What is Class? Economy, Culture, and Identity
Amid protests across the country, skyrocketing inequality, and decades or more of socioeconomic decline for the vast majority of Americans, the question of class has returned to the fore. Self-identified socialist politicians are now a recognizable feature of US politics; class strife is openly acknowledged. With even many right-wing politicians claiming “the working class” as their constituency, the myth of the United States as somehow uniquely a “classless” society, or as a place in which class doesn’t matter, has withered. A stratified class system seems fundamental to capitalist life—in the worlds of politics, business, media, education, and beyond. Moreover, class is not merely an economic category. It also takes part in shaping our customs, habits, points-of-view, and everyday interactions. At the same time, class is far from a simple, overriding category; individuals participate in multiple overlapping personal and social identities and institutions—from religion and subculture to gender, race, and ethnicity. What, though, is class? What does understanding society through the lens of class do? How can we understand the specific role and significance that class plays in 21st-century life?
This course is an examination of the meaning and power of social class. Over four weeks, we’ll examine the classic definitions of social class, explore class-based practices and their consequences, grapple with the significance of class as a determining factor in social life, and reflect on class membership as an identity. In addition to reading major writers on class, including Karl Marx, Max Weber, C. Wright Mills, and Pierre Bourdieu, we may consider ethnographies and case studies that illustrate class-based dynamics. As we attempt to understand how social class operates, we’ll aim to consider multiple points of view. What generates and forms a class? Can we belong to multiple classes at once? Does class always matter, or only in certain historical circumstances? What are the limitations of class-based analyses? How can we understand the intersection of class with nationality, race, and gender?
Course ScheduleThursday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
January 28 — February 18, 2021