Man, Work, and Society: A Reader in the Sociology of Occupations

By Sigmund Nosow; William H. Form | Go to book overview

3. POLITICAL IDENTIFICATIONS OF OCCUPATIONAL STRATA · Oscar Glantz

Is a class a class because "thinking makes it so," or is a class a class purely on objective grounds? If the first view is correct, it must be extended logically to include the proposition that class consciousness is necessarily antecedent to the existence of classes,1 and this proposition in turn carries with it the notion that an individual's subjective self-placement is the determinant of his class position. Thus, sociologists who hold this view may entertain such images as "business-class" assembly-line workers and "laboring-class" corporation executives, both of which are encountered in field surveys which depend upon a subjective conceptualization of classes.2

To the writer, the subjective approach is a form of solipsism in which objective conditions are either neglected or negated.3 The view he holds is that the existence of an objective class is one of the prior conditions to class consciousness. Accordingly, a class is not the product of its consciousness, but develops into a self-conscious class when its members become aware of their objective conditions. From this viewpoint, when an assembly-line worker, say, claims allegiance to the business class, he is not therefore a member of that class. Such claims may have their place in social reality, but we would do well to view them as examples of false consciousness. Following Durkheim, an individual can never recruit himself into a class by psychological invention.4

This is not to say that the study of class consciousness should attach any significance to self-identifications which are consistent with objective position, particularly if such identifications are responses to a forced-choice question.5 If class consciousness is supposed to mean more than a simple awareness of economic position, one should expect this awareness to be accompanied by class-related politico-economic values.6 Indeed, it would appear that class consciousness can emerge only when an individual is aware of his politico-economic interests, and in such a way that he recognizes his unity with others and the general nature of class opposition.7

Class consciousness, so constructed, can be observed when an individual responds to appropriate politico-economic situations, stories, or statements by accepting the values of his own class and rejecting the values of an antagonistic class,8 particularly if he claims initially (even in reply to a forced-choice question) that he owes his allegiance to his occupational fellows. In the research reported in this paper, an approach of this sort was used.

In addition to the related problems of the meaning and measurement of class consciousness, there is the question of whether "class-conscious" individuals in a given in-group are motivated similarly in responding to

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