REPRESENTATION AND ISSUES OF CLASS

 

A study of 'class' issues will focus on the concept that class positioning is one of the elements in the construction of personal and social identity. Marxism has traditionally allowed us to understand class positioning. It contends that social reality is made up of an historical struggle between antagonistic social classes, determined through the type of production in which they engage. Other theories have added to our understanding and students are best advised to consider 'class' as a means through which a society differentiates between groups of people on the basis of wealth and the means by which it is gained. An identifiable set of political and social beliefs has traditionally been associated with each social class. Other factors used to identify class groups may include educational and/or professional status, ancestry, language and domicile location.

 

Of central significance to this analytical focus is the understanding of:

 

*    class as a conduit of power (or lack of it) - and class relations as power relations within any society

Class is determined by the application of a set of historical, social and cultural values, which enable groups within a society to be labelled. It is a form of social organisation as well as description . Stratification ensures that some are more powerful and better rewarded by their society than others. Marxism contends that people who control the resources that others value, or control instrumentalities of power such as the police and press, become those with most influence and power and are most rewarded in income and status. Class relations are therefore always oppositional in nature.

 

*    class as a construction of social identity through the ascription of roles which are assigned value by the society in which they operate.

Social life and identity are determined by the cultural codes or meaning system operating within a given society. Readers may challenge the validity of the representation of a particular class group. They may explore the reading/interpretation which is being 'normalised' or naturalised by a particular representation. They could examine whose interests are most served by such constructions and how class defines or limits social behaviour.

 

*    assumptions about class which a textual representation may be seen to support or challenge

A writer may 'take for granted' aspects of character or setting or events which are culturally associated with class. In the process of exploring the gaps and silences in a text, students may see that the reader often accepts the implied 'truth' (what is naturalised) in a representation, because they share the same cultural meaning system.

 

*    the ownership of literature traditionally being claimed by an elite class - in this sense its role has been to maintain a system which has served certain interests over others.

The writing and publishing of literature and further its elevation into a literary canon, has traditionally been the province of the most literate and powerful in society. Historically, the most literate were those of a privileged class and it was in the interest of this class to control through language and modes of communication, the cultural meaning system. Marxism challenges the notion that literature and 'culture' are the social property of the elite. The concept of literature now embraces wide forms of discourse. Students could explore the ways in which a traditional literary canon might be seen to perpetuate attitudes and values toward class groups and the way this supports certain class interests.