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SOC 202
Sean Springer

Social Class European capitalism emerged under different historical conditions than in non- European countries. Caste rather than class initially divided India, for example, while representing a feudal system. We will be looking through a Marxist sociological lens for this lecture. Key Point What is Social Class? Under a capitalist system, society is divided into different classes--what class you are in depends on your relationship to the means of production. Foraging Societies For more than 99% of our existence, humans have lived in foraging societies. Living together in small, self-sufficient groups, humans subsisted solely on hunting and gathering. Kinship was the central organizing feature. The many different jobs or tasks performed in the society are referred to as the division of labour. In foraging societies the division of labour was largely egalitarian and based solely on sex and age, not on believed strength or perceived status of job. Women needed to stay close to 'camp' due to pregnancy and/or nursing small children so they were the main gatherers of food found close by. In contrast, the men were able to roam for days trying to perform big- game hunting. This gendered division of labour meant that men and women were interdependent for survival and for the maintenance of solidarity within the group. Key Point Key Features of Foraging Societies: Cooperative, egalitarian, non-hierarchical society Pastoral and Horticultural Societies About 10,000 years ago, horticultural societies emerged. Population growth, herding of animals and the cultivation of plants were the most important changes during this period. Horticulture became the primary source of subsistence. As advanced horticultural technologies (like the plough) were developed, there was the ability to have a surplus of food. In order to control the distribution of this surplus, a political structure was developed. With these changes came the rise of structured social inequality. Agrarian Societies About 5,000 years ago, population growth coupled with such innovations as the plow led to the rise of agrarian societies, in which the concept that land could be owned outright by a private group of people emerged. This private group had enormous power over and heavily taxed the peasants, who were the primary producers. Kinship ties were replaced by clear and strong divisions between ethnic, gendered and geographical lines, but also, and more importantly between those who owned or control the means of production and those who did not. Feudal Societies Land is divided into manors with villages. Serfs or peasants work on the farmland and are under the control of the feudal lord. Land could not be bought or sold; it was based oninheritance only. By the 15th century, if you couldn't pay your rent, you would lose the land you worked on and your family would most probably starve. The landlord would replace you with another serf family. Thus competition also emerges as competitive pressure to increase labour productivity. The decline of feudalism is linked to changing class relations, the growing push for labour productivity, the accumulation of capital, an increasingly available labour force, advances in technology and the rise of nation-states. Source: Joanne Naiman (2004) How Societies Work: Class, Power, and Change in a Canadian Context. Toronto: Thomson/Nelson (Chapter 3: Culture, Society, and History. pp. 47-75). Emergence of early Capitalism By the 15th century, markets emerged as a key site where the exchange of goods and a money economy developed. Merchants would bring goods acquired elsewhere to the market for sale. This provided the lords with luxury items that went beyond the means of survival. Objects produced for the purpose of exchange (i.e. selling) in the market place are called commodities. These merchants initially just bought and sold items - bought cheap and sold at a profit. Gradually, they started to control the entire production process - providing the raw materials, labour needed, and later the tools to those who made the products for them. They became a class of owners that is called the bourgeoisie. Key Point Capitalism is a mode of production with private ownership of the means of production. In capitalist societies, as compared to earlier class formations, all production is subordinate to the imperatives of the market (meaning the market rules everything) and all things become potential commodities. The insatiable drive for profits on the part of capitalists is due to the fact that the very nature of capitalism is competition. The goal of every capitalist is not just profits, but the maximization of profits. The relationship between the owning class and the working class in capitalist societies is one based on domination. The owning class controls the power in the economic, political, and ideological spheres. Capitalists make profit primarily because the cost of purchasing labour power is always far less than the new value that workers produce. Class Exists Before capitalism, class relations were very visible and were reinforced by laws, religious beliefs and traditions. Everyone knew his or her place in the rigid society. It was very difficult to change your position. Today capitalist societies are not as rigid or as visible. However, despite the fact that we really don't "see" it, class still has an enormous effect on our lives. Because we willingly agree to work, the relationship between workers and owner appears to be an equal arrangement. In other words, I get wages and the owner gets my labour power. Slave labour no longer exists in industrialized nations. Key Point According to Karl Marx, there were three classes in modern capitalist society: 1. Bourgeoisie--the capitalist or owning class. Its members own and/or control the principle means of production (e.g. lands, factories, tools, etc.), distribution or exchange of goods and services. 