Imogen Tyler gave The Sociological Review Annual Lecture 2015, with Bev Skeggs and Sarah Green acting as respondents.
The lecture took place at 5pm on February 20th at the Manchester Museum on Oxford Road in Manchester.
The fate of groups is bound up with the words that designate them (Bourdieu, 1984). This paper begins by arguing that the fundamental problem that the concept of ‘class’ describes is inequality. The transition from industrial to financial capitalism (neoliberalism) in Europe has effected ‘deepening inequalities of income, health and life chances within and between countries, on a scale not seen since before the Second World War’ (Hall, et al., 2014). In this context, class is an essential point of orientation for social theory if it is to grasp the problem of inequality today.
Traversing a route through Pierre Bourdieu’s relational understanding of class, Jacques Rancière ‘s formulation of declassificatory struggles, Beverley Skeggs’ understanding of class as struggles over value, and Wendy Brown’s argument that neoliberalism is characterised by the culturalization of political struggles, this paper develops a social theory of classification, with which we might better apprehend the escalating inequalities which characterise the societies in which we live today.
The central argument is that social theories of class should be grounded not in the assumption and valorisation of class identities but in an understanding of class as struggles against classification. That is, the most effective forms of class-analysis are concerned not with undertaking classification per se, but rather with exposing and critiquing the consequences of classificatory systems and the forms of value, judgements and norms they establish in human societies. Only through a movement of declassification can social theories of class contribute to the development of alternative social and political imaginaries to the biopolitics of disposability which characterises neoliberal governmentality.
Imogen Tyler is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Co-Director of the Centre for Gender & Women’s Studies at Lancaster University. Imogen’s research is concerned with social inequalities, power, injustice and resistance. It examines why inequalities exist, why inequalities are currently growing (patterns of neoliberalism, marketization, privatisation and the erosion of democracy in the transition to ‘postwelfare’ systems) and the intersections of different histories and forms ofinequality. This is interdisciplinary research which employs mixed methods and draws together long-standing research interests in migration, internal and external borders, sexual politics, social class,race & ethnicity, disability and poverty, and an abiding interest in culture, processes of mediation and political aesthetics. Her book, Revolting Subjects: Social Abjection and Resistance in Neoliberal Britain (2013) developed the concept of ‘social abjection’ to examine the operations of neoliberal state-crafting and was shortlisted for the 2014 Bread & Roses prize for political writing. Imogen has also recently edited a special issue of Citizenship Studies on `Immigrant Protest` (2013) and a book Immigrant Protest: Politics, Aesthetics, and Everyday Dissent (SUNY 2014). Imogen is in the early stages of a new project on the sociology of stigma in neoliberal times, ‘The Stigma Doctrine’.