Thursday, May 29, 2008

Another Footnote

All of the posts below are mulling and speculating. I don't mean them to be definitive. I am trying to get some sense of why this topic is so difficult to talk about.

I should add that recent studies indicate that there is less class mobility in the US than in Europe. Americans don't rise from poverty to riches. My hunch would be that most movement is either slightly up or down or sideways. People go from being employees to being self-employed and then back. People make a little more money or a little less.

And I guess, after writing all this, I am unwilling to abandon working class as a term.

Though I do think middle class is amazingly fuzzy and not very useful.

2 Comments:

Blogger Jane said...

Hello, Eleanor,

I think that it's so interesting that there even was a panel on class at a Science Fiction conference. I'm a stranger to that world, even while I'm pretty interested in how class is discussed and understood in the U.S.

Michael Zweig, who is very active in the Working Class Studies Association, writes that one of the main indicators of class is not income, but the amount of power that one has over one's own life and over others. To me, that makes a lot of sense, as it gets us a bit past the temporary ups and downs of income that you write about.

I found your comment on not asking panelists about class backgrounds interesting. We know the gender of people talking to us about gender, we often can get a good sense of race or ethnicity, but even in academic writing about class, people rarely give any information at all about whether they themselves have ever had to choose between the electric bill or groceries.

But yes, as long as we're so confused about what class means, it could talk all available time to just first sort out the top layers of all of that.

Thanks for pointing me to yet one more place in which conversations about class are happening.

Jane


Education and Class

7:22 AM  
Blogger pbietila said...

Defining the working class (or even deciding what terms are most useful in defining any class) is certainly complicated. Perhaps "middle class" has become practically useless. I still see some value in the Marxist/anarchist term "petit bourgeoisie" although it too is problematic.
I still wouldn't say that a medical doctor is working class. But still a doctor who is basically an employee of an HMO or a large hospital is in a very different position from a doctor in private practice, who has more independence, prestige, higher income, etc. A doctor working for an HMO might be more ready to take joint action (strike, slowdown, petition, etc.) with other employees than one in private practice.

One factor that may be important in determining whether someone is working class or something else (petit bourgeois) is whether an employee manages or otherwise has social control over others, whether other employees, the public, students, clients, etc. A middle manager, teacher, social worker, foreman, nurse, doctor, etc. is placed in a different position than an assembly line worker or cashier or nursing assistant. For instance, I have seldom seen police officers take the side of strikers rather than management's side. Teachers, though many are progressive and many are union activists, also play a role in socializing students in certain ways, sometimes against the teacher's better judgment.

Regarding the working class character panel at WisCon, Sue and I liked your attempt to get the panel going in a different direction by pointing out the cab driver/author who seemed restless. Nice try anyway.
Paul Bietila

7:23 AM  

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