The introduction advanced by Goldthorpe et al is very suggestive and indeed informative. It summarizes quite nicely capital elements which are behind of three levels of analysis associated to mobility research: a) political, b) theoretical and c) methodological. For instance if we blur the distinction between politics and theory we can observe that Marx’s study of the American society highlights elements of changes in the occupational structure which can be regarded as potential analysis of social mobility because once the intermediate strata became prevalent, more occupation positions were available for members of different strata, particularly those who belong to lower ones. Therefore, Marx’s analysis cannot strictly be limited to a class classification whereby the ownership of the means of production determined both the positions of the individuals and their actions.
As Goldthorpe et al also suggest the study of social mobility has been associated to several political agendas. In other words, this research area is not linked to either liberal or conservative positions exclusively but also to social democrats as well, as they nicely illustrate with the quote of Tawney’s Equality (p. 21). Perhaps the most virulent attack to this type of sociological research comes from Poulantzas since he observes that the study of changes between sons and fathers does not tackle the functioning of the industrial society which is ultimately capitalist (p.24). That is, it might be the case that perfect mobility can be achieved however the economic system will remain coordinated by the function of exploitation. Lastly, Goldthorpe also intentionally reveals his political position in this matter which is important because it makes the reader aware of potential limitations which this particular research might have had. None the less, as some of the results indicate, his political position in some cases is not countersigned, making the findings less controversial. His political position favors the openness of society and one potential indicator of this feature, Goldthorpe argues, is the pattern of mobility which a society might display. Under this definition, I would argue, it is noteworthy that the resistance of change (historically) executed by members who enjoy superior “socio-economic” positions can be regarded as one item whose weight need to be rightly calibrated in order to measure mobility more accurately. In this regard it is necessary to carry out studies which can assess the reproduction of the élites—as Sorokin for instance did with the origin of the Popes—because only these can ultimately prove the closure thesis to be false.
Theoretically and methodologically two elements need to be highlighted. Firstly, the introduction of class (position) as a heuristic for the analysis of mobility departs from both the study led by Glass in the LSE and the American tradition consolidated by Blau and Duncan, whereby status, which is a more gradient variable, is ultimately discarded. The introduction of class has important reminisce in Marxian thought because it combines two elements: i) the function of what the worker does and ii) his/her position within the systems of authority and control which “govern[s] the process of production in which [he/she is] engaged” (p.39). In methodological terms it seems rather more appropriate to carry out mobility table analyses with the seven class scheme since more information can be captured. However, it is important to recall that a serious limitation of Goldthorpe’s theoretical preference of class position over status is located in his own rationale once he chooses for the former. Implicitly, class is understood as a social location whereby individuals learn specific behaviors and have access to given resources and these structural conditions ultimately shape their (social) actions and eventually the position which they end occupying (it seems tautological but it is not because the class position of the father is taken as the starting point in temporal terms). However, the same dynamic is present under the conceptualization of status because this notion, even though in a limited manner, also considers economic and educational resources as potential variables which help to predict the occupational position of the individual, and therefore it is not clear why one concept can have a better explanatory power over the other. Furthermore, once Goldthorpe advances hypothesis regarding the influence of class in social action that is also insufficient, because an element that is quite absent in his discussion is the notion of how collective action actually materializes and therefore how it might shape the conditions for instance of career advancement in specific industrial settings. Without this element into the analysis one can favor a misleading conclusion which was defended by Blau and Duncan for the American case, whereby individual efforts can make the difference in advancing within the occupational ladder rather than collective actions—which could actually have played an important role in re-shaping some societal norms. However, what both groups of authors implicitly argue is the paradox of mobility as a function of society’s stability i.e mobility produces stability because individuals have the capacity to perceive changes in terms of occupation heritance and therefore the system of rewards can be regarded as legitimate making any attempt to transform it radically unnecessary.
Under both schemes the notion that individuals usually require both specific type of knowledge (cultural and cognitive) and access to social networks for entering in occupational careers is actually quite limited and therefore our understanding of both mobility and immobility seems to be incomplete. Lastly, one of the advantages of class, according to Goldthorpe is how this concept is more appropriate to identify structural changes in the economy, and how therefore high values in mobility rates can be associated to macro changes rather than individual ones. In other words, the expansion or contraction of specific economic sectors can have an impact on mobility rates, and his class scheme is appropriate to identify these changes, he argues. Under this model it would be, then, inappropriate to regard structural mobility of a society as an indicator of universalism which can be one of the ambivalent conclusions of Blau and Duncan.
