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Outline of a Transformational Class Analysis


dr. Albert Benschop
University of Amsterdam


    Part 1 Introductory skirmishes

  1. Class analysis as a scientific problem
  2. Class analysis as a political problem
  3. Analytical Problem Structuration
  4. Social Inequality and Classes

    Part 2 Structuration of Objective Class Positions

  5. Outline of a Transformational Class Analysis
  6. Labour Relations and Modes of Labour
  7. Labour Relations and Market Relations: Credential Exploitation
  8. Classes and Domination Relations: Organizational Exploitation
  9. Classes and Interactional Relations: Clientele Exploitationv
  10. Exploitation Positions, Class Positions, and Class Structure

    Part 3 Structuration of class action: from Class Position to Political Actors

  11. From Class Positions to Social Classes
  12. Class specific forms of Habitus and Lifestyles
  13. Types of Orientation and Class Consciousness
  14. Class Interests and Class Action
  15. Social Classes and Political Class Action
  16. Reproduction and Transformation of Class Structures

    Part 4 Transformational Class Analysis in Progress

  17. An Unfinished Project
© 1993 Het Spinhuis, Amsterdam; 539 pages
ISBN 90-73052-49-1


In this study a new way of analyzing class societies will be proposed. You don’t have to be an expert on this subject to know that the social sciences are crowded with rivalizing class theories for many years now. It’s even hard to identify a common ground on which the different approaches compete with each other. A secondary objective of this study is a systematic review of all approaches on class analysis.

I started this project with the idea that it would be possible to reconstruct a coherent and empirically sustainable class theory out of all the contributions that have been made. I undertook a long search for the assumptions, basic concepts, methodology and internal structure of class theories, and I evaluated the results of empirical and historical studies on class relations. Getting more precise ideas about the present ‘state of the art’, I understood that there is no developed class theory with a refined and systematic conceptual apparatus which can be applied in empirical and historical studies. What we do have are some useful partial class theories, a lot of concepts which are not well related to each other, and some theories or theoretical perspectives that can only claim to be ‘general’ by drastically reducing their object.

In the meantime I’ve worked together with Veit Bader on a project called proto theory of social inequalities and collective action. In this project we elaborated a general frame of reference which will be used here to construct a new general approach for the analysis of class relations. The primary objective of this study is to develop the cornerstones for a transformational model of class analysis.

Of all the restrictions of this book I will only mention three. First, it is not a detailed reconstruction of a particular class theory or of a specific research tradition on class analysis. Cursorily I deal with the history of the class concept, but I don’t present an extensive historical survey on the development of different class theories. So it isn’t a historical or chronological review of different approaches, theoretical perspectives or authors. The analytical currents and authors will be dealt with in a problem oriented fashion, i.e. they will be analyzed on those points where they are relevant for the construction of the transformational explanatory model. Along these lines we will get more precise ideas about the pros (analytical power and strong points) and cons (internal obstacles, aporia, theoretical blocks and lacunae) of the research traditions on class. For that matter the transformational class model can serve as an analytical and methodological framework for critical reconstructions of specific class theories.

Second, it is ‘only’ an attempt at theory construction. It provides an outset for a systematic class theory. Basic concepts are delimitated and related to each other, several analytical levels are differentiated and compared and once in a while cautious statements about causal explanations will be made. So it isn’t a ‘system of class theory’, though the chapters can be read as essays in systematic class theory.

Third, this study doesn’t contain a new empirical analysis of class structures in modern capitalism. The transformational class model merely claims to be a better alternative as a frame of reference for empirical studies than other approaches. Empirical and historical studies will be used whenever they are relevant for the construction of the heuristic model (particularly in those parts where I illustrate actual trends in the development of class structures). Otherwise I restrict myself to the formulation of research questions and strategies and some remarks on operationalization problems. The book is divided into four parts.


