Thursday, 19 May 2011

The Acceptance of Class Inequality: Part 3

Section 2: Recognition and Rationalisation

2.1 Recognition

The legitimisation of relations of domination depends on a combination of naturalisation of inequalities, as in the case of gender and the appearance of fairness, at least in matters which do not threaten dominance” (2005: 49).

Therefore as Sayer has argued, inequality is naturalised and reinforced through the notion of fairness, which is a condition evocative of a class based meritocracy. Fairness is intrinsic to how individuals treat on another and in the development of a moral landscape in which one can be judged upon a presupposed set of beliefs surrounding what is considered a good or bad act. Moreover, as contemporary capitalist society is seemingly preoccupied with merit and reward based systems of exchange, then greater amounts of fairness – quantified fairness – are distributed to those deemed worthy under the system. Although fairness and indeed its very definition can be culturally specific, such a definition lies in the individuals or groups comprehension of the term. Fairness is not in any way a universal construct and even if the politician, the teacher, the academic professes it to be so they attempting to set the borders of morality and negating the will of the domination. Morality is subject to the ruling hegemonies of the time and accepted behaviour (acts interpreted through the specific laws and unwritten laws of a society) comes to define the individual. From a Marxist perspective, “cultural and intellectual activities do not merely operate as functions of economic changes but compromise an arena of social struggle, of domination and resistance. Therefore the struggle of ideas is a crucial part in the general pattern of struggle (1979: 185). In respect to class inequalities, it is in the generalisation of moral thought in which one finds an acceptance of a structured hierarchy. This is one of the reasons why capitalism is so affective in its execution of representative worth, a combination of social status derived from birth and an agreed levelling of effort; agreed by society in its unprofessed ambivalence to domination.

Recognition is a primary requirement of an individual or group in order that its wellbeing and functionality remain intact within society. The refusal of recognition can lead to psychological damage (Taylor, 1994) and prevent people from “participating on par with others in social interaction” (1999: 34). As for class inequality, the under recognition of individuals or groups, coinciding with attempts by neo-liberals to legitimise the subject (Phillips, 1999) has led to a retreat from the discussion of class struggle and pushed it towards other forms of oppression and discrimination as a tactic of diluting the issue and redistributing concern. In contemporary society recognition has shifted from that of a class struggle to struggles relating to cultural differences, rebranded as movements (Oberschall, 1993). Whether movement or struggle, the parties involved demand respect, moral worthiness and the valuing of culture; in terms of class, an affirmation of culture through the injustice of being poor. Although as Ralph Miliband has identified historically a substantial part of the working class (more so in Britain and the US) have “supported bourgeois and conservative parties rather than the ones on the Left” (1989: 57). This seems rather self-defeating when involved within a struggle, where one’s objective is either to escape or abolish their class positioning rather than affirming it (Coole, 1996). The act of voting on the Right by the disadvantaged may have derived from an opportunistic mind-set attended to capitalistic democracy. Indeed for one to rise from the lower classes, to be upwardly mobile, the opportunity to grasp at the feed of those at the top overwhelms the individual. This is not to say that greed or excess are the driving force in the consciousness of a proportion of the working class but in accepting that one’s social positioning is of lower class orientation, one has a greater space of aspiration in which to achieve the goal of the capitalist; a categorisation not far from what Bourdieu recognised as the petite-bourgeois (1984:14).

As recognition is considered of great importance by many observers of social class – the recognition of recognition – it becomes a great tool in the assessment of political affiliation. As Sayer sates, “localised conditions for recognition can also be partly met in highly unequal societies, and indeed can degenerate into forms of recognition or misrecognition involving ‘othering’” (2005: 54). The act of ‘othering’ not only occurs in the differentiation between classes but is also apparent within individual classes, as with the example of the working class conservative voter (WCCV). This particular group, in accepting inequality as a defining aspect of their constitution as a member of lower-class society, could easily be said to of sold out the poor progressive Left and although recognition may rain from above, due in some aspects to the effort of ‘escaping deprivation’, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will move sideways. The respect and self-esteem required to satisfy the needs of recognition may derive from self-actualised recognition and those from the same class group, as a sense of pride, pride achieved through striving to become someone better. As Sayer points out, “adequate recognition... demands freely given acts as well as freely given words. Putting these points together we can see that nothing that a subordinate says or does towards the dominant can match the recognition in words and deeds that an equal can give” (2005: 56). So what for the right-wing working class, the petite-middle-class (PMC)? If their aspiration matches their pride and they are to consider their worth in equal terms to the bourgeois, they are firstly seeking to abolish the relations of domination as are those on the Left and secondly, attempting to reduce the Hegelian notion of the master/slave relationship (ibid.). The PMC have diverged from the class struggle, instead of acting to remove the borders of class they maintain class in an effort to rise above it so that they have achieved mobility over others (members of their own class group nonetheless); a superiority complex born of pseudo-opportunistic hegemony.

The struggle for recognition cannot be ignored by the dominant class. Attributing different groups with variable amounts of recognition is a way of driving competition for recognition itself as if it were ‘commodifiable’. Recognition in commodified form allows the dominant class to distribute it between certain groups as though it were merit. This is particularly applicable to markets, in that rates of pay for workers can be managed dependent upon adequate recognition and economical worth. Honneth acknowledges that “social esteem for a person or a group is so obviously correlated to the level of control over certain goods that only the acquisition of those goods can lead to the corresponding recognition” (1995: 166). Therefore one is rewarded in terms of capital gains based upon the levels of recognition that is the sum of social conditioning and merit, which is unequal over the class divide due to social conditioning being widely out of the control of the individual. Recognition within the bounds of capitalism may not be warranted and can be entirely the result of ‘luck’ the owner of great amounts of wealth may have done nothing to deserve recognition but receives it for the sake of social positioning. Obviously this process is appealing to the wealthy and manipulating the morality that subsequently affects the distribution of recognition is an effective way of maintaining control over the hierarchy that perpetuates inequality within a class based system. Sennett and Cobb (1972) have argued that the class system propagates a competition for dignity. A competition for dignity is even more stringent than recognition as dignity has a value which is seldom bought. Still, as the division of labour is unequal, precincts are placed on dignity; it is proportional to recognition while differing in levels of achievement. Dignity is also speculative in that it is reliant on the circumstances of the habitus, as Veblen (1953) argued, the wealthy do not procure wealth in order to consume goods evidently; they consume goods in order to exhibit their accumulation of wealth to others.

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