Sociology AS - Class Identity

  • Created by: Maria
  • Created on: 07-01-10 12:29

Sociology AS

Class Identity
A short guide

Class identity is formed through the agents of socialisation (yes, as with every other identity in existence). If you don't know what these are (then go back to your books and start again) they are listed below:

  • Family (Primary socialisation)
  • Peer Group (Secondary)
  • Education (Secondary)
  • Media (Secondary)
  • Religion (Secondary)
  • Workplace (Ditto)

Right, we know what establishes class identity, but what exactly is class identity?

In the UK, we have a fairly established class system, however (as with everything in sociology) this doesn't make class identity straightforward. Many sociologists would argue that class is disappearing, as people in traditionally working class positions can now engage in White Collar occupations and so on. Within sociology, we can see class in two ways:

  • Objective class identity
  • Subjective class identity

Objective class identity is based on that official system I was talking about earlier. This system is the National Statistics Socio-Economic Classification (NSS-EC) and sorts people into their objective social class based upon their occupation. You can find this here:

A person's objective social class cannot be changed. They will be working, middle or upper class regardless of what they think their class is.

Subjective social class is rather different. This definition of social class comes from your own perspectives. It can be based on your occupation, parent's occupation, education, housing, patterns of consumption or anything else you think signifies your class. For example, I come from a working class area and I have working class parents. According to the NSS-EC I am working class (my OBJECTIVE class identity). However, when I go to university I will be living in a middle class area and have a middle class education. So I can classify myself as middle class (my SUBJECTIVE class identity). Basically, objective is based on fact, subjective is opinion.

Traditional characteristics of different classes:

Traditional Working Class Identity:

  • Willis (1977) found that traditional working class identities were based on:
    Manual/unskilled labour occupations
    Traditional gender roles
    Boys following in the footsteps of their significant male role model
    Strong sense of community
    Links with the Labour Party
    Immediate gratification (doing things in the moment, not in the future)
    Cheap housing in less desirable areas
  • Recently, there have been changes in working class identity, and working class norms and values have moved away from those listed above. The changes include:
    Less community based cultures
    Employment more office based instead of manual based

    More equal roles between men and women
    More money to spend
    More social mobility
  • The reasons for these changes can be seen to include:
    A decline in industries requiring manual labour (think coal mines, shipping industries etc.)
    More goods being imported, so less UK manufacturing
    More non-manual working opportunities
    More educational opportunities
    More freedom to choose your occupation

Some studies have found various changes to working class identity itself. Skeggs (1997) found that women from working class backgrounds took on traditional middle class values in order to distance themselves from other working class women. They


trevor james


'the marxist idea of class is 'obsolete' (in the contemporary UK). Obsolete in your mind, perhaps!  You're passing off your own subjective thoughts on class as expert knowledge whereas academic arguments over the meaning of 'class' and the nature of 'power' in capitalist society are far from settled. If you like the post-modernist view, just say so rather than submerge it within an apparently objective narrative about class.   You are misleading students by creating the impression that classical marxism is a dusty relic that has no application to the nature of power in contemporary society.