Part 1 Introductory skirmishes

I. Class analysis as a scientific problem

The social structure of our society, in which the capitalist mode of labour dominates, reveals itself to us as a gigantic stack of social inequalities. Class inequality is one of its elementary forms. There are very few aspects of social live which are not touched by class differences. The class position of an individual affects not only the economic live —the labour, income and consumption relations— but also the lifestyle, social consciousness, culture, politics, and even the ultimate and intimate things like life expectancy, sexual relations, marriage, religion, chances on hapiness and mental healtn. Class positions do not only have a strong influence on power positions in all kind of organizations, but also structure the sociale interaction chances — the selection of friends and lovers, neighbours and acquaintances. And last but not least: class positions do not only generate inequalities of sociale live chances, but also strongly determine chances of political action. The class dimensions of all those aspects of our economic, social, cultural and political existence has been demonstrated over and over by many social scientist. Class inequalities are a fundamental structural form of social inequality. They are generated by the inequal control on social resources which allow some —exploiting— classes to appropriate the surplus labour of other —exploited— social classes.

«Class» is an essentially contested concept which is fraught with unpleasing associations. Some sociologists have said that class is a ‘largely obsolete’ [Nisbet 1959] or ‘increasingly oudmoded concept’ [Clark/Lipset 1991]. In short: ‘Class is passé’ [Pakulski/Waters 1996:1]. In the capitalist metropoles the idea of class has become a kind of forbidden thought. When people use the term class they have a fair chance that this will be interpreted as the symptom of a perverted mind and a jaundiced spirit. However, there has been and probably will always be others who think that it’s impossible to be silent on class and class struggle as long as the societal structures and social relations of capitalist societies are structured by exploiting mechanisms. As long as this is the case, the problem of class and class conflict will remain a crucial theme of scientific and politicial debate. In these debates almost every word has an explosive and controversial meaning. The word class has soaked up so much meaning that is has become bulky to use. Debates about class often become conversations in which people talk past each other because they are talking about different dimensions of class. Anyone who has the temerity to write about class theory is immediately plunged into controversy by the very way he or she approaches the subject.

In the first chapter class analysis is described as a scientific problem. It gives empirical indications about the ways class relations influence our daily live,consciousness and attitudes. Do people still experience that they actually live in a class society? And if so, how do they articulate these experiences and what are the consequences for their cultural attitudes and political actions? After a short survey on the origins of the class vocabulary a first attempt is made to construct an elementary typology of class definitions in the social sciences.

Figure 2 First Typology of Class Definitions

Source: Wright 1979:5 (modified)

The diversity of theoretical perspectives on class will be outlined, and the themes about which they compete will be identified. To pave the way for further investigation I give a preliminary delimitation of the knowledge object of class theory and of the structural and historical scope of class analysis.

The general knowledge object of class theory are the social relations between and in the social classes and their mutual struggle. So class analysis relates both to the class structuration of social positions in specific societal formations as to the ways in which class-based collective actors are generated. More specific it relates to:

  1. the historical conditions of the origin of exploitation and class relations.
  2. the basis and forms of existence of social groups from their place in a specific system of social organization of labour.
  3. the structural-positional and historical-dynamic relations between and in the social classes and class factions.
  4. the power relations between classes, class factions and social strata within classes.
  5. the conditions and forms of the formation of classes into historical relevant political actors in the process of class struggle (i.e. class-based social movements).
  6. the process of transformation or elimination of antagonistic social class relations.
Class theory a regional theory of certain aspects of the social structures in antagonistic formation that are characterized by exploitation relations. But also tends to be a general theory in the sense that the class structuration of all social relations belongs to its object. Although class theory should not be reduced to a disciplinary theory (it is not an ‘economic theory’), it not a super theory which embraces all forms of social inequality (it is not a general ‘theory of social inequality’).

Class analysis includes theory construction and empirical-historical research on structure and dynamics of class relations. The scope of class analysis can be outlined by three elements.

Class analysis is a very broad research program. It is theory guided research of the empirical-historical contradictions between classes and class factions which can serve as a bases for the evaluation or design of political strategies of exploited, dominated working classes against exploiting, dominant classes (including the intermediate or derived classes and social strata which are connected with these fundamental or main classes). It will be clear the political and normative orientations do play an important role in this scientific program.


