SYNOPSIS OF MIKE SAVAGE’S PRESENTATION TO BSA BOURDIEU STUDY GROUP WORKSHOP ON ‘MEASURING SOCIAL CLASS: BOURDIEUSIAN APPROACHES’, BATH, NOVEMBER 15TH 2013.
Mike Savage discussed the ideas behind the BBC’s Great British Class Survey and reported on recent analyses conducted since the publication of the Sociology paper in April 2013. He began by placing this intervention within a longer context of ‘the field analysis of class analysis’ so that the current stakes in its development could more clearly be identified. He noted that over the last thirty years, as class analysis has been seen as dated and old fashioned across the social sciences , so its main defenders – the ‘Nuffield’ paradigm, a version of what Crompton identifies as ‘the employment aggregate approach’ – have succeeded in gaining considerable institutional legitimacy for the measurement of class as a product of occupation and employment. Mike argued that until the past few years there was a stand-off between predominantly quantitative research on large scale national surveys pursued by this group, and the growing interest in Bourdieusian perspectives which tended towards qualitative, historical and theoretical analyses.
Over the past five years, however, this stand-off has ended as Bourdieusian researchers have become more interested in using quantitative analyses, often using Bourdieu’s preferred multiple correspondence methods. This has generated increasing dispute between different camps, and it is this which fed into the intense and often critical reception of the GBCS. Mike recapped on the main arguments in the 2013 paper in Sociology. He discussed the seven classes which had been generated by the latent class analysis of the small national GfK survey and reflected on how these classes need to be seen as the product of underlying capitals. Recognising the challenge posed by the extent of the skew on the web survey, he nonetheless argued that this skew was itself interesting in that it indicates the kind of people who feel motivated to do a 20 minute ‘experiment’ on social class. The geography of such people (strongly oriented towards London and the Home Counties) and towards the well-educated tells a story that it is the advantaged members of society who are more interested in talking about class. Mike also examined how the BBC’s class calculator had been caught up in a politics of satire and ironic pastiche on classifications which itself testified to what the research team had identified as ‘emerging cultural capital’ in their original paper. The recursiveness of the GBCS project – most marked by the fact that an additional 200,000 respondents had done the survey since the release of the story – itself poses telling challenges – but also unprecedented potential – to the research team
Mike then pursued this point by showing how the skew of the sample towards the upper reaches of the class structure could be used to explore the anatomy of the elites in contemporary Britain, even whilst recognising their descriptive and suggestive nature. The GBCS suggests that the small elite class is overwhelmingly a corporate and managerial group, is intrinsically associated with the metropolis of London, has distinctive and exclusive network ties, and is recruited disproportionately from a small number of increasingly elite universities. He discussed how the GBCS might therefore be able to offer valuable resources to explore the anatomy of the British elite.