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New Class Distinctions?

by 'The Week' magazine – 5th April 2013
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The BBC has been in the news lately, as a result of publishing some new ideas about class identity in modern Britain.

According to the BBC's online report, based on a survey of more than 161,000 people conducted by the BBC, the traditional three-tier British class system is out of date. Instead of upper, middle and lower classes the UK now has a total of seven social classes ranging from the 'elites' to the 'precarious proletariats'.

Other unfamiliar labels included in the new social order are 'Technical Middle Class', 'New Affluent Workers' and 'Emergent Service Workers'.

The new class system was devised by Manchester University's Professor Fiona Devine and London School of Economics' Professor Mike Savage. They based it on the findings of the Great British Class Survey – the largest ever study of its kind. A shorter version of the original 20-minute survey can be taken by Britons on BBC News' website.

The new system was greeted with scepticism by social media users, who pointed out the short version of the quiz could be easily manipulated to get wildly different results. One privately-educated Twitter user deemed to be 'traditional working class' wrote "perhaps I should ask for my public school fees back?".

Its methodology was also mocked by Mumsnetters with user 'eatyourveg' (who was deemed to be part of the 'established middle class') remarking: "Quite how they determine class by asking if you use Twitter/Facebook or know a scientist, nurse secretary or cleaner is rather dodgy if you ask me".

Satirical website the Daily Mash also had a few laughs at the expense of the new class system, joking that it had been "greeted with a sigh of relief from a nation of people too lazy to have individual characteristics". They 'quoted' salesman Tom Booker saying: "Far from being an archaic load of cack, the class system is a handy ready-reckoner for how to behave. As a 'new affluent worker' I understand now that I must drive a stupid little Mini car, own at least six cook books and do cocaine every other weekend."

As The Guardian points out, it isn't surprising the study has attracted some consternation: nothing obsesses the British as much as class. But Professors Savage and Devine defended the study, saying traditional class definitions only applied to 39 per cent of the respondents to their January 2011 survey. "We devised a new way of measuring class, which doesn't define class just by the job that you do, but by the different kinds of economic, cultural and social resources or 'capitals' that people possess", they said.

Britain's new social order:

  • Elite – High level of all three capitals, economic, cultural and social
  • Established middle class – High levels of all three capitals but less privileged than the elite
  • Technical middle class – High economic capital but less cultural capital
  • New affluent workers – High levels of cultural and social capital but medium economic capital
  • Emergent service workers – New class with low economic capital but high levels of cultural and social capital.
  • Traditional working class – Low on all three capitals, but not the poorest
  • Precariat – The poorest, low on all three forms of capital

The BBC has published an online tool for those who wish to assess their own class identity against this new framework. As mentioned above, its rather too easy to 'fiddle' the results to suit your own desired outcomes, but it may provide you with some food for thought. Whether that food equates to lobster or a take-away pizza is for you to decide!

Here's the link

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