II. Class analysis as a political problem

In this chapter class analysis will be treated as a political problem. It contains a critical discussion of the rather ambitious political claims which are normally attached to class analysis, especially in the Marxist tradition. It has often been said that scientific research on class relations should make it possible to make judgements on: In all three respects class analysis has become a political problem, not in the least in socialist circles. The discussion of these claims informs the formulation of my own normative and political assumptions. This is the normative principle that directs this study: «all individuals should have equal liberties for optimal development and use of their individual differentiated human potentials and capacities, in such a way that no privileges can arise.»


III. Analytical Problem Structuration

This chapter presents a structure for the analysis of the highly aggregated problems a class analysis has to tackle. I tried to design a fine-grained analytical network which can be used in theoretical and empirical research programmes. The basic idea is simple: for a systematic analysis of complex class relations we need a clear view of the levels of abstraction and problem axes. In this chapter I use this ‘problem structuration’ for a systematic review of the actual supply of class theories. Class concepts are differentiated on the basis of four systematic questions.
  1. First, are classes primarily defined in terms of a specific type of collective action or in terms of social structures (or structural positions in specific social relations)? With this question we differentiate between structure and action-oriented approaches, and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of these approaches.

  2. When classes are defined in structural terms, there is a second question: on which level of social integration are analysed? With this question we differentiate between societal, organizational and interactional approaches, and will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of these approaches.

  3. When classes are defined in terms of a specific level of social integration, I pose the third question: on which level of structuration of collective action are they defined? Classes can be defined on the level of objective positions, of mobility processes, of class habitus & class specific lifestyles, of types & levels of consciousness, or in terms of specific conditions for political class action and class consciousness.

  4. When classes are defined in terms of objective positions, I pose the fourth and final question: which levels of structuration of objective class positions are differentiated? Classes can be defined in terms of production and/or distribution relations, of labour and/or market relations. The evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of both production and market based class conceptions will provide some crucial elements for the construction of a transformational class analysis.

Figure 4 Second Typology of class definitons

I compare and evaluate all existing class theories which vary (i) in levels of abstraction, (ii) in units of historical and empirical analysis, (iii) in actional or structural frames of reference, (iv) in levels of social integration (v) in levels of structuration of class action, (vi) in levels of structuration of objective class positions. With this method I will demonstrate, not only which theoretical, methodological and empirical choices have been made by different class analysts, but also which choices can be made, and what the choices are that I prefer or decline.

Class inequalities and structures can be analyzed on several levels of social integration. I claim that there are three levels of social integration which have to be clearly demarcated: the societal level, the organizational level and the interactional level. Actions and communications in interaction systems occur in direct, physical copresence of the actors. The actions and communications in organizations can to some extent break away from these direct interactions through the development of organizational positions and structures. The societal level is always the most comprehensive social system of all social actions and action systems which are connected to each other in a communicative and actual way. These most comprehensive social systems can be ‘societies’ in the strict sense (such as the bourgeois society) or societal subsystems (such as the capitalist economic system).

The crucial question is on which level of social integration the class concept should be defined. Some authors define the class concept exclusively or mainly on the societal level. They define classes in terms of structural positions in some kind of societal relations which can not be reduced to inequal interaction or organizational chances and which can neither be explained departing from them. Classes have been defined as structural positions in societal labour relations (in the marxist tradition), in societal distribution or market relations (in the neo-weberian tradition) or in societal professional relations (professional classes in the functionalist tradition).

Other authors define classes exclusively or mainly in terms of unequal positions in organisations and of the social live and political power chances which derive from such organizational positions. In the tradition of the elite theory (Pareto, Msca, Michels, Burnham, Dahrendorf) classes have been defined in terms of inequalities in authority positions. Ralf Dahrendorf has given the most influential modern phrasing for this approach:

In the organizational approach classes are interpreted as conflict groups which are determined by their position in authority or power relations of organizations. The implicit or explicit assumption thereby is that the significance of formal organizations in all social relations is growing and that therefore also the relative structuring force of organizational power is growing.

