging their authority or a way of justifying it or at least condoning it - it's OK because we're all equal really - they're just different, not unequal.
23Anti-social behaviour can also be associated with dominant positions; for example, arrogance and indifference to those less fortunate than themselves and a tendency to treat others like servants. An equivalent argument applies to the injuries of gender.
24As Haylett demonstrates the idea that 'everyone is different but equal' can also function in the discourse of multiculturalism in a way that renders class as difference - a very congenial transposition for neoliberals (Haylett, 2001).
25It was probably always less common among fragmented, poorly organized occupations, such as kitchen porters, than among highly organised workers like miners.
26In the case of ethnicity, there may be direct conflicts of values between cultures, for example regarding patriarchy, which create dilemmas for those inclined to be anti-racist and anti-sexist who find that criticism of sexism in another ethnic group is read as racism.
27Other features of Bourdieu's work, particularly its crypto-normativity - its reluctance to make explicit the grounds of its critique - reinforce these problems (Sayer, 1999). However, more explicit and moral-political forms of criticism are evident in his recent work, (Bourdieu, 2000; Bourdieu et al, 1999).
28As is evident in some of the racist comments made by poor white French people about their Algerian-origin neighbours, they also show how, tragically, those who have suffered both materially and in terms of status and stigmatisation, frequently try to salvage self-respect by using the same kinds of stigmatisation against those whom they deem to be below themselves. When they do this they actively reproduce the same kind of unwarranted moral disapproval from which they themselves suffer.
29That worth (moral or otherwise) and use-value are contested in no way compromises the distinction between value/worth/use-value and price/exchange-value/status, for while the former are contested in terms of their different qualities (skill and power in sport, ability to listen, understand and advise in counselling, ability to amuse in comedy, the know-how and skill of the surgeon) as opposed to the quantitative matter of how much money or social advantage vis-a-vis others the former bring.
30Given the different environments in which they grow up, what is good for middle class children may not be for working class children, for example, the latter may need more toughness to be successful (personal communication, Rachel Thomson).
31 Many of the interviewees in The Weight of the World emphasize the importance not of appearances or material possessions but of their commitments, to others and to causes or practices, and the disappointment and loss of sense of self that follows from inability to carry these through. This is in line with arguments in philosophy which place lasting commitments and relationships as central to the development of character (0'Neill, 1999, p. 84ff).
32See for example, Walkerdine and Lucey's reactions to middle class childrearing practices (Walkerdine and Lucey, 1987).
33This is not unlike Bourdieu's analyses in The Weight of the World (e.g. p.510ff.)
34For interesting observations on moral progress and uneven development, see Unger (1996, pp.14- 20).
35It is noticeable that while some equal opportunities policies include countering discrimination on the basis of class in the their terms of reference, this element is invariably ignored in their implementation and discrimination according to class is a routine and unremarked feature of organisations.
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