Rethinking Class and Social Difference: Volume 37

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Table of contents

(10 chapters)

Prelims

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Abstract

Social class has long existed in tension with other forms of social difference such as race, gender, and sexuality, both in academic and popular debate. While Marxist-influenced class primacy perspectives gained prominence in US sociology in the 1970s, they faded from view by the 1990s, replaced by perspectives focusing on culture and institutions or on intersectional analyses of how multiple forms of social difference shape durable patterns of disempowerment and marginalization. More recently, class and capitalism have reasserted their place on the academic agenda, but continue to coexist uneasily with analyses of oppression and social difference. Here we discuss possibilities for bridging the gap between studies of class and other forms of social difference. We contend that these categories are best understood in relation to each other when situated in a larger system with its own endogenous dynamics and tendencies, namely capitalism. After providing an historical account of the fraught relationship between studies of class and other forms of social difference, we propose a theoretical model for integrating understandings of class and social difference using Wright et al.‘s concept of dynamic asymmetry. This shifts us away from discussions of which factors are most important in general toward concrete discussions of how these factors interact in particular cases and processes. We contend that class and other forms of social difference should not be studied primarily as traits embodied in individuals, but rather with respect to how these differences are organized in relation to each other within a framework shaped by the dynamics of capitalist development.

Abstract

Discussion of the 2016 electorate has centered on two poles: results of public opinion and voter surveys that attempt to tease out whether racial, cultural, or economic grievances were the prime drivers behind the Trump vote and analyses that tie major shifts in the political economy to consequential shifts in the voting behavior of certain demographic and geographic groups. Both approaches render invisible a major development since the 1970s that has been transforming the political, social, and economic landscape of wide swaths of people who do not reside in major urban areas or their prosperous suburban rings: the emergence and consolidation of the carceral state. This chapter sketches out some key contours of the carceral state that have been transforming the polity and economy for poor and working-class people, with a particular focus on rural areas and the declining Rust Belt. It is meant as a correction to the stilted portrait of these groups that congealed in the aftermath of the 2016 election, thanks to their pivotal contribution to Trump's victory. This chapter is not an alternative causal explanation that identifies the carceral state as the key factor in the 2016 election. Rather, it is a call to aggressively widen the analytical lens of studies of the carceral state, which have tended to focus on communities of color in urban areas.

Abstract

The growth of the nationalist right in Europe and the United States has set off a debate over whether “economic anxiety” or “racial resentment” is at the root of this phenomenon. Examining the case of the French National Front, I suggest that this is a poor way of posing the question of the significance of class in explaining the rise of the nationalist right. Recent advances by the National Front—particularly among working-class voters—have tended to be attributed to the party's strategic pivot toward a “leftist” economic program and an embrace of the republican tradition. This in turn has been critically interpreted in two different ways. Some take the FN’s strategic pivot at face value and see the party's success as the expression of a new political cleavage between cosmopolitanism and communitarianism. Others see the National Front's embrace of republicanism as a cynical ploy hiding its true face. Both interpretations, however, point to a strategy of “republican defense” as a means to counteract the National Front. I argue that this strategy is likely to misfire and that class remains central to explaining—and countering—the rise of the National Front, albeit in a peculiar way. Working-class support for the National Front does indeed appear to be driven primarily by ethno-cultural, not class, interests, but this is itself predicated on a historical decline in the political salience of class due to the neoliberal depoliticization of the economy. I argue that it was this disarticulation of class identity that helped deliver the working-class vote to the National Front and that any strategy for combating the nationalist right must thus find new ways to articulate a class identity capable of neutralizing racist and chauvinist articulations.

Abstract

Despite the pendulum swing from utopian to dystopian views of the Internet, the direction of the popular and academic literature continues to lean toward its liberatory potential, particularly as a tool for redressing social inequality. At the same time, decades of digital inequality scholarship have shown persistent socioeconomic inequality in Internet access and use. Yet most of this research captures class by individualized income and education variables, rather than a power relational framework. By tracing research on how fear, control, and risk manifest itself with inequalities related to digital content, digital activism, and digital work, I argue that a narrow stratification approach may miss the full cause and effect of digital inequality. Instead, a class analysis based on power relations may contribute to a broader and more precise theoretical lens to understand the digital divide. As a result, technology can reinforce, or even exacerbate, existing patterns of social and economic inequality because of this power differential.

