Seven new social classes? My two cents on the BBC’s Great Britain Class Survey

This item was originally posted at the Is Britain Pulling Apart Blog.

Dear Dave and Paul,

I just read your blog on the GBCS and think it’s fair, but rather mild as well. I really think the BBC’s question “Is class still important in 21st century Britain?” [as found on ] has not been answered by imposing a class structure on the data, through latent class analysis. This is especially something to raise one’s brows about, given the fact that they use continuous measures of status and completely ignore the ‘state-of-art’ discussion in sociology on the existence of micro-classes. One quote on the website is that the class system is nowadays much more complex, which is hard to believe with the end result of 7 classes (like there were in 1970′s). Furthermore, there is hardly any motivation of how these 7 classes are different from those of other contemporary schemes such as the British NS-SEC as was mention by Rose & Harrison, here: ).

Some other point that bothers me is the lack of focus on temporal and regional change. So, apparently, the class system changed, but there is virtually no discussion on -how-, say how the EGP’s classes were split and merged into these new ones. A similar point can be made, as you highlighted in your blog, for regional variation. So while on one level the authors are aware of regional clustering of social classes, they fail to elucidate their implicit assumption that the social class hierarchy would be the same in Ireland and England or would even be the same across England.

Another assumption that remains implicit, is that the three dimensions (economic capital, social capital, cultural capital) affect ‘class’ in the same way, which is crucial to the outcomes of the class model. (For a discussion, see here: Why would the economic dimension have as much influence as the cultural dimension? Why not more or less? Furthermore, why would the three dimensions be the same across all the classes? For example, based on conflict theory one would expect that in the higher classes the cultural dimension would be more important than in the lower classes.

A final question that I would like to address is: to what extent are these new classes hierarchically ordered? If so, how was the 3-dimensional space mapped into a uni-dimensional one? I am asking since a lot of people reacting on the class scheme raise questions like “How can I be in class X, while I have properties W, Y, Z?”. A 3d projection of the dimensions, e.g. showing the different classes as clusters, would have been really interesting. Furthermore it might have revealed that the distinction between two classes would merely be the result of differences in one dimension, e.g. the amount of social capital.

I really feel that the BBC project is a successful showcase of how social science and the public can interact (for a more humorous response see: and . The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) is actively promoting this kind of bridging between science and society, and (Dutch) researchers may use this setup to think of new ways to bring their research to the public. However, right now I don’t think the outcome of the project is properly reflecting the state-of-art in stratification sociology, as there are many other advances that have been made in research in this area that don’t seem to be engaged with.



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