Book Review : Social Class in the 21st Century

Lets start with a question…

Do you consider yourself to be part of a certain ‘class’?

It’s a question I’m a little uncomfortable with with but also find myself fascinated by how in our modern interconnected world whether social class still has an impact and also remains an issue.

However back in 2013 the BBC conducted one of the largest surveys of ‘class’ ever conducted and the results (as well as the interpretation of the results) are both quite interesting.

So, let me tell you about my latest read. A book exploring the nature of modern class and it’s impact on the world…

Social Class in the 21st Century (29)

by Mark Savage

There a number of interesting insights in this book.

First, in a society which feels (to me anyway) more meritocratic than ever before…class is still ‘a thing’.

However it also argues the old definition of ‘class’ doesn’t really apply to the modern world and talks about 7 new categories which provides more of a nuanced view of how class works in the UK today.

It also defines ‘class’ in three clear ways. Starting with financial wealth but in addition including an analysis of an individuals networks (who you know) and cultural class (what you spend your non working time doing).

The book explores a number of questions of class but seems to spend more time on the outliers of the survey than anywhere near the middle. It tells stories of a less aristocratic and more ‘modest’ upper class and a knowing culturally aware working class.

The book also explores a growing inequality between those with plenty capital, networks and opportunity to help them in life…and those who have limited money, opportunity and professional networks (but interestingly often seemingly strong family and neighbourhood networks)

There’s a few things about this book that I have a (small) issue with.

The book is written by an academic and at times is written more like an academic paper as opposed to a true exploration of class. There’s no problem with this if the book is designed to be read purely by  sociologists (or aspiring sociologists) but misses an opportunity to explore class in a wider context and engage more people in the debate.

Also the book talks about the faults of a political approach which advocates a more meritocratic society. The book makes some fair arguments about the disadvantages of basing policy on this particular approach but doesn’t suggest any practical alternatives.

Again you could argue that suggesting practical alternatives to make our society fairer and more equal in a book about social class would be misplaced…however it seems that if you’re going to start to explore the legitimate deficiencies in the current political actions taken you should provide a workable alternative.

My last issue is the focus on ‘class’ as particularly important.

This may seem like a strange thing to say (this is a book about class after all) however surely what would have been interesting is to look at how our lives circumstances impact ‘stuff’ that really matters, like for instance quality of life and happiness.

However despite these minor criticisms, the book is well written, fantastically researched and provides a unique insight into class in the 21st century.

You can pick up your copy of this book here


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