What is middle class?

daddek

Well-known member
The English obsession with class is primarily cultural, yes.

one of the most striking things about emigrating from the UK and looking back on British-ness from afar, is how unique our conception of class is, and how we are utterly obsessed by it. it seems almost morbid to me now.

To the rest of the world, as far as I have seen, its more like lower class = haven't got enough; middle class = got an adequate amount; upper class = got too much. Ie, economic strata, whereas our conception is almost like caste.

In american politics - obsessed as it is with racial & sexual identity-politics - middle class is used as unreservedly positive adjective, to describe the aspirational median. In the UK its almost unanimously used as a pejorative.. to us it means snobbishly middle of the road, with orbital suggestions like privileged, shallow, soft, etc. Which makes me wonder about the "is music to M/C" thread.. is it produced by too many economically secure people, or is it's character too middleoftheroad, inauthentic, soft etc. which m/c are we talking about?
 

rubberdingyrapids

Well-known member
to answer the main question -
 

comelately

Wild Horses
The cultural model of class falling by the wayside does very much link back to the 'is music too middle class' question. There seems to be this idea, in the UK, that people who would have been too posh to aspire to a career in 'popular music' a generation ago now want to be pop stars or rock stars or whatever - and this blocks access for the unposh - who, yes, are/were often if not mostly upper working class / lower middle class artschoolers.

Middle-class is a pretty empty term at this point. Incidentally, the lady who wrote the Standard article writes elsewhere that for her "despite being the epitome of middle middle class (doctor's daughter, grammar-school girl, boho provincial upbringing), being mistaken for a posho has been a lifetime affliction. " - http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/aug/16/benedict-cumberbatch-exposed-chink-pc-armour?CMP=twt_gu

To me - she's posh. I think 'what is posh?' is perhaps a more pertinent question. That's not to say class (in terms of means of production) is not interesting, I just think the former question links back to the apparent bourgeoisification of music better.
 

Dr Awesome

Techsteppin'
The thing that always strikes me about "the middle class" is living in suburbia.
It's partly an NZ thang, but owning 1/4 acre of paradise has to be it. Someone is in the middle when they can afford to buy a bit of land, with the help of the bank, and work for the next 20 to 30 years paying it off.

Do many "middle class" out side of the worlds biggest metropolitan areas really live in high-density situations?
 

rubberdingyrapids

Well-known member
Middle-class is a pretty empty term at this point. Incidentally, the lady who wrote the Standard article writes elsewhere that for her "despite being the epitome of middle middle class (doctor's daughter, grammar-school girl, boho provincial upbringing), being mistaken for a posho has been a lifetime affliction."

the lady doth protest a bit much... no one likes being boxed in and yeah, im sure there are people affecting poshness who actually arent (though isnt poshness more than just an accent - its about a certain demeanour or behaviour) but toff bashing often seems to be more like light ribbing than chav bashing to me. or maybe ive just not read enough toff bashing bile to compare.
 

john eden

male pale and stale
the lady doth protest a bit much... no one likes being boxed in and yeah, im sure there are people affecting poshness who actually arent (though isnt poshness more than just an accent - its about a certain demeanour or behaviour) but toff bashing often seems to be more like light ribbing than chav bashing to me. or maybe ive just not read enough toff bashing bile to compare.

I would quite like to be boxed in if it meant that I had become more secure, wealthy and middle class than I am already. :D

Worrying about being perceived as middle class isn't a bad position to be in.

The anarchist group Class War would be a good place to look at over the top toff bashing:



I think the difference with that and chav bashing is how much power people have.

Chav bashing feeds into a general media discourse about the feckless poor which is taken up by politicians who have control over benefits, the NHS etc.

Bashing the rich is pissing in the wind, in the main. (Maybe the UK-Uncut stuff is a good recent example of an effective anti-rich campaign though? Or MPs expenses).
 

viktorvaughn

Well-known member
Ian Bone's autobiography is interesting/entertaining...good picture of that world.

My copy is signed by him (not for me, got it off ebay) -

"To Mike, Keep on smashing the fucking state, mate."
 

comelately

Wild Horses
Hannah Betts' latest piece, hot on the heels of moaning about being considered posh, is about how she likes wearing fur despite being a vegetarian.
 

baboon2004

Darned cockwombles.
Hannah Betts' latest piece, hot on the heels of moaning about being considered posh, is about how she likes wearing fur despite being a vegetarian.

I read that piece, and the (obviously numerous) comments below the line, until Ii felt like my head would explode.