Abstract

One of the concepts most commonly evoked in order to characterize and explain the zig-zag trajectory of political dynamics in the Islamic Republic of Iran has been the “middle class.” Yet there is no scholarly consensus on a fundamental approach to identification and measurement of the middle class. Rather, the category of the middle class is both a category of analysis – long debated within social theory – as well as a category of practice – routinely deployed in political behavior and social distinction. In order to better conceptualize and understand the formation and role of Iran's middle classes in the country's sociopolitical dynamics, theories of class formation in the global South should be rearticulated away from a reified notion of the middle class as a transhistorical subject. To do so, this chapter is divided into four sections. First, internal debates over the role of Iran's middle classes in the country's recent political history are assessed and data from the 2016 Iran Social Survey is used to test a long-standing demographic assumption on the class dynamics of electoral behavior. Second, the tradition of theorizing the social power of middle classes is reassessed, drawing on the growing scholarly attention to the heterogenous origins and differentiated internal composition of middle classes across the global South. Third, a typology is proposed of four middle classes across the twentieth century shaped by varying state attempts at “catch-up” development. These types are then applied in a revisionist telling of the making and unmaking of middle classes in postrevolutionary Iran. Finally, implications of this framework beyond Iran are sketched out for global waves of protest in the twenty-first century.

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Abstract

Examining paths into and out of sex work followed by three women in Bangalore, India, this essay argues that the struggles of sex workers to secure a livelihood highlight the interlocking relationships of caste, class, and gender, as well as forms of autonomy and agency within these systems. Interview narratives reveal how gendered marginalization leads to precarious work; and precarious work leads to sexual stigma. They show how intersectionality theory can be placed in conversation with Marxist feminisms and Indian feminist scholarship on caste, class, and gender to illuminate patterns of gendered economic marginalization in urban India. Such an analysis offers a way to articulate the relationships of caste, class, and gender in the lives of sex workers and to illustrate how intersectionality theory can be extended when engaged transnationally.

Abstract

In recent decades, it has become clear that the major economic, political, and social problems in the world require contemporary development research to examine intersections of race and class in the global economy. Theorists in the Black Radical Tradition (BRT) were the first to develop and advance a powerful research agenda that integrated race–class analyses of capitalist development. However, over time, progressive waves of research streams in development studies have successively stripped these concepts from their analyses. Post-1950s, class analyses of development overlapped with some important features of the BRT, but removed race. Post-1990s, ethnicity-based analyses of development excised both race and class. In this chapter, I discuss what we learn about capitalist development using the integrated race–class analyses of the BRT, and how jettisoning these concepts weakens our understanding of the political economy of development. To remedy our current knowledge gaps, I call for applying insights of the BRT to our analyses of the development trajectories of nations.

Abstract

Laws geared toward regulating the employment relationship cling to traditional definitions of workplaces, neglecting the domain of the home and those who work there. Domestic workers, a population of largely immigrant women of color, have performed labor inside of New York City's homes for centuries and yet have consistently been denied coverage under labor law protections at both the state and federal level. This article traces out the exclusions of domestic workers historically and then turn to a particular piece of legislation – the 2010 New York Domestic Worker Bill of Rights – which was the first law of its kind to regulate the household as a site of labor, therefore disrupting that long-standing pattern. However, the law falls short in granting basic worker protections to this particular group. Drawing from 52 in-depth interviews and analysis of legislative documents, The author argues that the problematics of the law can be understood by recognizing its embeddedness, or rather the broader political, legal, historical, and social ecology within which the law is embedded, which inhibited in a number of important ways the law's ability to work. This article shows how this plays out through the law obscuring the specificity of where this labor is performed – the home – as well as the demographic makeup of the immigrant women of color – the whom – performing it. Using the case study of domestic workers' recent inclusion into labor law coverage, this article urges a closer scrutiny of and attention to the changing nature of inequality, race, and gender present in employment relationships within the private household as well as found more generally throughout the low-wage sector.

Index

Pages 215-220
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Cover of Rethinking Class and Social Difference
DOI
10.1108/S0198-8719202037
Publication date
2020-09-30
Book series
Political Power and Social Theory
Editors
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
ISBN
978-1-83982-020-5
eISBN
978-1-83982-020-5
Book series ISSN
0198-8719