Introducing April’s Theme: Social Class

Above illustration: ‘Dinner’ by Anthony Muisyo (2021)

Paul Jones and Priya Sharma

Despite – or perhaps because – of the fact that social class is one of the fundamental sociological tools for making sense of social division, it is the source of a great deal of controversy. When it comes to sociological class analysis, a series of struggles characterise contemporary definitions, which involve various combinations of the material and the symbolic, intersections with other categories such as poverty, race-class, and generation. 

Tentatively it could be suggested that beyond a topic of sociological inquiry, class is also bound up with questions of ontology, of how the sociologist sees and approaches her craft. Certainly, the researcher’s positionality – and research process – is often understood to be crucial with respect to class analysis where questions of ‘who gets to speak for whom, and on what basis?’ abound.  

This all creates a very dynamic backdrop to this month’s theme, as we open up The Sociological Review’s online platforms as a space for sociological analyses of class, which here we understand broadly, and encompassing theories, empirical studies, reflective pieces, interviews, and sets of visual images. We’re absolutely delighted with the resources we will be sharing with you this month, which represent a spread of different ways of making sociological sense of class; we really hope that this collection makes an important intervention into debates on/understandings of such. 

Foreshadowing a forthcoming monograph on class and associated analysis and politics, in her blog Kirsteen Paton calls for a reimagination necessary to ‘[advance] a sociology of class which is informed by a politics of class’, underpinning an intellectual and political project grounded in ‘solidarity and hope’. Also addressing the current state of the art of class analysis, Ryan Nolan’s blog draws on McKenzie Wark’s work Capital is Dead to animate a discussion of the ‘Contemporaneity of Class Relations’, in the process drawing out entanglements between capitalist social orders and class. 

In another theoretically rich blog, we will be publishing Sandeepan Tripathy’s insights that deploy Jacques Ranciére’s ideas to explore the affective dimension of class, and the important role of emotions in such. Nick J. Fox and Tatiana Gavrilyuk analyse ‘the growing inequalities facing young Russian workers’ that calls for a renewed critical sociology of social class, including a bolstering and development of such a programme in the Russian context; their call for intellectual revival of the analysis in Russian sociology includes a renewed focus on materiality. 

Class analysis is often entangled in ‘methodological nationalisms’, and we’re delighted to have a number of pieces that challenge this partiality. Duncan Money’s blog ‘Class, Race and Empire: The White Working Class in Historical Perspective’, disrupts problematic tellings of the essentialsed racialisations of class, analysing the mining communities of Zambia to argue for the importance of considering race and class together. Smriti Singh unpicks experiences of the projection of middle-class identity – and the fuzziness of that category – as a default onto social researchers in the Indian context. In another piece that artfully focuses on ‘The New Middle-Class Story in India’, Dhriti Sonowal ‘explore[s] the changing dynamics of the global middle class story in the contemporary world’, by zooming in on the illuminating case of participants seeking to navigate the complicated hierarchical social landscape in Delhi.  

A number of the pieces we received use critical sociological perspectives to sharpen inquiries into class inequalities in education. Sarah MacLaughlin’s blog takes us into the sets of entangled issues experienced by the working-class women who have undertaken university-level study, and who are the participants in her doctoral project. Also addressing education and class, but from the perspective of a high school teacher working in a context where discourses of ‘social mobility’ are at odds with the unevenness of material and symbolic resources of her pupils’ families, Mia Travers-Hayward identifies sets of contemporary manifestations of age-old sets of structural inequalities. 

Carlos Palma Amestoy’s piece, which reports on a project focused on the Chilean context, explores the how – for students who are the first generations in their family to attend higher education – study can be understood as part of a quest for dignity and respect. Sounding a positive note, based on a fascinating and inspirational intervention, the blog from the Free University of Brighton reminds us – to coin a phrase – that another university is possible. 

We are also delighted to be hosting a conversation on sociology’s relationship with class between Bev Skeggs – The Sociological Review’s Editor at Large – and Steph Lawler, both of whom have fascinating insights regarding the challenges of contemporary class analysis. In a not-to-be missed discussion, we’ll hear about the central importance of class analysis for sociology, and some reflections on the current state of the art. Connecting up with some of the issues on class, culture, and representation raised here, Jacqueline Gibbs and Aura Lehtonen ask ‘Who can tell a working-class story? Examining the representational limits of class in I, Daniel Blake (2016)’. Drawing out parallels with the politics associated with representing class in academic, the authors use this lens to interrogate a range of issues pertinent to our theme.

Our theme illustrator this month is Anthony Muisyo, whose self-penned biography tells us his background coincided with a time when ‘the prevalence of computers began seeping into the working-class homes of many Africans in the mid ‘00s’. Exploring this context and its affordances for collage in his work, we are absolutely delighted to have Muisyo illustrating this theme with original artwork. Also bringing their skills to the visual field of this month’s theme, we are very lucky to be able to bring you Museo Libre, a collective of artists who through their work make a series of thought-provoking urban social interventions relevant to inequalities and social class.

Finally, we are also making three papers from our archives free-to-view throughout April:  Marcel Paret’s article ‘Working-class fragmentation, party politics, and the complexities of solidarity in South Africa’s United Front; Sivamohan Valluvan’s piece on ‘The uses and abuses of class: Left nationalism and the denial of working class multiculture’; and Valentina Álvarez-López’s ‘Uncomfortable stains: Cleaning labour, class positioning and moral worth among working-class Chileans’.   

We really feel that we’re bringing together an absolutely excellent group of things on class; we hope you enjoy them! Follow the publication of all of this material this month via our Twitter account, where we’ll be using #ClassTSR to identify things from this theme.

– Paul Jones (Digital Editor) and Priya Sharma (Digital Engagement Fellow)

Illustration: ‘Dinner’ by Anthony Muisyo (2021)

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