2. Working Class--the producing class. Its members must work for wages and do not have much control over the means of production. 3. Petite Bourgeoisie -- found in between the other two - small-business owners, self-employed professionals - have a small amount of capital, may or may not employ a few workers, but still survive through their own labour. Key Point Cultural Hegemony: How do capitalists maintain power over workers today? Through hegemony. Remember what hegemony is? It's the major strategy for the manipulation of the masses by the ruling class, it involves the production of ways of thinking and seeing. The ruling class carries out hegemony through such things as popular culture, which encourages the lower classes to ignore class inequalities. Key to understanding hegemony is consent--the lower classes consent to let themselves be exploited by the ruling class. They accept the ruling class' worldview as legitimate. Reading and Viewing Read "Neoliberalism and the Realities of Reality Television (Opens new window)" by David Grazian. Bear in mind what Grazian means by neoliberalism: a set of principles "associated with global free trade and the deregulation of industry, the weakening of union labor, a decline in welfare assistance and social service provision, and the privatization of publicly-owned resources" (68). Then watch an episode of a reality-TV show. Any reality-TV show will do, although try to watch one mentioned in Grazian's article (reruns are fine): Survivor, American Idol, Hell's Kitchen, The Apprentice, The Amazing Race, The Biggest Loser, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Does your episode fit Grazian's theory that reality-TV is a hegemonic tool designed to encourage viewers to accept neoliberalism's problematic worldview? Difference Between Class (Marx) and Socio-economic Status (Weber) When asked to define class, most people will refer to their class position (working class, middle class, upper class, etc.) in relation to a combination of income, occupation, and education. Key Point Weber's Theory of Socio-economic Status: According to Weber, a person's socio-economic status depends upon three things: 1. Class--the person's relationship to the means of production. Does he own the means of production? Or does he work for someone who owns the means of production? 2. Status--the person's social prestige. Although the person might not be an owner, she might have a certain level of social prestige which improves her life chances. 3. Power--the degree of political influence. Although the person might not be an owner, she might have ties to an organization who can lobby on her behalf. Interrelationship between class and socio-economic status: It is important to note that both class and status differences exist in capitalist societies. The ability to acquire a high status occupation or a high-level education is correlated to one'sclass. To focus simply on status differences, however, is to ignore the main power arrangements in capitalist systems. We must always keep in mind who owns the means of production. Bourgeoisie have Property, Proletarians have Labour Labour is the lynchpin of class conflict and the basis of Marx's critique of capitalism. For Marx, all humans possess the ability for productive labour. Under capitalism people (proletarians) must sell their labour power in the market in exchange for a limited and finite paycheck, whereas the owners (bourgeoisie) not only own the means of production (land, technology), but they also possess the ability to make infinite amounts of money or generate surplus wealth. The problem with this exchange, as Marx saw it, is that it is the workers' labour that is the primary source of value in the commodities that are sold (this is also referred to as the labour theory of value). However, the worker does not reap the full benefits of his/her labour. It is the bourgeoisie who reaps the full benefits of the labour through the profit they make over and above the cost of labour. Think about who is rich in our society and why. Exploitation Through their labour, working people are primarily responsible for the wealth that is generated but only receive a small portion of this wealth. To Marx, the value that a produced object (commodity) has is the amount of labour used in its creation. For Marx, the value should rightly belong to the workers whose labour is expended in making the commodity. But under capitalism, workers exchange their labour power for wages that amount to less than the value of the object when sold in the marketplace. Think of a pair of Nike shoes produced for a few dollars in a developing country but sold for over $100. The difference