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International Socialism, Summer 1967


Peter Ibbotson

Class or Status?


From International Socialism (1st series), No.29, Summer 1967, p.35.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Ed Richard Mabey
Anthony Blond, 30s (cloth), 18s (paper)

According to the editor, two forces contribute to keeping the working class in their underprivileged position – the skill and aggressiveness with which the middle class plays the success game, and the corresponding inexpertise of the working class. (Hence the middle class nave expectations from life, the working class only aspirations.) The world being offered to the working class has been conceived and built by the middle class in terms of middle-class values and attitudes; the demands of conformity handicap all but the most resilient working-class aspirants – cf. Jackson and Marsden’s Education and the Working-Class.

The middle class realises that class differences are closely bound up with differences in educational background; they will go to any lengths to keep this realisation. from the working class. How successful they have been is shown by Mark Abrams who established (p.32) that ‘working-class people approve of the present: educational facilities because they fail to see the connection: between educational privilege and social inequality; and middle-class people approve of the present educational structure because they do appreciate from direct personal experience the connection between educational privilege and social inequality.’ He refers also to middle-class people as being well aware of the relevance of higher education to higher social status.

Dennis Marsden (School, Class and the Parent’s Dilemma) and John Windsor (Oxbridge and Redbrick) expand this reference of Abrams’ in the most important essays in the book. Both amply demonstrate how education is the most powerful determinant of social class, holding the key to social and occupational mobility; and how the hierarchical structure of education reinforces the hierarchical structure of society. ‘The-present schools and universities are diligently manufacturing spare parts for the class system, and seeing it has enough oil to run smoothly’ is how Marsden picturesquely sums it up (p.36). The other contributions vary in quality and importance. Simon Raven surveys the contemporary novel with his usual erudite wit and critical acumen; Matthew Murray (Class and the Welfare State) is clear that while the poor remain poor the middle classes remain, comparatively, rich. Other essays deal with class in industry, the mass media, the world of pop, north v. south, and class in Britain and abroad. The subjects may not all lend themselves to obvious class analysis, but all the contributors have something relevant, and usually trenchant, to say. Make sure this book is in your local library. Better still, if you can afford it (and the paperback edition at least is within the reach of anyone who is at all seriously concerned at the role of class in society), buy it.

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