Seven new social classes – really?



The BBC has a story about the results of a “huge survey” they undertook (and then again, on a smaller, more scientific scale), which, they say, leads to the conclusion that there are (now) seven social classes.

Personally, I’m not happy with their use of the word “class” here – it’s playing to the British obsession with class, but I think these are classifications rather than classes.

I also think that the BBC appear to have inadvertently (re)invented the classic Young and Rubicam international market segmentation (cross-cultural consumer characterisations) known as the 4Cs.

My students will remember from class that the 4Cs match social classification against values in coming up with seven groups, which are:

Resigned, Struggler, Mainstream, Aspirer, Succeeder, Explorer, and Reformer.

I’ve always liked the 4Cs, not least because they factor in values as well as income, meaning (for example) that Explorers and Reformers may have less money than Succeeders, but are more adventurous consumers of both goods and media.

The new survey has also factored in forms of “wealth” other than the economic capital that separates the 1% from the rest of us. They call these social and cultural capital respectively. Young and Rubicam bundled these together as “values”, which seems both more vague and simpler.

Here’s a flavour of what the BBC’s survey has concluded:

Elite – the most privileged group in the UK, distinct from the other six classes through its wealth. This group has the highest levels of all three capitals

Established middle class – the second wealthiest, scoring highly on all three capitals. The largest and most gregarious group, scoring second highest for cultural capital

Technical middle class – a small, distinctive new class group which is prosperous but scores low for social and cultural capital. Distinguished by its social isolation and cultural apathy

(See BBC News – Huge survey reveals seven social classes in UK)

The groups are divided as follows: Elite; Established Middle Class; Technical Middle Class; New Affluent Workers; Traditional Working Class; Emergent Service Workers; and Precariat, or Precarious Proletariat.

It seems to be that, unlike the 4Cs with their emphasis on values, these new classifications still give more weight to economic wealth, and also hint that it’s quite hard to shift between groups. In economic terms, this is probably true. The Emergent Service Workers of today are unlikely to ever have the economic capital of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations, who have wealth locked up in pension funds and savings.

In fact, the “hidden” economic capital of pensions, savings, and investments is what separates the bottom four groups from the top four – far more than their so-called social and cultural capital.

Marx would dismiss social and cultural capital, of course, as comforting illusions. Follow the money is always the main message.

Which brings us back to that nebulous idea of values, which is something I prefer: rather than the clumsy “precariat”, for example, I understand the terms resigned and struggler. We all know what a succeeder looks like, and also aspirers. I think that values are a more powerful idea, in the end, and tell you far more about a person and their likely patterns of consumption and lifestyle.

I think there’s a lot more nuance than the seven new groups imply. I think “Emergent Service Workers”, with their high cultural and social capital and low economic capital will map quite effectively to reformers but also to explorers. Sometimes, these people will be leading hedonistic exploratory lifestyles; but others within the group will be trying to change the world.

And when it comes to changing the world, it’s far more important that people recognise the values they share in common than it is for people to envy those who have more economic capital.


Representation, racism, values and ideology and the BBC


The BBC, as we all know, is a very middle class organisation, often said by conservative politicians and commentators to have liberal/left agenda. That kind of accusation is hard to deny, especially when you recall (former Five Live Presenter) Jane Garvey’s comments about the BBC on the morning after Tony Blair’s victory in the 1997 General Election:

Jane Garvey: So, I had to get a bit of sleep, and I do remember I walked back into, we were broadcasting then from Broadcasting House in the centre of London, all very upmarket in those days, and the corridors of, er, Broadcasting House were strewn with empty champagne bottles.
Peter Allen: (chuckles heartily)
Jane Garvey: I’ll always remember that, er, not that the BBC were celebrating…
Peter Allen: (still chuckling throughout) No, no. No. Not at all!

In other words, there has often been evidence of a slightly left/liberal bias at the BBC, but in many ways that’s the nature of the beast. It’s a publicly-funded public-service broadcaster with a remit to “inform, educate, and entertain”, so you’re hardly likely to get Murdoch-like opinion in the corridors of Broadcasting House.

On the other hand, the BBC has “fall out of love” with Labour in the intervening years, especially during the row about the sexed-up dossier.

More recently, the BBC has been (justly, in my opinion) accused of a London/South East bias, and has struggled to represent the English regions and other countries of the UK. They’re more careful now to point out when a news item only applies in England and Wales, for example, and will often refer to differences in Scottish law.

But there they are, mostly London-based, mostly university-educated (god forbid we should suggest they still recruit disproportionately from an Oxford/Cambridge and privately educated labour pool), and perhaps all a little horrified by the working and non-working classes outside of their South East middle class bubble.

But you can’t go attacking people for being working class, or for not going to Oxford, can you? What you do instead is you try to make them look racist: damned out of their own mouths. Just point a camera and a microphone at them, and they’re bound to say something nasty to reveal their ignorance and racism.

So now we’re into a new BBC row (is it 2009 already?), because the producers of the 10 o’clock news have been forced to apologise after snipping the audio of a striking oil refinery worker, taking his words out of context. On the news report, a reporter said on a voice-over, “Beneath the anger, ministers fear, lies straightforward xenophobia.”

Then one of the striking workers was shown saying, “These Portugese and Eyeties – we can’t work alongside of them.”

Snip. The end of that sentence (as revealed on Newsnight a bit later on) was, “…we’re segregated from them. They’re coming in in full companies.”

So he shouldn’t have called them Eyeties, maybe (though nobody seems to object when the French insist on calling us “Anglo Saxons”), but the BBC have clearly edited his comments to fit their reporters commentary about xenophobia.

Elsewhere on the Guardian’s site, Padraig Reidy wonders why the BBC wants to make working class people seem racist. Snip:

Why? Is it because of a skewed identity politics at play in BBC newsrooms and commissioning meetings? Or is it because the BBC, like much of the media, is increasingly dominated by middle-class scions who don’t actually know many working-class people, and thus breezily project any prejudice or other trait they wish on to them? Either way, it’s a sordid state of affairs, and – as shown by the devious editing of last night’s 10 o’clock news, a dangerous one, too.