class culture

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During the 1980s, a number of (mainly American) sociologists and social historians developed the argument that the tradition of studying class consciousness via survey methods inevitably abstracted this phenomenon from social action and the context of class practices, with the result that the continuing salience of social class in American life was systematically underestimated. Using historical, ethnographic, and participant observation techniques, these critics attempted to identify and ground class consciousness in everyday cultural practices, shop-floor collective action, and local forms of social organization. Michael Burawoy's celebrated study of Manufacturing Consent: Changes in the Labor Process under Monopoly Capitalism (1979) is an early example of this genre, which had much in common with the understanding of class to be found in the work of the English historian E. P. Thompson, who viewed class consciousness and class formation as cultural expressions embodied in the development of neighbourhood solidarism, mutual aid societies, social clubs, class-specific forms of leisure, and so forth (see The Making of the English Working Class, 1968). For an overview of this diverse and expanding literature see Rick Fantasia, ‘From Class Consciousness to Culture, Action, and Social Organization’, Annual Review of Sociology (1995).

Subjects: Sociology.

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