Visions of England: Class and Culture in Contemporary Cinema

Visions of England: Class and Culture in Contemporary Cinema

Visions of England: Class and Culture in Contemporary Cinema

Visions of England: Class and Culture in Contemporary Cinema

Excerpt

There is no universally agreed answer to the question - 'what is class?' However, we can, with some confidence, outline the theoretical crux of all thinking about class. As Wood puts it: 'There are really only two ways of thinking theoretically about class: either as a structural location or as a social relation'. In broad terms, the model of class that will be used throughout this study is one which rejects the 'structural location' model with its Weberian emphases, in favour of a 'social relation' model associated with Marxism and historical materialism. In the former class is imagined in terms of social layers, strata, identities and groupings. This is what Wood calls the dominant 'geological' conception of class. In the social relation model, class is understood as the force or relationship which shapes such identities and groupings. As Mike Wayne puts it in arguing for the priority of the historical materialist conception of class: 'Questions about the occupational or educational background [i.e. structural conceptions] of people do not begin to address how class is shaping these social phenomena'.

To paraphrase Wood's account of this historical materialist approach to class, the shaping force or relationship referred to by Wayne is that which obtains between appropriators (the capitalist class) and producers (the working class) within the capitalist mode of production. This relationship is exploitative because it obliges those who own nothing but their own labour power to sell it to those who dominate the capitalist marketplace through their ownership of the means of production. Or, to put it crudely, those who own the means by which life and livelihood can be secured enrich themselves at the expense of those whose socially essential labour sustains the system. Because this relationship is exploitative it necessarily induces contradictions, antagonisms and conflicts which cannot be contained in some restricted 'economic' realm and which spread ever outwards, affecting, in various subtle and not so subtle ways, all aspects of social life.

Despite the clarity of this conceptual opposition between class understood as a location and class understood as a determining relation, there remains a tension which confuses things - a tension well described in Raymond Williams's analysis of the everyday vocabulary of class:

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