The best comment was one making the point that people are spectacularly good at justifying their own non-perfect behaviour in any area, while pinning the blame/transferring the guilt onto others who are (perceived as) more extreme than they are. Which I do, for example, to justify eating meat, which I am forced to conclude is pretty indefensible in this day and age if I look at it in any way objectively; in practise though, I say to myself that it's not that bad in the scheme of things (because I don't eat certain products which are particularly barbaric, and I don't wear fur, or whatever - there're always excuses), which is a bit of a cop-out if I'm honest.

Same applies to which brands I buy (clothes, electronics etc). This topic might deserve its own thread, actually.
 
Last edited:

you

Well-known member
Holidays seem to be a good indicator of class alright. Isnt there a cliche that anyone who takes 2 foreign holidays a year is middle class?

chavs 'take holidays' the middle class spend summers at X
 

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
Staff member
I think Slothrop has it spot on in the first post, in that the concept of middle-class-ness is very much a middle-class obsession. Even more explicitly: if you've ever started a thread on an internet forum titled "What is middle class?", you're probably it.

I don't think it's a useful term any more. It was useful in the 19th century when Marx and Engels were writing, and in European and especially British society there were several well-defined social strata that were more or less defined by what you (or your husband, or your father) did for a living: toffs who simply owned land, a working class who did manual labour of some variety and a middle class in the middle, who did jobs that you'd had to have been to a good school and then probably university to do. And obviously an underclass who had no legally or socially acceptable job at all (thieves/beggars/whores). Whereas these days you have people with PhDs from top universities who can't get a job, or are doing a job that could be done by more or less anyone with a reasonable grasp of English and a working knowledge of Microsoft Office, and people my brother, who left education at 18/19 and are doing very well because of skills they can use in emergent industries. So (unlike in America, I think) straightforward economic position or job type is no longer a good indicator of social 'class'. Which leaves tastes, attitudes and all the other rather woolly social things, which are problematic because if you use these to define who is (and isn't) middle class you end up implying that someone is disqualified from being working class if they drink red wine, eat olives and read The Guardian, even if they happen to be a bus driver descended from a long line of bus drivers. In fact it's tantamount to implying that working-class people are by definition uneducated and uncultured.

I'm reminded of something my girlfriend told me, which is that a couple of months back she was having a half of bitter in the 'spoons in Stansted Airport while waiting for her plane, and there was a group of loud, bleach-blonde women sharing a couple of bottles of rosé around the next table, all wearing matching T-shirts, probably off for a hen do somewhere in the Med; and that their respective choice of drinks was pretty much a class inverse of what it would have been a couple of generations ago.

chavs 'take holidays' the middle class spend summers at X

Oi, I just took a holiday! You calling me a chav? I'll fuckin av ya, ya cunt.
 
Last edited:

comelately

Wild Horses
I'm not sure viewing the middle classes in terms of whether they went to university is a solid analysis. The middle classes did not, by and large, go to university in the 19th century. University was a means of being an academic, or a doctor, until quite far into the 20th Century. Being 'over-educated and under-skilled' is an interesting phenomenon caused largely by university access expansion (and the fact that the route from PHD to a career in academia is less easy), but I'm not sure that people's income ever really had as solid a link to their education as you're implying - and to the extent that there was, it's a 20th century trend. In essence, you've talking about the 1860s like they were the 1960s.

In the 19th Century, middle class houses were overfilled with furniture and 'knick-knacks.' In the latter part of the 20th century, working class households became like that. In the 19th century, oysters were a working-class food. In the 20th, a middle class delicacy. Wholemeal bread was considered to be working class food until 1865 in England, whereas it's definitely a middle-class thing now. These changes in tastes are not new.
 
Last edited:

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
Staff member
Well I was thinking mainly of 'the professions' - you know, schoolmasters, doctors, dentists, lawyers and other senior law professionals, accountants, civil servants, academics of course, members of the clergy - even in the 19th century, many of those jobs would probably have required at least an undergraduate degree, wouldn't they?

And yes, tastes and the kind of people associated with them have always changed, I didn't say everything had been set in stone for hundreds of years until 50 years ago. Food and drink are enormously important class indicators but to be honest we've had the food-and-class discussion on here so many times already I really can't be arsed to go into it again.
 

comelately

Wild Horses
Well I was thinking mainly of 'the professions' - you know, schoolmasters, doctors, dentists, lawyers and other senior law professionals, accountants, civil servants, academics of course, members of the clergy - even in the 19th century, many of those jobs would probably have required at least an undergraduate degree, wouldn't they?

Not really, no. I was taught by an English teacher without a degree in the 1990s, lawyers and accountants certainly did not require undergraduate degrees, dentistry wasn't really a profession in the 19th century, civil servants would mostly have been to college (e.g. East India Company College) and not university. Again, you're talking about the 1860s like they were the 1960s.
 

you

Well-known member
Oi, I just took a holiday! You calling me a chav? I'll fuckin av ya, ya cunt.

