Not available in 2021/22
SO481      Half Unit
Class, Politics and Culture

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Sam Friedman STC216


This course is available on the MSc in Culture and Society, MSc in Inequalities and Social Science, MSc in Political Sociology and MSc in Sociology. 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.


This course is delivered through a combination of lectures, online materials and seminars totalling a minimum of 20 hours in LT, with 2 hours in ST.

Reading Weeks: Students on this course will have a reading week in LT Week 6, in line with departmental policy.

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.

An electronic copy of the assessed essay, to be uploaded to Moodle, no later than 4.00pm on the second Thursday of Summer Term.

Attendance at all classes and submission of all set coursework is required.

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Student performance results

(2017/18 - 2019/20 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 20.7
Merit 57.3
Pass 19.5
Fail 2.4

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Sociology

Total students 2020/21: 34

Average class size 2020/21: 18

Controlled access 2020/21: Yes

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

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