subjective and objective class

subjective and objective class

a person's perception of his or her own class position, i.e. subjective class (or class identity), in contradistinction to that assessed in terms of either observable, or theoretically important, external elements of that person's CLASS position, i.e. objective class. No assumption need be made that in so far as the former differs from the latter, the subjective position is ‘false’, although this assumption may sometimes be made.

Discrepancies between subjective and objective class have often been regarded as significant in research into class and voting, e.g. proposed explanations of’class-deviant’ patterns of working-class voting behaviour in terms of subjective ‘middle-class identity’ (see also EMBOURGEOISEMENT, WORKING-CLASS CONSERVATISM). Butler and Stokes (1969) used the following question to elicit subjective social class: ‘There's quite a bit of talk these days about different social classes. Most people say that they belong to either the middle class or the working class. Do you ever think of yourself as being in one of these classes?’ However, fewer than 50% of respondents volunteer a 'subjective class’ without further prompting. RUNCIMAN (1966) and GOLDTHORPE et al. (1989), among others, have exposed the equivocal ‘meanings’ associated with, for example, subjective ‘middle-class identity’, many of these incompatible with any simple hypothesis of EMBOURGEOISEMENT.

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