Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Social Class in the 21st Century

It's almost impossible to talk about class. We know what we're saying when we say the word, sort of, but it's increasingly difficult to define. 

(This is the only copy I can find online. If you find a better one please let me know.)

The Frost Report sketch still holds more or less true. Ronnie Corbett's character knows his place with somewhat less innocence now but most of the time he still looks up to his betters, though now sometimes with wonder and self-loathing. If only he worked as hard as his betters he'd be like them.

John Cleese's character, employed by what looks like the financial services, is now unlikely to 'have no money' unless he's very, very addicted or has financially overstretched himself. He would be in the 'Elite' and above him are the Super Rich, people we know nothing much about. Stateless, with no ties to anything other than their money, they do whatever they like and have no interest in the law. In turn, the law has no interest in them. They live so far beyond normal life that they are a specialist subject all to themselves. For those counsellors who are not working with them, suffice it to say that they have seen a huge increase in their wealth in the last year from £752,900 to £895,400 while the poorest 10th have seen their income fall again. Inequality is epidemic.

Social Class in the 21st Century is a fascinating book based on the Great British Class Survey 2013

The authors propose 7 classes

  • Elite: This is the most privileged class in Great Britain who have high levels of all three capitals. Their high amount of economic capital sets them apart from everyone else.
  • Established Middle Class: Members of this class have high levels of all three capitals although not as high as the Elite. They are a gregarious and culturally engaged class.
  • Technical Middle Class: This is a new, small class with high economic capital but seem less culturally engaged. They have relatively few social contacts and so are less socially engaged.
  • New Affluent Workers: This class has medium levels of economic capital and higher levels of cultural and social capital. They are a young and active group.
  • Emergent Service Workers: This new class has low economic capital but has high levels of 'emerging' cultural capital and high social capital. This group are young and often found in urban areas.
  • Traditional Working Class: This class scores low on all forms of the three capitals although they are not the poorest group. The average age of this class is older than the others.
  • Precariat: This is the most deprived class of all with low levels of economic, cultural and social capital. The everyday lives of members of this class are precarious.

As counsellors we meet people where they are. For myself, I'm not au fait with the differences between, say, the Established Middle Class and the Technical Middle Class but we all know someone from the Precariat when we meet with them, and we will all meet with them as trainee counsellors. 

Anyway, get hold of the book, take the Class Survey, immerse yourself in the subject for a while and let me know what you think. Remember that this is just another tool for classifying and that it will have its limits. 

The main issue for counsellors is: What feelings come up for you when you read this information? What sense do you make of those feelings?

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