class imagery

Class Imageryclick for a larger image
Fig. 4 Class Imagery. Goldthorpe and Lockwood categories.

class imagery

The ideas and images of class and class structure, and the distribution of power, held by SOCIAL ACTORS.

There have been many empirical studies of class attitudes and imagery, the great majority of which have been concerned with the manual working class. In the 1950s and 60s especially, many social commentators, not only sociologists, were interested in exploring the implications of changing lifestyles, particularly changes in patterns of family and work relationships within ‘traditional’working-class communities (see also AFFLUENT SOCIETY, EMBOURGEOISEMENT THESIS, WORKING-CLASS CONSERVATISM). Influential North American and European studies also contributed to the discussion, e.g. those of Chinoy (1955), Popitz et al. (1957). In British sociology, significant studies were carried out by Abrams (1960) and Zweig (1961), but the classic paper was by LOCKWOOD, ‘The sources of variation in working-class images of society’ (1966, reprinted together with a number of papers on the theme in Bulmer, 1975).

Lockwood's article drew on a major study of conjugal relationships (Bott, 1957), which included a discussion of ‘social imagery’. Bott had concluded that her respondents had two different ‘models’ of society: a ‘power’ model (also a ‘them’ and ‘us’ model), in which society was seen as divided into two fairly static, opposing classes (‘working’ and ‘middle’ classes), and a ‘prestige’ model, in which the class structure was seen as composed of a much larger number of groups arranged in a hierarchy of prestige. Bott also suggested that a preference for one or other of these two models could be explained as the outcome of the work and community experiences of people – their ‘primary social experiences’. Lockwood drew on these ideas, identifying three types of ‘social consciousness’ within the working class linked to definite types of work and community structures (see Fig. 4):

  1. the traditional ‘proletarian’ worker, e.g. coal miners, dockworkers, and shipbuilders, having a ‘power model’ of society, i.e. where workers have a strong commitment both to their work and to fellow workers, and live in close, homogeneous communities;
  2. the traditional ‘deferential’ worker, who recognizes the leadership rights of a traditional elite and adopts a ‘prestige hierarchy’ model of class; these are typically workers in small ‘family’ firms or in agriculture, in paternalistic employment relations, and in a fixed-status hierarchy in the wider community of the town or village;
  3. the ‘privatized’ worker, who sees class differences in terms of a ‘money model’ of society; this group is seen as more ‘home-centred’ than communally orientated, and more ‘instrumental’ in its attitudes to work and politics.

Subsequently Lockwood's initial work was extended in a number of empirical studies, especially in the well-known studies of the AFFLUENT WORKER (GOLDTHORPE, LOCKWOOD, et al., 1968a & b, 1969).

Although mostly accepting the value of Lockwood's discussion, subsequent studies have, in general, revealed a more complex and contradictory picture of working-class class imagery. Notably, the lack of consideration of issues of gender or race by Lockwood has received criticism. Pollart (1981), for example, showed that the class images of women factory workers are frequently ‘ambivalent’, and constantly overlain by gender roles and the power relations associated with gender divisions. Others have also argued that most conventional studies of class imagery have paid insufficient attention to general structural and theoretical issues relating to class formation and development. Howard Newby, in his study of agricultural workers (1979), has argued, for example, that it is mistaken to see ‘deference’ as a simple or a single orientation, rather it is highly variable in form and often a relation of ‘power’ in which ‘class imagery’ is not paramount (see also DEFERENCE). For all this, the strength of research on class imagery, in contrast to much of the literature on CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS, is that it attempts to map empirically existing modes of consciousness among the working class.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000