AS IF we hadn't got enough labels in the world, thanks to the
BBC and some sociology professors, we discovered recently that we
had seven more.
Instead of the traditional three classes in Britain - upper,
middle, and lower - we now have seven, apparently. At the top are
the Elite - six per cent of the nation, with savings of more than
£140,000; at the bottom, the Precariat - the precarious and the
proletariat, who comprise 15 per cent of the population and earn
about £8000 p.a. after tax.
In between these two are the forgettably-named Established
middle-classes, (the largest class - 25 per cent of the
population); Technical middle-classes, New affluent workers,
Traditional working class, and Emergent service workers.
Economic, social, and cultural considerations all play a part in
discerning your class in the world. The BBC-sponsored report,
produced with the help of academics from six universities, follows
the lead of the French philosopher Pierre Bourdieu, who said that
class depends on culture, taste, and whom you mix with, as well as
the kind of job you have.
It is also about whether you like jazz, classical music, and
Shakespeare, which are termed "highbrow culture"; or sport, going
to the gym, and social media, which are termed "emerging
And then, on the morning the report was published, a presenter
asked one of its creators this bombshell question: "Why is this
interesting?" And, cards on the table, I was wondering the same. As
the social commentator Jill Kirby reflected: "This survey has kept
sociologists busy, but it is a doubtful use of BBC resources. It
does show how difficult it is to categorise people." And
The Daily Telegraph reports that just over 50 per
cent of those who had done the test online disagreed with the
In response to the presenter's question, the Professor spoke
about its presenting a "more sophisticated, nuanced picture of what
class is like now". Maybe. But when it comes to class, are seven
labels really more holy than three? Assessing people by their
relationships to the external world is not an exact science. More
interesting would be the following groupings: those who are happy
in their skin, and those who are not.
The class of people who are happy in their skin will be known
for their kindness, openness, courage, objectivity, happiness, and
identity. Those who are not will be known for different behaviours.
A study of those two classes would be interesting.
In the mean time, in the search for identity, we are left with
shallow, news-grabbing frippery, a party game pretending
significance. I am sadly reminded of the old saying: sociology, the
study of those who do not need to be studied by those who do.