In the interactional approach classes are exclusively or mainly defined in terms of inequalities in interaction systems which result from dominating role structures (i.e. networks of class-specific social relations). The class concept is concentrated on or reduced to specific sociale interaction systems (like living together, sharing a house) and to the chances which result from these direct personal relations (‘face-to-face relations’). Conceptualizations and empirical research are concentrated on the degree of homogeniety/heterogeniety of personal contacts (circles of friends and acquaintences), marriage ties, neighbourhood relations, intervisiting and clique relations etc. In this approach a class is interpreted as a direct interaction group: ‘associative class’, ‘community class’. The most influential and explicit phrasing of an interactional class concept can be found in the work of the cultural anthropologist W. Lloyd Warner. He defines class as:

Joseph Schumpeter [1927] can be seen as the trendsetter of this tradition, which next to the community studies of Warner c.s especially has been stimulated by the symbolic interactionist (Goffman, Bulmer, Bott, Laumann, Kimberley, Sennet/Cobb, Vanneman) and the exchange theoretical tradition (Homans, Balu, Ekeh, Berger/Zelditch, Anderson). Recently many of these approaches flow together in network analysis.

Figure 6 Societal, Organizational and Interactional Class Definitons

I contend that class relations are structured on all levels of social integration: societal, organizational and interactional. And therefore class relations ought to be analyzed on each of these levels. There are however no class theories with such a scope that they encompass all three integration levels and in which these levels are analytically clearly separated. Most theories concentrate only on one integration level. Non-reductionist class theories should in this respect fulfil at least two requirements. First, they should not only be able to make a clear analytical differentiation between the levels of social integration, but also specify the interrelatedness between these levels. Second, they should make clear whether the class concept can be defined exclusively or primarily on one level of social integration, and if so, why? These problems will be dealt with in chapter V.


IV. Social Inequality and Classes

In general most scientists agree that class relations are a specific structural form of social inequality. This chapter therefore starts with a brief analysis of concept and forms of social inequalities: natural and social inequalities, social differentiation and social inequality, positional and allocative inequalities, social inequality as structured inequality. From this point of view six general proposition are presented. Together they form the ‘hard core’ of a research program of class analysis.
  1. Classes are an aspect of the social structure of a society, therefore they have to be defined in relational and not in gradual terms.

  2. Classes are structurally defined in terms of positions in societal labour relations which are characterized by an institutionalized and structural appropriation of surplus labour.

  3. Class relations are fundamentally antagonistic because classes can only be defined in terms of a specific relation (positive or negative) to the appropriation of surplus labour. The basic classes of all class societies are the exploited classes of producers of surplus labour and exploiting classes who are able to appropriate and accumulate surplus labour.

  4. Class relations are a specific form of asymmetrical power relations. Exploitation is a specific type of asymmetrical power. Therefore classes should be analyzed in terms of extractive power and domination relations, and not in terms of professions or aspects of technical/functional divisions of labour.

  5. Class relations are dynamic relations. They change continuously in the process of struggle between exploiting classes who try to contain or expand their extractive powers and exploited classes who are using their developmental powers to limit or eliminate their exploitation.

  6. Classes are embedded in specific historical forms of exploitative labour relations. Therefore classes are historical phenomena which change their character when the mechanisms and forms of exploitation are modified.
These propositions constitute a platform on which the rest of this book is built, and they will be specified, elaborated upon and concretized in the next chapters. Every chapter opens with an additional thesis, which will be delineated in relation to other approaches and then substantiated and expanded.


Part 2 Structuration of Objective Class Positions

V. Outline of a Transformational Class Analysis

This chapter outlines the frame of reference of the transformational class approach. It presents a heuristic model to break out of the misleading dichotomy between structuralist and actionist class approaches. A transformational class approach starts from a position beyond this controversy between structure and action-oriented approaches. The transformational model is based on the following thesis: class action is structured by class relations and class structures are generated, reproduced and transformed by class action. The object of a transformational approach is neither ‘class structure’ nor ‘class action’, but class specific structuration of action. So the central theme will be the analysis of the ‘structuration of class action’.