Oh, you won't get a rise out of me! Verbal retaliations and threats are best reserved for you lot! ;-) - - -

----

Thats a bit of a MC thing innit? Shirking away and instead channeling that energy into golf and automotive prowess....

In the 19th Century, middle class houses were overfilled with furniture and 'knick-knacks.' In the latter part of the 20th century, working class households became like that. In the 19th century, oysters were a working-class food. In the 20th, a middle class delicacy. Wholemeal bread was considered to be working class food until 1865 in England, whereas it's definitely a middle-class thing now. These changes in tastes are not new.

You scope on Grayson Perry's Class trilogy? ^^ Worth a watch.

Food is always an interesting class meter. Oysters and Stout, pig hooves and cheeks, and all that shite used to be a poor blokes dish - Oysters took the turn earlier but now off cuts are all the rage in gastro-pubs....... further to this you see an impending backlash against all this wholesome obsession..... through out the 90's and 00 one class binged on (or still do, I dunno) processed junk - now we have heston peddling highly processed food to the middle classes.... (albeit with slightly fancier ingredients and more on point flavour compositions)...... mmmm, the heston gourmet burger (if there is one) is pretty much the culmination of these trains - a coagulation of taking what was once a paupers cut and a paupers gastronomy and re-selling it to the next class up - sheer Re-Capitalisation, marvellous shit no doubt.
 

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
Staff member
Not really, no. I was taught by an English teacher without a degree in the 1990s, lawyers and accountants certainly did not require undergraduate degrees, dentistry wasn't really a profession in the 19th century, civil servants would mostly have been to college (e.g. East India Company College) and not university. Again, you're talking about the 1860s like they were the 1960s.

Well, whatever. I'm not a social historian, obviously. But how likely is it that someone born into a working-class family and attending a state school (to the extent that they even existed in those days - when was free universal education introduced, anyway?) would have ended up in one of those professions I listed? Class mobility was pretty limited in Britain until the (19)60s, wasn't it?
 
Last edited:

Slothrop

Tight but Polite
Food is always an interesting class meter. Oysters and Stout, pig hooves and cheeks, and all that shite used to be a poor blokes dish - Oysters took the turn earlier but now off cuts are all the rage in gastro-pubs....... further to this you see an impending backlash against all this wholesome obsession..... through out the 90's and 00 one class binged on (or still do, I dunno) processed junk - now we have heston peddling highly processed food to the middle classes.... (albeit with slightly fancier ingredients and more on point flavour compositions)...... mmmm, the heston gourmet burger (if there is one) is pretty much the culmination of these trains - a coagulation of taking what was once a paupers cut and a paupers gastronomy and re-selling it to the next class up - sheer Re-Capitalisation, marvellous shit no doubt.
Hmmm, couple of issues with this:
Firstly, I'm not sure how much you can read into the original class context of the food being recuperated this way - it's just another way of staying ahead of the curve, in the way that people used to eat progressively more obscure foreign stuff. Now that you can get beef redang sauce in a jar in Sainsburys and sashimi in service stations, differentiating yourself from the mainstream means going to a farmers' market to buy organic pig cheeks and turnips.

And I don't think that this sort of differentiation through obscurity is an inherently middle class thing, either - it happens in pretty much all taste cultures.

Also, equating "middle class" with the sort of people who eat at St John / up-to-the-minute gastro pubs is the sort of thing that I was trying to question when I started the thread. Sure that's a part of the middle class - youngish, urban, plenty of disposable income, early-adopter types - but a lot of equally middle class people - suburban, culturally conservative little-englanders, for instance - are basically no more likely to eat pigs trotters in a trendy gastropub than a kid from a council estate is.

Oh, and finally oysters became posh (and I'd say borderline upper class rather than middle class) because they became scarce and hence expensive after stocks collapsed some time in the early 20th century. But that's kind of a side point...
 

comelately

Wild Horses
Well, whatever. I'm not a social historian, obviously. But how likely is it that someone born into a working-class family and attending a state school (to the extent that they even existed in those days - when was free universal education introduced, anyway?) would have ended up in one of those professions I listed? Class mobility was pretty limited in Britain until the (19)60s, wasn't it?

Class mobility is pretty limited now, suggesting that class is as important to talk about now as then.

As there were no state schools, reaching the professions from very 'humble beginnings' was unlikely. The middle-classes of the period were primarily merchants and shopkeepers, that would be the next step up. Fictional example as it might be, someone like Michael Henchard from the Mayor of Casterbridge is an example of a man who became middle-class through becoming a wheat merchant - if he had had sons, they would have been educated and may have went into the professions.

Little has changed really.
 
Top