SO481      Half Unit
Class, Politics and Culture

This information is for the 2015/16 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Daniel Laurison STC S211


This course is available on the MSc in Culture and Society, MSc in Inequalities and Social Science, MSc in Political Sociology, MSc in Sociology, MSc in Sociology (Contemporary Social Thought) and MSc in Sociology (Research). This course is not available as an outside option.

Course content

The course will begin by introducing traditional theories of social class and stratification before going on to examine the history and political significance of class in Britain, and how this compares with other countries throughout the world. It will then look at the place of class in a contemporary political context, critically examining the claim made by some ‘postmodern’ writers, and prominent politicians, that class boundaries have been irrevocably eroded. The course will then move on to look at the seminal work of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu and his supposition that class boundaries are most clearly discernible from examining people’s cultural taste, with the privileged using their preferences for ‘highbrow’ culture as a means of expressing their superiority over the working classes, who tend to prefer more ‘lowbrow’ culture. We interrogate how these arguments relate today, where the lines between high and low culture are increasingly blurred, where strong cross-cultural differences persist between Europe and the U.S, and where new taste distinctions exist even in traditionally lowbrow art forms, such as comedy and pop music. We then take a more detailed look at class-based boundaries in taste and lifestyle. In particular, we focus on the way in which the middle classes demonise sections of the working class based on what they consider to be ‘pathological’ consumption choices – focusing in particular on the ‘Chav’ phenomenon in Britain. We go on to explore both the meaning and consequences of such overt class prejudice, both in Britain but also using research from the U.S, the Netherlands and other international contexts. Finally, the module will ask to what extent class boundaries are malleable? How easy is it for people to escape their backgrounds and move upward or downward in social space? This final section of the course thus looks at contemporary patterns of social mobility, examining the social benefits and challenges that mobility implies, increasing closure within global elites, and the rise of the middle classes in developing countries like China, Brazil and South Africa.


10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of seminars in the LT. 1 hour of lectures and 1 hour of seminars in the ST.

Reading week: week 6.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the LT.

Indicative reading

Alexander, P. (2013) Class in Soweto. Johannesburg: KZE Press.

Bourdieu, P. (1984) Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste, Routledge: London.       

Crompton, R. (2008) Class and Stratification (Third Issue) Polity Press: Cambridge.

Bennett, T., Savage, M., Silva, E., Warde, A., Gayo-Cal, M., Wright, D. (2009). Class, Culture, Distinction. London, Routledge.

Skeggs, B. (2004) Class, Self, Culture, London and New York: Routledge.

Bennett, T., Frow, J. and Emmison, M. (1999) Accounting for Tastes: Australian Everyday Cultures, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Atkinson W (2009) Class, Individualisation and Late Modernity: In Search of the Reflexive Worker. London: Palgrave.

Lamont, M. (1992) Money, Morals, Manners: The Culture of the French and American Upper-Middle Class. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Sayer, A. (2005) The Moral Significance of Class, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Friedman, S. (2014) Comedy and Distinction: The Cultural Currency of a 'Good' Sense of Humour. Routledge. London.

David Grusky (ed), Social Stratification: Class, Race and Gender in Sociological Perspective.  Boulder, CO. Westview Press.


Essay (100%, 5000 words) in the ST.

Two hard copies of the assessed essay with submission sheets on each, to be handed in to the Administration Office, S116, no later than 16:30 on the second Thursday of Summer Term. An additional copy to be uploaded to Moodle no later than 18:00 on the same day.

Key facts

Department: Sociology

Total students 2014/15: 28

Average class size 2014/15: 14

Controlled access 2014/15: Yes

Lecture capture used 2014/15: Yes (LT)

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Communication