between what is paid to produce them and what they are sold for is the measure of surplus value that goes to Nike, not the workers. Surplus Value The difference between the wages and the value of the object when it is sold represents a surplus that goes to the capitalists as profit. In most cases the workers do not share in the benefits of the profits. Marx argues that this value (profit = surplus value) should rightly belong to the workers whose labour is expended in making the object. However, in capitalism, all of the surplus goes to the capitalist. For Marx this is the basis of class-based social inequality as he sees the surplus as rightfully belonging to the workers from whom it is derived and essentially stolen. For Marx, surplus value is the measure of exploitation in the capitalist economic system. In 1979, the top 1% of American income earners took home 10% of national income. In 2011, they took home 20% (Opens new window). Meanwhile, Canada's top 1% saw their share of national income go from 7% in the early 1980s to 12.1% in 2006 (Opens new window). Role of the Media There are fewer studies examining class in television than there are about race or gender. Class permeates media content. It is interesting to examine both the class distribution of people in the media and the roles given to characters of different class status. Commercial Media Commercial media is driven by a profit-oriented ideology. Media outlets want to attract wealthy audiences/consumers and generally design the programming to attract that clientele. We are no longer "audiences," we have become potential "clientele" being sold not only a product but a way of life. Further, on TV, there is a business report but no labour report, and yet most of us watching sell our labour rather than sell stocks. To improve the demographic profile (in terms of average household income) and to satisfy advertisers (which make up 2/3 of newspaper revenues), newspapers will manipulate the content (major business sections with extensive stock market reports, fashion and culture and consumer sections). Newspapers will also make it more difficult for poorer neighbourhoods to have access to their paper. In some cases even raising the price in poorer areas while lowering it in wealthier areas. Case Study The Los Angeles Times raised the price of their paper in inner-city neighbourhoods from 35 cents to 50 cents, while reducing the price to 25 cents in surrounding areas. The sole purpose was to prove to advertisers that the readership demographic was affluent. In 1970 ABC created a demographic profile of its audience called "Some People are More Important than Others" (source: Croteau and Hoynes, 2011). Discussion Possible Discussion Board Questions: Character portrayal in the mainstream media is more affluent than in reality. The media portray mostly middle-class professionals. Representations of the working class are rare. Can you think of any on TV currently? Read Richard Butsch's essay, "Ralph, Fred, Archie, and Homer: Why Television Keeps Re-creating the White Male Working-Class Buffoon (Opens PDF document)." According to Butsch, how are these working-class stereotypes a product of the commercial media's profit-driven ideology? According to Butsch, TV networks reduce risk by relying on tried-and-tested formulas, which result in homogenous programming. They also, he notes, create content designed to please advertisers. What sort of stories and character representations do advertisers tend to want? Video After reading Butsch's article, watch this excerpt from Class Dismissed: How TV Frames the Working Class Class Dismissed(Opens new window) Pause and Reflect Situational Comedies: Sitcoms are generally about home-life away from work. Blue collar, clerical, or service workers make up only 14% of comedies. High-paying jobs outnumber low-paying jobs Doctors outnumber nurses 9-1 Professors outnumber teachers 4-1 Lawyers outnumber accountants by 10-1 "All these high-paying jobs for television characters meant lots of disposable income, and families in these situation comedies overwhelmingly lived in beautiful middle-class homes equipped with the amenities" (207). If there is a comedy with working-class family main characters, the characters are rarely seen working and generally dream of becoming middle-class. Because they make up the minority, it signifies that it is their own fault that they are "poor" and not "successful." Further, the fathers are represented as being lovable simpletons, females are sensible. The message is clear - working class people are responsible for their own fate because they are incompetent and stupid. Such sitcoms ignore structural conditions that shape society. Source: David Croteau, William Hoynes, and Stefania Milan (2011) Media/Society: Industries, Images and Audiences. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press. Classless Society? By not drawing attention to the existence of class inequality, the mainstream media perpetuate the myth of a classless society. By believing this myth, the lower classes are unable to recognize the sources of their own oppression and become more likely to blame themselves. Source: new window) Evidence that we do not live in a classless society abounds: The top 1 percent of earners mor
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