Monday, March 15, 2010
“Necessary elements” of a middle-class lifeThis is a very leading question, and a considerable amount of thought must have gone into it, at least in its original formulation (I don't know how long the question has been asked for, in this form). In a previous post, I mentioned research on American 'class consciousness' by Vanneman and Cannon, which pointed out that research on the American class structure was heavily shaped by the activities of the state in that field. In the post-WWII period, the US government funded and drove research which sought to create an understanding of class as status, based on certain patterns of consumption, income and education, rather than an antagonistic relationship centred on production. In that bowdlerised sociology, class is like a continuous ladder of prestige and status, which one might ascend or descend, rather than a conflict built into social relations.
Being able to...
Own your own home - 80%
Save for the future - 78
Afford things you’d like to have - 77
Afford vacation travel - 71
Buy a new car - 67
It doesn't actually matter if it was the state or private capital who decisively formulated these conventions, but the poll question cited above is undoubtedly shaped by them. Decades of thought - or doctrine - are embedded in this simple query. It assumes that there is such a thing as a "middle class life", that it would have as its essential characteristics certain consumption patterns, and that the only real disagreement is over how important each element of consumption is. What's interesting about these results is that many respondents appear to have defied the implicit bias in the poll, and defined themselves as, say, working class when their income would give them a reasonable chance of access to all of the "necessary elements" of a "middle class life". The responses would suggest that there are layers of motivation and interest informing the interpretation of the questions, and thus the answers. Even with that, the poll did its job in that, like thousands of other polls framed in much the same way, it obtained a middle class majority.