My heuristic model emphasizes the multiple character of this structuration of class action. I contend that there are at least five levels on which class action is structured. Class action is primarily structured by the inequalities and differences of (i) objective class positions and of (ii) social classes and class communities. It is also structured by inequalities and differences of (iii) specific habitus and lifestyles, and by (iv) types of action motivation and degrees of class awareness and class consciousness. Finally, class action is structured by (v) a series of specific conditions for the development of class consciousness and political class action, like specific forms of law and state.

I also contend that we need an heuristic model which can distinguish the levels on which class action is integrated. I have built upon a distinction between societal, organizational and interactional levels of integration. The transformational class model is constructed along the combined lines of these levels of structuration and integration.


VI. Labour Relations and Modes of Labour

The central thesis of this chapter is that class relations are primarily anchored in exploitative labour relations on the societal level. To substantiate this claim the basic concepts of ‘labour’, ‘labour relations’ and ‘mode of labour’ (and not ‘mode of production’) will be defined. ‘Mode of labor’ will be defined as a specific combination of
  1. a specific distribution of control over three types of direct resourses: material conditions, objects and means of labor; individual qualifications; forms of co-operation, combination and leadership.

  2. a specific dominant goal of labor: aimed as use value, exchange value, maximum exchange value, or capital accumulation; and

  3. a specific type of social dominance and subordination relations within and in relation to labor organizations.
With these conceptual tools I concentrate on two of the most controversial modes of labour: the domestic and the ‘petty commodity’ mode of labour. The explanation of these modes of labour contributes to the solution of some of the most tricky puzzles in class analysis.

We’ll get a pretty good idea why conceptions that define class in terms of labor or production processes (both in marxist as in non-marxist approaches) or in terms of occupations (in occupational sociology tradition) do not work. But we also get a clear sight on the weaknesses of synthetical conceptions in which the concept is stretched to the extreme of a broad mode of production (Poulantzas) or of the system of social inequalities in general (Bourdieu).


VII. Labour Relations and Market Relations: Credential Exploitation

The central thesis of this chapter is that classes are structurally defined in terms of positions in both labour relations and distribution relations. This thesis implies a demarcation from ‘productivist’ class concepts (which concentrate exclusively on labour or production relations) and from ‘distributive’ class concepts (which focus on distribution or market relations).

To substantiate this thesis the key conception of exploitation is explained. I have tried to elaborate a general concept of exploitation which holds independently from Marxist labour theory of value. This general concept gets some flesh and bones with the specification of the various mechanisms and (direct and indirect) forms of exploitation. These specifications serve as a prelude to the construction of a theoretically sustained and empirically informed typology of exploitation positions, which must not be identified with class positions.

I have tried to show the usefulness of this approach in a detailed analysis of a form of exploitation which has, up to now, been relatively underexposed: credential exploitation. The primary target was to get a sharp conception of credential exploitation. In a brief discussion on the principal differences between qualification and credentials I first specify the basis of credential exploitation. Then the mechanism of credential exploitation is explored as well as the possibilities to reproduce this form of exploitation (how to accumulate ‘credential rents’?). Finally, I designate the conditions under which credential exploitation can constitute distinct and durable class positions. This conception of credential exploitation is used to analyze the intermediate class positions of professionals and experts in advanced capitalism. I have shown the possibilities (and problems!) of this concept of credential exploitation for an empirical analysis of these class categories. Particularly in this chapter, the work of Erik Olin Wright is discussed: a critical tribute to a man which has produced so many stimulating contributions to modern class analysis.


VIII. Classes and Domination Relations: Organizational Exploitation

The central thesis of this chapter is that the analysis of exploitative class relations cannot be confined to the societal level. Class relations must be analysed on the organizational level as well. The reason is that under certain conditions exploitative class relations are generated on the organizational level of integration. Superior positions within the formal structures of labour organizations are not as such class positions. Under certain conditions however these ‘elite positions’ allow their incumbents to exploit their subordinates to a non-trivial degree and on a durable basis. Whenever this is the case, these superior organizational positions can and should be treated as class positions. To tackle this phenomenon, I elaborate on the different types of asymmetrical power relations, and especially, on the connection between relations of exploitation and domination.