One of the most predominant features of mobility studies, besides the high complexity of statistical analysis which these require, is the lack of agreement of what mobility is. Goldthorpe is well aware of the latter and therefore carries out several analyses which in certain cases seem to be contradicting, in other inconclusive and also with the capacity to introduce new questions to the field. Like Blau and Duncan where the assessment of mobility is carried out in different stages, with several statistical techniques and with different unit of analysis, Goldthorpe et al study mobility in life course, with different cohorts and classes (by collapsing into three classes his scheme of seven classes). In this regard the “three point’ mobility pattern” is quite illustrative because it highlights a set of different combinations which synthetize several upwards and downward mobility rates by imitating a life-course analysis as the model of Blau and Duncan. However, unlike the American authors, Goldthorpe et al associate upwards mobility patterns to changes in the economy where for instance the service industry has recruited many individuals from lower origins given the expansion which this sector went through. Furthermore, and unlike American scholars such as Lipset or Duncan who argued that mobility rates had not decreased, Goldthorpe et al state that “there is no evidence of an increase in openness” (p.85). In this regard the analysis of W-W-W I-I-I S-S-S and some of the combinations illustrate that mobility patterns can be upward, counterbalance, downward, however once these results are obtained is hard to identify in a more parsimonious way whether a society is fluid or not, or rather the degree of fluidity which a society has.
It is important to highlight that once mobility has a value at the individual level, different analyses can also be carried out in order to test hypotheses of individual’s stability or disintegration (and some authors might use, incorrectly, the sum of individual’s stability (or disintegration) as a in indicator of society’s stability). Similarly to Blau and Duncan, once they associate fertility rates to either upwards and downwards populations and finding weak evidence of the association of bringing fertility “costumes” to their new occupational positions, elements regarding kinship behave in the same pattern for the data analyzed by Goldthorpe. In other words at the individual level mobility experiences might not be quite precise to at least understand changes in either fertility patterns or kinship. Having said that, however, what is behind this attempt, I think, is testing part of the structuration thesis proposed by Giddens, whereby the distribution of mobility chances is associated to how classes can depart or resist departing from structuration processes. Lastly Goldthorpe qualitative analysis of the mobility experience is very interesting because several discourses demonstrate how mobility can be regarded as a story of individual effort but also as collective effort as the following quote illustrates
“I feel the trade unions must be given a lot of the credit [for] the working man’s steady progress-not that I agree with all the unions say and do. Basically the idea of unions is good, it’s the officers who sometimes get misguided. I’m sure without the unions the workers of this country would be being exploited far more than they are at present by what is still a capitalist society” (p.231).
But essentially what illustrates the latter is the lack of consensus of whether mobility is the result of a collective or an isolated individual experience and therefore once merits are introduced into the analysis they can never be automatically taken for granted.
In sum once we assume the complexity of mobility analysis we deal with issues of parsimony and description, regardless of the method the researcher chooses from. What essentially Hout establishes, besides the technicality of assessing mobility tables rigorously, is the challenges that the researches face in order to determine not statistically, but theoretically which type of mobility analysis can be regarded as more adequate to assess a given data set. This raises the question of mobility distributions, which is actually, I think, at the core of mobility inquiry. In other words, in order to have a theoretical inclination of either deleting the diagonal, applying quasi perfect mobility, corners, crossing parameters, or topological, as proposed by Houser, models, a researcher must tackle theoretically first the question of the types of mobility which the society is studying, but how can he/she do that when in fact this is the question to be answered? A potential solution to this will be the study of other countries, as Hout proposes once he uses Britain and Denmark, but the serious limitation of this strategy is to heavily reduce the complexity of mobility as if it was similar in countries with economic structures which might not be at all similar. More particularly the challenge surfaces more abruptly when theoretically patterns of short or long distance mobility for the countries to be compared might not be that similar and therefore making the comparison among countries something unreliable.