domingo, 1 de julio de 2012

Cortito 5 "Between class and social distance and space: towards a granularity analysis of social stratification"

Bourdieu (1985), Bottero and Prandy (2003) and partially Chan and Goldthorpe (2004) have brought back in the notion of distance as a metric to penetrate a very elusive question in social stratification: which stratifies people in a society? In other words, what are the elements that tend to form ‘natural’ groups within larger groups, but which ultimately echo the notion of hierarchy? It is elusive for at least two reasons. Firstly, it is not trivial to identify a unique set of criteria which can summarize the information of the distribution of positions of the individuals; two examples can illustrate the foregoing. Gender might result insufficient when for instance (historically) the position of various women in the distribution of material resources is of advantages in reference to other women, for instance a queen versus a prostitute. The second example is ethnicity or in the less politically correct language of USA race. But again within any ethnic (race) group we can observe an unequal distribution of resources, i.e. Mr. President versus an African-American pimp. The second and related reason is—in case there was an agreement regarding which the most appropriate criteria are—the identification of which criterion has more associative power than other. In our example, for instance, is not trivial to define whether gender or ethnicity need to be measured with same or different weights, or how actually these two might interact. In sum, two very important dimensions of societies, gender and ethnicity (race), do not exhaust the main question posted above, and therefore sociological reason, in the realm of social stratification, remains infertile to its promise of “[penetrating] to the very nature of [social] things” (Rytina, 1998:203).
A serious alternative to this research challenge has been ‘class analysis’, since the distribution of economic resources (i.e occupations and its many criteria: skills versus lack of skills?; Manual and non-manual; position within an organization; type of contract; and so on) can be an appropriate criterion to identify the position of the individuals in a given larger group. Indeed what differentiates, among other things, the prostitute to the queen is their access to material resources. However, as Bourdieu, Bottero and Prandy and partially Chan and Goldthorpe argue, the restrictions of this strategy can also be associated to the two limitations previously identified and that is why the offer a somehow similar response. In other words, while it would be quite hard to argue that this group of five authors do not acknowledge the impossibility of penetrating social reality in full; they seem none the less to agree that certain analytical strategies i.e. class analysis from Marxist and Non-Marxist traditions, are less effective in getting closer to answers which guide the stratification research program, and therefore by introducing the notion of space and distance the promise of sociological reason in this field can be kept alive.
One element highlighted by Bourdieu is that the criterion of material resources is rather limited since the presence of other capitals might be also useful in understanding the position of individuals in a given society. In this regard, and partly echoing Weber’s analysis of status and class, Bourdieu introduces the notion of cultural, social and symbolic capital. These concepts ultimately recognize the complexity of social reality, and thus help responding the question of how the distribution of these capitals takes place. Secondly, Bourdieu argues that Marxist class analysis conflates “is” with “ought to” (an old battle of positivism) once class is associated to a given collective path. Certainly the revolutionary path that the working class could take is the “ought to” part of the conflation. Under this criticism Bourdieu elegantly shows a twofold inconsistency of the latter statement: i) “alliance between those who are closest is never necessary, inevitable, (…) and alliance between those most distant from each other is never impossible” (Bourdieu, 1985:726)[1]; ii) “there is no mention of the mysterious alchemy whereby a “group in struggle” (…) arises from the objective economic conditions” (Bourdieu, 1985:727). But the most important criticism of Bourdieu to this type of analysis, besides the one where his sociology of knowledge illustrates the blind spots of various social scientists, included of course defenders of Marxist’s theory of class, is the reification of class as a category of analysis whereby the aggrupation made by the observer can take its own life and do the acting.[2] This cul-de-sac allows Bourdieu to look for a geometrical conceptualization whereby individuals can actually be located in different positions in the social space and their distances can be taken as metrics of differences. For Bourdieu in the social space individuals’ positions are “defined in terms of a multi-dimensional system of co-ordinates whose values correspond to the different variables” (Bourdieu, 1985:724). This system furthermore needs to differentiate, Bourdieu argues, between quantity and composition of capital. This notion of social space has an objective character because it influences affinities and indifferences, or propinquity and remoteness between individuals, and then the identification of social groups. Within this analytical strategy the emergence of collective action, is not, however, a necessary condition of group identification. This strategy, on the other hand, allows ascertaining differences in terms of life-styles between individuals from different groups. The expression of these differences is associated to patterns of experiences, which have been accumulated and later on transmitted, and ultimately takes an objectified character by the individuals. These differences, however, arise when the individuals recognize them, but this acknowledgment can only be executed by the process of socialization which the individuals went through i.e the language of prostitute cannot be spoken by the queen, as much as the queen would wish it, and the prostitute cannot speak the English of the queen; furthermore only some can recognize when an English’s accent is fake.