Figure 10 Fundamental types of positional inequality

The centre piece of this chapter is the analysis of another controversial form of exploitation: organizational exploitation. The same approach as in the previous chapter is followed. First, a general exploration of the basis, the mechanism and the chances of reproduction of organizational exploitation (how to accumulate ‘loyalty rents’?); next an analysis of the conditions under which organizational exploitation can lead to genuine class positions. The general concept of organizational exploitation is used in an illustrative analysis of the intermediate class positions of managers in capitalism.


IX. Classes and Interactional Relations: Clientele Exploitation

The central thesis of this chapter is that under certain conditions exclusive positions in networks of interaction can constitute structural positions of exploitation, and can therefore be treated as potential class positions. Building upon anthropological and sociological network theories two types of exclusive positions in interactional or interpersonal networks are analyzed: selective associations and patronage. Patronage is a specific kind of network of social relations between individuals or groups who control substantial unequal resources: the ‘clients’ are more or less forced to render ‘personal services’ and to pay a ‘patronage rent’ (protection premium) to get access to resources which are vital for them, and the patron or boss who controls these resources and will give his clients ‘personal favours’ in return.

This is the point of reference for a discussion of the clientele form of exploitation. A now familiar approach will be followed: first an exploration of the bases, mechanisms and reproduction chances of the clientele form of exploitation, next an exploration of the possibilities of the development of distinct exploitation and class positions. In the last part of this chapter I explore another form of exploitation which can occur in all societies in which discriminating prestige relations are institutionalized. This form of ‘ascriptive exploitation’ is illustrated by the operation of ‘sexploitation’, that is exploitation of woman by man on the basis of a dominant positive social prestige of man.


X. Exploitation Positions, Class Positions, and Class Structure

The central thesis of this chapter is that we have to make a clear distinction between exploitation positions (structural positions in exploitative relations) and class positions (structural positions in class relations). The failure to make this distinction is one of the greatest weaknesses of all modern class theories. Class positions are always embedded in exploitative relations, but not all positions in exploitative relations will generate distinct and stable class positions. The concept of «class position» is further developed in five steps. I istinguish (i) main and intermediate class positions; (ii) durable and temporary class positions; (iii) primary and derived class positions; (iv) singular and multiple class positions; (v) direct and mediated class positions. To illustrate some of these distinctions I analyse the class position of the independent or traditional middle classes.


Part 3 Structuration of class action: from Class Position to Political Actors

The processes which are responsible for the origin and development of organized political actors and class actions are analyzed in several steps, following the sequence of levels of structuration of my heuristic model.


XI. From Class Positions to Social Classes

The genesis of social classes (‘potential action collectives’) is analyzed starting from the structural chances for people to change class positions (‘obstructed mobility chances’). The central thesis is that the durability of the connection of individuals to a class position is crucial for the genesis of social classes and for elementary forms of social organization (‘the social fabric’) which are expressed in networks of class specific interpersonal relations (‘class communities)’. After an elaboration of the significance of class communities, some synthetic conclusions are drawn about structuration levels of objective class situations. The remaining part of this chapter is devoted to the problematic relation between classes, class factions and social strata.


XII. Class specific forms of Habitus and Lifestyles

This chapter concentrates on the mediating function that habitus fulfils between objective class positions and the social consciousness and political actions of individuals. The central thesis is that class structure and class based forms of social organization are the ground on which relatively coherent, class specific forms of habitus and lifestyles and life expectations may arise, which in their turn have a strong impact on class identities and political class actions. With critical reference to the work of Pierre Bourdieu the concept of «class habitus» will be specified.

Five dimensions of habitus are spelled out and illustrated: the somatic, psychic, esthetic, normative and linguistic forms of habitus. A more extensive analysis is made of the general and class specific properties of the physical habitus (‘body language’).

The elaborations on habitus make up the context for a short exploration of the social and cultural «lifestyles» and of class specific or class related «cultures».


XIII. Types of Orientation and Class Consciousness

The central thesis of this chapter is that collective actors on a class basis can emerge only when the members of a social class develop their own class specific habitus, lifestyles and cultures, as well as a class identity, a class awareness or consciousness. I analyze different types of orientation and motivation which are relevant for the structuration of class consciousness and class action.

