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Ch 2- The Myth of the Classless.doc

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Western University
Sociology 2239
Alissa Mazar

- Ch 2: The Myth of the Classless - for examples of radical apartheid Canadians like to point to South Africa, never at their own system of reserves for Natives - although most Canadians agree that ours is not yet a perfect society, we see it as capable of perfection, and until that time arrives, we take comfort in knowing that it is certainly better than most others; and we are correct - According to the United Nations Human Development Report, Canada is the best country in the world in which to live - this feeds the liberal ideology that embraces the idea of equality and eschews attempts to characterize ours as a class-divided society - Accounting for the Myth of Classlessness - Canadians identify themselves as middle class - this is a curious contradiction, a seeming willingness to engage in self- delusion - surely, most Canadians are aware of the existence of great differences in income, lifestyle, and power - the key question is how are those differences accounted for by the average citizen who is uncomfortable with thinking of his or her society in class terms? - the answer lies in the liberal ideology, which explains social inequalities as stemming from individual effort (or lack thereof) and not from structured class relations- those who have risen to the top did so through hard work - popular historian Pierre Berton is an ideal representative of this type of myth making - such books as The National Dream and The Last Spike have romanticized the past and fueled a powerful blend of nationalism and individualism in the average Anglo-Canadian - by downplaying class, these histories and myths paint a picture of a benevolent colonial past in which cultural differences were amicably settled and all parties joined in common purpose to build a united Canada - in the public mind, class-based explanations of behaviour are generally resisted - the problem for the liberal, though, is that where classes are deemed to exist they automatically imply the existence of domination, exploitation and conflict - Canadians ranked ambition, good education, hard work, and natural ability as major keys to success - this fits nearly within the liberal-individualist ideology according to which individuals are largely, if not solely, responsible for their life situations - the enjoyment of class privilege is treated simply as a matter of luck - by removing responsibility for their condition entirely from the realm of human agency, those in control, those who promote the idea that luck and fate can explain social advantage and disadvantage, escape unscathed - the ideology of classlessness persists and the status quo is left intact - The Political Psychology of Control - the reason why Canada is not unstable despite such economic extremes lies in the fact that the dominant ideology of liberalism manages to mask reality and convince citizens that they live in a middle-class society with few extremes - this illusions of mobility is a crucial part of the engineering of control and stability in Canada - it is integral to the discussion of class and to the common confusion between class and occupation that we so often see - Class and Occupation - for sociologists who studied the patterns of inequality in the early phases of capitalist development, the notion of class was a fairly uncomplicated one - people could easily be identified by what they did, and the economic roles of people were clear and largely distinct from one another - with the further development and sophistication of capitalism, however, the picture began to change and the political aspects of various economic undertakings became salient - with the development of corporate capitalism, the lines of class demarcation began to blur - it was no longer a simple matter to identify what people did and deduce their class affiliations on that basis - for example, if one carpenter is the owner of a small carpentry business and the other is an employee of a large carpentry firm, they may very well have the same level of income, but they will have quite different class and economic interests, different legal liabilities, and very importantly, different political orientations to capital and labour - Marx, Weber, and Class - two of the most influential sociological approaches to class are those developed by Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Max Weber (1864-1920) - while they both had serious criticisms of capitalism they did not advance the same solutions to its ills, and Webers eschewing of radicalism is far more appealing to the liberal and in keeping with the general Canadian denial that theirs is a society of class divisions - as a humanist, Marx was concerned with the elimination of capitalism, which he felt dehumanized workers and other subordinate groups and classes - his treatment of class was bound up with his theories of revolutionary social change - in Marxs discussion of capitalism, class was understood primarily as a function of property ownership - he felt that the basic class distinctions were those between the owners (bourgeoisie) and the non-owners (proletariat) of private or productive property - ours is a structural understanding of class - by this we mean that class is a relational concept; classes only exist in relation to other classes - thus, one can only speak of a ruling class to the extent that there is a ruled class over which it exercises domination - under capitalism, ownership of property is integral to class structure - this is why Marx argued that property and class relations were synonymous - if the law protects property as a set of rights, it will defend one segment of society to the detriment of another - the law, therefore, which can legitimately call upon state apparatus (e.g. courts, judges, police, and prison guards) to enforce property claims, find
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