I am a sociologist of class and inequality, and my research focuses in particular on the cultural dimensions of contemporary class division. I am currently writing a book with Aaron Reeves (under contract with Harvard University Press) exploring how the British elite has changed over the last 120 years. Here we will build on our recent work – examining the propulsive power of Britain’s most elite private schools and the changing nature of elite culture – to provide a radical new understanding the British elite. Bringing together the entire historical database of Who’s Who, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, genealogical records, Probate data, and 100 in-depth interviews, we analyse the 100,000 individuals that have shaped Britain over the last 150 years. The story we uncover looks notably different to prevailing narratives. Certainly, Britain’s upper echelons are no longer a closed shop. But neither are they in terminal decline. We show that while the elite has become both significantly more open, in terms of social origins and schooling, and more diverse, in terms of gender and ethnicity, this progress has now stalled and, in many areas, processes of elite reproduction have been rejuvenated. Indeed we show how wealth and position are increasingly overlapping, suggesting the return of a ruling class who wield both increasing economic and symbolic power. And, significantly, just as this elite pulls away, so it also masters a careful public performance of ‘ordinariness’ to head off public suspicions of snobbishness and self-interest.
Alongside this project I continue to research social mobility into Britain’s higher professional and managerial occupations, building on my book (with Daniel Laurison) The Class Ceiling: Why it Pays to be Privileged. I am now extending this work by looking at how progression within the UK Civil Service is shaped by class background. This project will begin by drawing on new data from the Civil Service People Survey to examine for the first time the class composition of the civil service. It will then look at intersections between the class origins of staff and their grade, region, department, profession, gender and ethnicity. The second stage switches to understand the lived experience of career progression, drawing on 100 interviews across four departments – Treasury, Cabinet Office, Transport and HMRC.
I am on the editorial board of the American Sociological Review, Sociological Forum Cultural Sociology and outside of academia I work as a Commissioner for the UK Government’s Social Mobility Commission.
I am also Director of the MSc in Inequalities and Social Science at LSE's International Inequalities Institute.
You can access my full CV here.
Friedman, S., Laurison, D. (2019) The Class Ceiling: why it pays to be privileged. Policy/University of Chicago
Savage, M., Friedman, S. et al (2015) Social Class in the 21st Century. Penguin: London
Friedman, S. (2014) Comedy and Distinction. Routledge: London
Friedman, S., O’Brien, D., McDonald, I. (2021) ‘Deflecting Privilege: Class Identity and the Intergenerational Self’ Sociology
Friedman, S. and Reeves, A. (2020) ‘From Aristocratic to Ordinary: Shifting Modes of Elite Distinction’ American Sociological Review
Toft, M. and Friedman, S. (2020) ‘Family Wealth and The Class Ceiling: The Propulsive Power of The Bank of Mum and Dad’ Sociology
Reeves, A., Friedman, S., Rahal, C., Flemmen, (2017) 'The Decline and Persistence of the Old Boy: Private Schools and Elite Recruitment 1897-2016', American Sociological Review 82 (6) 1139-1167
Winner of 2018 European Academy of Sociology Best Article Award
Friedman, S., O’Brien, D. (2017) ‘Resistance and resignation: responses to typecasting in British acting’ Cultural Sociology, 11 (3) 359-376.
Oakley, K. O’Brien, D., Friedman, S., Laurison, D. (2017) ‘Cultural Capital: arts graduates, spatial inequality, and the London effect on cultural labour markets’ American Behavioural Scientist 61 (12) 1510-1531
Friedman, S. and Laurison, D. (2017) ‘Mind the Gap: Financial London and Regional Class Pay Gap, British Journal of Sociology 68 (3) 474-511
O’Brien, D., Allen, K., Friedman, S., Saha, A. (2017) ‘Producing and consuming inequality: a cultural sociology of the cultural industries’. Cultural Sociology, 11 (3) 271-282.
Friedman, S., and Macmillan, L. (2017) Is London really the engine-room? Migration, opportunity hoarding and regional social mobility in the UK National Institute Economic Review, 240 (1). R58-R72
Laurison, D. and Friedman, S. (2016) The Class Pay Gap in Higher Professional and Managerial Occupations’ American Sociological Review, 81 (4) 668-695
Winner of 2016 ASA Inequality, Poverty and Mobility Section Best Article Award
Jarness, V. and Friedman, S. (2016) ‘‘I’m not a snob but…’ Class Boundaries and the Downplaying of Difference’, Poetics 61 14-25
Friedman, S., O’Brien, D., Laursion, D. (2016) ‘‘Like skydiving without a parachute’: How Class Origin Shapes Occupational Trajectories in British Acting’, Sociology 51 (5) 992-1010
Friedman, S. (2016) ‘Habitus Clivé and the Emotional Imprint of Social Mobility’, Sociological Review, 64 (1) 129-148
O’Brien, D., Laurison, D., Miles, A., Friedman, S. (2016) ‘Are the Creative Industries Meritocratic? An Analysis of the 2014 UK Labour Force Survey’ Cultural Trends, 25 (2)
Friedman, S. Savage, M. Hanquinet, L., Miles, A. (2015) ‘Cultural Sociology and New Forms of Distinction’, Poetics, 49 (4) 1-22
Friedman, S., Laurison, D., Miles, A. (2015) ‘Breaking the ‘Class’ Ceiling? Upward Mobility into British Elite Occupations’, Sociological Review 63 (2)259-90
Friedman, S. (2014) ‘The Hidden Tastemakers: Comedy Scouts as Cultural Brokers at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe’, Poetics, 42 (2) 22-41
Savage, M., Devine, F. Cunningham, N., Friedman, S. Laurison, D. Miles, A. Snee, H., Taylor, M. (2014) ‘On Social Class, Anno 2014’ Sociology (Special Issue on British Social Class Debate) 48 (3) 1-20
Friedman, S. (2013) ‘The Price of the Ticket: Rethinking the Experience of Social Mobility’ Sociology 48 (2) 352-368
Friedman, S. and Kuipers, G. (2013) The Divisive Power of Humour: Comedy, Taste and Symbolic Boundaries’, Cultural Sociology (Special Issue on Field Analysis), 7 (2) 179-195
Friedman, S. (2012) ‘Cultural Omnivores or Culturally Homeless? Exploring the Shifting Cultural Identities of the Socially Mobile’, Poetics, 40 (3) 467-489
Friedman, S. (2011) ‘The Cultural Currency of a ‘Good’ Sense of Humour: British Comedy and New Forms of Distinction’, British Journal of Sociology, 62: 2 347-370