The American Class Structure

By Joseph A. Kahl | Go to book overview

Introduction

AMONG THE MYRIAD BOOKS on American society, few if any resemble the present one. Professor Kahl's treatment is at once sound and lucid (a rare combination), and his topic is one that has seldom if ever been handled in such a comprehensive and yet empirical manner. The book brings together in a well-organized way the research findings, increasingly numerous in the last thirty years, which have illuminated the American class structure. There is scarcely a topic in social science more deserving of such a synthesis.

That the class structure forms a fundamental feature of any society has often been recognized. Historians of the Middle Ages, for example, whatever their theoretical predilections may be, invariably find it necessary in analyzing Medieval society to deal with the clergy, the nobility, the bourgeoisie, and the peasantry. Students of indigenous India generally make reference to the caste system, just as observers of precommunist China must usually refer to the gentry. As in these societies, so in the United States. To understand ourselves we must be aware of the various strata, of the determinants of membership in these strata, of the motives and attitudes that go with social position and with changes in position. These are realities which affect every aspect of life, and which cannot be understood exclusively in economic or political terms. To look at our system of stratification is to look at ourselves in a way that cuts across the traditional disciplines and brings out new perspectives otherwise missed.

Curiously, however, there has sometimes been a tendency in historical, economic, or political writing to avoid coming to grips directly with class phenomena. It almost seems as if the facts of human inequality are too unpleasant to the social scientist, so that he loses his objectivity or his courage. Even the Marxians, who have used the class struggle tenaciously as their point of departure, have comforted themselves with the thought that inequality could ultimately be eliminated.

Nowhere has this proclivity to evade the subject of class been more apparent than in the United States up to thirty years ago. In part this

-v-

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The American Class Structure
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Introduction v
  • Preface ix
  • Contents xiii
  • Tables xvii
  • Figures xviii
  • I - The Dimensions of Class 1
  • References 16
  • II - Position and Prestige 19
  • Conclusions 47
  • References 49
  • III - Occupational Prestige and Social Change 53
  • Conclusions 85
  • References 87
  • IV - Income, Wealth, and Style of Life 91
  • Conclusions 119
  • References 122
  • V - The Web of Interaction 127
  • Conclusions 153
  • References 154
  • VI - Class Consciousness and Political Ideology 157
  • Conclusions 180
  • References 181
  • VII - Classes as Ideal Types: Emergent Values 184
  • Conclusions 215
  • References 218
  • VIII - Ethnic and Race Barriers 221
  • Conclusions 247
  • References 248
  • IX - Succession and Mobility: the Occupational Base 251
  • Conclusions 271
  • References 272
  • X - Succession and Mobility: Motivation and Education 276
  • Conclusions 293
  • References 294
  • Index 301
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