Figure 11 Orientations of social action - types of class consciousness and of class action

The proposition is that affectional, traditional, normative and strategic orientations and motivations are all relevant for an analysis of class consciousness. Class consciousness must not be reduced to one of these aspects. In search for a comprehensive, differentiated and empirically useful concept of class consciousness I discuss the contributions of Lukács, Thompson and Wright. I conclude this chapter with some remarks about the degrees of class awareness and types of class consciousness.


XIV. Class Interests and Class Action

The strategic dimension of class specific orientations and motivations will be separately dealt with in this chapter. First, I delineate the concepts of ‘interest’ and ‘class interest’. One of the main targets will be to avoid the utilitarian bias (i.e. the reduction of interest to ‘material’ or ‘monetary’ interests). This bias has plagued both Marxist and sociological analysis for such a long time. One of the main and long-standing questions was whether it is possible to speak about ‘objective class interest’ in a rational and non-paternalistic manner (the answer will be affirmative). A typology of class interests will be constructed and illustrated.


XV. Social Classes and Political Class Action

This chapter deals with the relationship between social classes and political class action. I specify the conditions under which political class action and social class movements can develop. The central thesis is that political class action and social class movements may (but not necessarily do) emerge when the members of a social class are able to articulate their common interests and aspirations, and to organize and mobilize their fellow members. I argue that classes don’t act: social classes as such are no big sized subjects with a will of their own and with a capacity for political action. I make some short remarks about the processes of articulation, organization and mobilization, the external conditions of political class action, strategic interactions between class-related political actors and the dynamics of class conflict. I expand on the role of utopian ideas and attitudes in class movements. With this chapter we’ve made the last step on the long way of unraveling the levels of structuration of class action. The most important concepts which were developed during this journey are summarized in a synthetic figure.


XVI. Reproduction and Transformation of Class Structures

The central thesis of this chapter is that class structures are constituted by social action, but also reproduced and transformed by social action. I summarize six mechanisms of action coordination that contribute to the social and temporal stabilization and/or guarantee of class structures: customs and morals; solidarity; interests; conventions, law and violence; and legitimacy. I demonstrate that all these reproductive mechanism also can lead, under certain conditions, to the destabilization and/or transformation of class structures.


Part 4 Transformational Class Analysis in Progress

In the fourth and last part of the book I discuss the transformational class analysis in development. Although this is a rather long book, the transformational class analysis is still an unfinished project.

XVII. An Unfinished Project

The last chapter deals with some problems which seem to be decisive for the future of this project. We’ve seen that the cornerstone of the heuristic model is the analysis of the levels of structuration and integration of class action. The problem is not only how to differentiate these levels, but of course also how their connections and intersections can be analyzed.

In the analysis of the levels of structuration I have assumed that the system structure (i.e. the structure of exploitative labour relations) structures both the positional structure (i.e. the structure of class positions) and the group structure (i.e. the social class structure).

I also assumed that the objective class position not only structures social classes, habitus and lifestyles, and the types and degrees of class consciousness, but also the conditions of class actions and the forms of class action.

The levels of structuration of class action that were described in the previous chapters are summarized in a little bit more complex figure. To keep the figure surveyable the graphic indications of all possible retroactive effects and interactions have been omitted. For the specification of the modes of structuraten it is therefore still a very rude model, which contains only some (mostly simple) causal relations between a limited number of basic concepts.

Figure 4 Levels of Structuration of Class Action

A reflection on the modes of structuration (i.e. ways to think about complex structural causality) demonstrates that we still operate with rather primitive structuration modes and that much more work has to be done.

A reflection on the relations between class theory and empirical/historical research shows how difficult it can be to navigate between the Scylla of (structural) theoreticism and the Charybdis of (sociological or historical) empiricism.
A final reflection on the problematic relation between class analysis and political strategy shows that it ain’t so easy to avoid instrumental and scientistic approaches. But we do gain some idea of the conditions and possibilities of a self reflexive class analysis.


Home Sociologists Subject Areas Resources on Class Contact

dr. Albert Benschop
Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences
Sociology & Anthropology University of Amsterdam
Published: March, 2010
Last modified: 13 September, 2013