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Beck, individualization and the death of class: a critique

The British Journal of Sociology
Volume 58 No 3 September 2007
Pages 349-366


Ulrich Beck has argued that the changing logic of distribution and, more importantly, the'individualization' of social processes in reflexive modernity have killed off the concept of social class and rendered the analysis of its effects a flawed endeavour. The present paper takes issue with this perspective by exposing its key weaknesses, namely its ambivalence and contradiction over what exactly constitutes individualization and the extent to which it has really displaced class, its inconsistent and caricaturized description of what actually constitutes class, its erroneous and unsatisfactory depiction of class analysis, and its self-defeating reasoning on the motors of individualization. The intention is not to conservatively deny that social change is occurring nor to advocate any particular model of class, but only to illustrate the aporias of Beck's position with the aim of vindicating the enterprise of class analysis.

Keywords: Beck; class; individualization; reflexive modernity

Will Atkinson
Department of Sociology, University of Bristol

To access the full article please go to: http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1468-4446.2007.00155.x|