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Lecture 5

SOCY 226 Lecture Notes - Lecture 5: Black Nationalism, New Social Movements, The Foundations

Social Sci, Edu and Soc Work - Sociology
Course Code
SOCY 226
Ryan Martin

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White Collar Angst
rise of the middle-class in 1950s America
became a focus
of critique in literature and critical sociology
The Middle Mass at Mid-Century
The mythology of the United States included a belief that it
was classless, that wealth could be achieved by anyone
through hard work, and that constant economic growth was
inherently bene%cial
Mass consumption in the 1950s and 1960s prompted a return
to ideas expressed in the late 19th century by Thorstein Veblen
in his theory of ‘conspicuous consumption’
C. Wright Mills on Class and Power
The class and power dynamics of 1950s America were critically
analyzed by C. Wright Mills (1916-1962), focusing on how
society was divided between a small elite of powerful decision
makers and a great mass of alienated, manipulated individuals
Mills’ work on the white-collar mass engaged with the
emerging ideology of middle-class work and leisure:
The white-collar worker has little freedom or capacity to
act, struggling to achieve goals that they have little
control over
As a result of mass consumption, people’s lives must be
constantly renewed in trivial ways: personalities become
commodities, disguised by commercial masks
Salesmanship becomes a general ethic: learning to pretend
to be interested in others, in order to manipulate them
This extends to intellectuals, abandoning any moral
responsibilities in favour of academic entrepreneurship
and conformity
Status Panic!
The new middle class is
striving for prestige
, with their status
gradually being eroded by increased routinization of work, rise
of job insecurity and increased equality of wages and salaries
across employment groups…

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The new middle class was thus faced with ‘status panic’
The occupational basis of prestige is being eroded…
Leisure is taken up by attempts to gratify status claims…
There are status cycles of saving, spending, working,
Leisure time – a middle class luxury – became
than relaxing,
and a matter of
Work became meaningful only in the context of
the means to
consume leisure
; mass leisure (e.g. spectator sports) became
the primary anchor for a sense of self
White-collar workers were ‘political eunuchs’: any power of
supervision derived from those above, making them
of authority
The new middle class expressed its politics negatively,
retreating to
private life
political apathy
, or even adopting
, conservatism or fascism
Power Elites
The Power Elite
(1956), Mills argued that formal democracy
is an empty shell:
real power lies with elites in business,
military and the political executive (overlapping cliques)
Each of these spheres of power was becoming centralized and
beyond ordinary people’s control…
Members of these elites came to move between them easily…
There are inter-elite negotiations that are designed to ensure
the best conditions for capital accumulation, and in turn
reinforce and reproduce existing power relations…
African-American Social Thought
The status quo of the inter-war and post-war periods was
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