A statement on future research from The Great British Class Survey

The publication of our paper ‘A new model of class? Findings from the BBC’s Great British Class Survey experiment’ in Sociology in April 2013, allied with a simultaneous press campaign led initially by the BBC has led to unprecedented interest in the nature and significance of social class in Britain. This reception of our work has been remarkably wide ranging, straddling academic disciplines, and a great variety of non-academic groups. We would like to thank the numerous people who have contacted us with their thoughts, written blogs, and more generally commented on our study. Some of the reception has been critical and has posed challenging questions about our purpose, methodology and data. We are pleased to have inspired such an engaged reception, and are aware that we need to respond to the criticisms and comments made. Furthermore, given the extent of public interest in this project, we feel responsible for explaining how we will be developing our research in the coming period. This note briefly spells out our plans.

1. We are working with the UK Data Archive to archive the GBBC and GfK data so that it can be used by other researchers. This process is time consuming in part because the original sample of 161,400 has been increased by a further 200,000 cases since we were given our working data set in summer 2011. We are currently downloading the new cases, and will carry out exploratory analyses on these whilst also working to archive the complete data set, hopefully by spring 2014. A public seminar is being organised to coincide with the release of this data set which anyone who might be interested in using this data is welcome to attend. A further feature of this archiving is that the BBC will be depositing all their Lab UK experiments at UKDA and since significant numbers of respondents conducted more than one experiment, there is the prospect of innovative data linkage which might interest researchers with interests other than social class.

2. We are currently preparing a paper which will respond to the various criticisms which have been made of our paper in Sociology in the context of elaborating our arguments about social class more broadly. We see this as the most effective way of responding to our critics as it will allow us to systematically pull out our claims and rationale in the context of reasoned article. We therefore ask our critics to be patient. We plan to submit this paper to Sociology. If it is not accepted for publication then we will seek alternative means of publication, perhaps in extended blog format.

3. We have developed a new research network, Culture and Stratification network convened by Sam Friedman (City), Laurie Hanquinet (York), Andrew Miles (Manchester) and Mike Savage (LSE). This is specifically designed to link different universities and encourage debate around broad concerns with the intersection between culture and social stratification. This includes a blogsite https://stratificationandculture.wordpress.com/ which interested parties may wish to consult. It includes some discussion on the debate on the GBCS. We are keen to encourage postings on this site from outside the core team.

4. We are in the process of signing a contract with Penguin to write a popular and accessible – though also serious and critical – book with the provisional title ‘Social Class in Britain Today’, using the GBCS but also other sources. We are delighted to be able to build on the popular interest in the study through a Penguin publication, and are hoping to complete this book by autumn 2014.

5. Since the value of the GBCS extends well beyond our analysis of the seven classes in our paper in Sociology, we are also working on a series of articles for a special issue of Sociological Review which showcases their research potential especially for exploring power and privilege.

6. Finally, we are involved in developing research networks where further research from the GBCS is showcased, and anyone interested is encouraged to attend. These notably include the Culture and Stratification network and the ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC) whose theme on ‘Trajectories of Participation and Inequality’ will hold workshops on linked topics over the coming year. We are also extensively committed to a series of talks and seminars over the coming year, notably an event at Manchester as part of the ESRC Social Science Week on November 8th.

We hope this note will be useful in making it clear how we will be building on our work on the GBCS in the coming period.

4 responses to “A statement on future research from The Great British Class Survey”

  1. Colin Mills says :

    We along with many others that have been critical of the scientific output from the Great British Class Survey read with interest the plans that Professor Savage outlines for the future of the project. We have no particular comments on the substance of these except with regard to one issue – the dissemination of the raw survey data. We have two questions for him. Both are straightforward and providing the answers is unlikely to distract the team’s attention from the weighty tasks that lie ahead of them.

    We understand the reasons why the GBCS internet survey data are not yet in the public domain and appreciate that a serious effort will be made to deposit it in the UK Data Archive. However, we do not understand why the GfK quota sample data are not yet disseminated. It is hard to imagine any serious technical problems that would delay the deposit of such a small data-set and though, in due course, many of those interested in the work of the GBCS team will want to examine the internet survey data, they would be satisfied for the moment with access to the GfK data. Almost all the claims of substantive sociological importance made in the Savage et al. (2013) paper are entirely dependent on statistical analysis of the quota sample data not the internet survey data, yet, so far, the scholarly community has been unable to properly scrutinize these claims and has been forced to base its evaluation of the science on the rather scanty information that the GBCS team have chosen to disclose, for example with respect to the process of model screening and selection. In the light of this, our first question is why, given the apparent lack of any technical impediments to dissemination, the GfK quota sample data are not yet in the public domain?

    While the scientific community waits for the release of the raw data it should be possible to place in the public domain more information about the GfK quota sample. In our experience a reputable market and social research company like GfK as a routine part of their service normally provide their client with a detailed technical report on the data they collect. Typically this will include information on the sampling procedure, quota controls, mode of administration, weighting, response rate, questionnaire protocol, item non-response and sometimes even frequency counts for the individual questions. The GBCS team must be in possession of this information and placing it in the public domain would go some way to facilitating the proper scientific evaluation of their claims prior to the full release of the data. Our second question is then, why has this information not, so far, been released?

    In alphabetical order

    John Goldthorpe, Emeritus Fellow, Nuffield College;
    Eric Harrison, Senior Research Fellow, City University;
    Colin Mills, Reader in Sociology, University of Oxford;
    David Rose, Emeritus Professor, University of Essex.

    • masavage2013 says :

      I would like to thank John Goldthorpe, Eric Harrison, Colin Mills, and David Rose for their continued interest in our paper in ‘Sociology’. Their comment argues that the GfK data should be released ahead of the GBCS along with technical information we have on the GfK survey.

      On the first point, since the GfK as well as the GBCS was commissioned by the BBC, and since this project has become part of a wider archiving of BBC LabUK data in the UKDA, we need to respect the BBC’s timetable for the archiving of the data. The BBC has made clear to us their policy of simultaneous release of both GBCS and GfK data. In any case, the issues involved in depositing the data are not only technical but also involve reaching legal agreements and the BBC are not in a position to make the GfK survey data publically available at the present time.

      On the second point, GfK did not provide the BBC with a technical report of the kind suggested by Goldthorpe et al. There have been discussions between the BBC and GfK, and between ourselves and GfK, to gather retrospective information on the conduct of this survey. These discussions will inform our response to critics, which will also include further information on the GfK sample as well as additional material on the latent class analysis which was used in our paper in Sociology.

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