images of society

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In the Sociological Review for 1966, the British sociologist David Lockwood published an article on ‘Sources of Variation in Working-Class Images of Society’, in which he drew together the findings from a range of existing studies of social imagery, voting behaviour, industrial sociology, and community life. From these, Lockwood derived an influential typology of the ‘world-views’ or ‘social consciousness’ of manual workers, distinguishing between the ‘traditional proletarian’, ‘deferential traditionalist’, and ‘privatized instrumentalist’ types.

The first of these is associated with mining, shipbuilding, or some similar such industry which typically gathers its labour-force into solidary communities, relatively isolated from the wider society. These workers tend therefore to be members of ‘occupational communities’: that is, social networks which are characterized by a high degree of job satisfaction among those involved, who also share strong attachments to primary work groups, and are committed to workplace relationships which carry over into the sphere of leisure. These sorts of manual workers reside in ‘traditional working-class communities’, comprising closely knit cliques of workmates who are also friends, neighbours, and relatives. Their circumstances are said to promote mutual aid, sociability, cohesion, and collectivism. Finally, they display a proletarian consciousness rooted in a power-based image of society, which makes a simple distinction between ‘us’ and ‘them’.

Deferential traditionalists, by comparison, proffer a prestige or hierarchical model of society in which people are ranked according to status. Characteristically, these sorts of manual workers defer to their ‘betters’ (status superiors) both socially and politically, for example by voting for traditional right-wing parties on the grounds that the established elites in society can be trusted to pursue national as grounds that the established elites in society can be trusted to pursue national as opposed to sectional or class interests. According to Lockwood, this world-view is common among employees in small-scale family enterprises, or in work situations where paternalistic forms of industrial authority are prevalent, as for example among farm labourers. Typically, such workers live in small communities comprising a ‘local status system’, in which people tend to accord to individuals a position as individuals, within a localized hierarchy of prestige within which ‘everyone knows his or her place’.

Finally, there are privatized instrumentalists who have a predominantly monetary orientation to work and a home-centred and family-centred (privatized) suburban life-style, which together foster a pecuniary image of society in which class divisions are seen principally in terms of income and material possessions. These workers are attracted to jobs mainly for extrinsic (economic) reasons, are rarely members of solidary work-groups, and only infrequently socialize with their workmates. Their attachments to trade unions and left-wing political parties are less solidaristic and more instrumental (calculating) than those of the traditional proletarians, since they are ‘devoid of all sense of participation in a class movement seeking structural changes in society’, and conditional instead upon the ability of the workers' organizations and parties to improve their material circumstances (a type of sectional militancy which Lockwood termed ‘instrumental collectivism’).

Lockwood was ambivalent about the status of his argument, since he claimed both that it presented a series of ideal types which were sociological rather than historical concepts, but also that the image of society propounded by privatized instrumentalists of the age of post-war affluence was ‘prototypical’ of manual workers in general, in that the pecuniary world-view was rapidly replacing those of the traditional proletarians and deferential traditionalists of an earlier era. Nevertheless, both his typology and the highly original synthesis of many of the themes of post-war British sociology on which it rested acted as benchmarks for innumerable studies of British working-class life for more than a decade, and Lockwood's analysis continues to influence researchers on both sides of the Atlantic even today. See also deference; embourgeoisement; work, subjective experience of.


Subjects: Sociology.

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