Bottero and Prandy (2003) also recognize the quasi monopoly of class analysis in stratification studies since attention towards material inequality dominates this research program. While they authors suggest that even within class analysts the limitations have been acknowledged, they also point out that some of their renew strategies actually leave class, as unit of analysis, almost without explanatory power and therefore “it is hard to see what remains of ‘class in ‘class theory’” (Bottero and Prandy, 2003;178). The approach which class analysts have taken resemblance social distance analysis, they argue. However, in similar fashion as Bourdieu the premises of stratification are different. More precisely these authors argue that “differential patterns of association and lifestyle constitute the structure of stratification” (Bottero and Prandy, 2003:178).[3]
These authors identify three different approaches of social distance—Bourdieu’s, the Cambridge stratification group, and Rytina’s SSIC[4]—which not only share the notion of distance as a metric but also do not assume a priori a given social structure as the American tradition (Duncan, 1967) and the European one (Goldthorpe, 1980) do. Influenced by the pioneering work of Laumman, whereby this author explored social distance “using large data-sets on patterns of interaction” (Bottero and Prandy, 2003:180), the social distance approach developed by the Cambridge group states that individuals are likely to interact with those who have the same or very similar rank. Drawing in Goffman, Bourdieu brings a similar concept of how certain type of interactions prevails over others. According to the French sociologist agents (individuals) accept the world as it is. This disposition, Bourdieu argues, the sense of one’s place “implies a tacit acceptance of one’s place, a sense of limits (“that’s not for the like of us,” etc.), or which amount to the same thing, a sense of distances, to be marked and kept respected or expected” (Bourdieu, 1985:728). According to the authors, the Cambridge group uses a variety of close social relationships in order to research social distance because the main assumption is that regularities can be found in non-work situations. The first scale particularly used friendship patterns and was later used to predict educational outcomes, ethnic inequality, health and lifestyle, political variables as well as social mobility. Similarly to Goldthorpe research agenda, this scale was also used for international comparisons. According to Bottero and Prandy different types of social relationships such as friendship, marriage, affinal and consanguineal kinship, display the same social distance configurations. This ultimately reflects, these authors argue, a ‘scale of shared experience’ which measures material and social advantages (p.184).
One important commonality of the social distance approaches is the interpretation of the social space whereby the interaction of individuals takes place, Bottero and Prandy argue. However, an alternative, and literally a deeper, concept to theoretically describe social space is offered by Rytina. This author states that ‘granularity’, in the context of social theory, refers to “gaining mental access to the full complexity of what something involves (…)  [A] central feature of the experience of granularity is coming with an exhaustive comprehension of the range of possibilities (…) of the states of the system ” (Rytina, 1998:203-205)[5]. Unlike categorical classifications, which are used for class analysis for instance, this concept promises to grasp very fine texts which are more in tune with social reality. Furthermore, in analysis of social stratification this paradoxically has the benefit of acknowledging the complexity of different interactions of individuals in the social space, rather than mapping them a priori in specific and artificial groups. In other words, it does not succumb to the logic of latent class analysis where the noise of the outliers is silenced by “forcing” them to be part of social groups, which are not in principle exhaustive of the complexity of every individual’s position and interaction.[6]  Of course after assuming a structure in a given social space, where there are degrees of commonalities, latent class analysis can be an effective and efficient strategy of classification whereby noise is reduced; nevertheless the price of this approach is neglecting that boundaries among groups as Bourdieu states are “flame[s] whose edges are in constant movement, oscillating around a line or surface” (Bottero and Prandy, 2003:186), and therefore losing the granularity of stratification.
Lastly, and in a very social-democrat way Chan and Goldthorpe harvest some fruits of the promise of the social distance metric. In a larger research program whereby cultural, political and economic dimensions are identified for the British context, these authors test the Weberian notion of class and status in order to see which ‘variable’ explains better these dimensions. Furthermore this program helps them to review some interpretations made in reference to the oeuvre of Bourdieu, whereby the French author is associated to an ontological position where the material world would prevail. In the paper reviewed, the scholars from Oxford ask a twofold question whether status can be identified in modern societies, and whether this element can be differentiated from Goldthorpe’s class scheme. As the Cambridge stratification group, these two scholars also use Laumann’s approach, whereby analysis of closest friends’ respondents is carried out. As the former group they also conclude that there is one dimension which reflects a hierarchy of status. When comparing both tables 1 and 2 we observe that the overlapping will depend on what is considered to be top or bottom. For instance only one category of tables 1 and 2 (company treasures, financial managers, computer system managers, personnel managers) is top 3 and only general labours remain in the bottom 3 of both tables. Once we considered top and bottom 6 only two categories are for top (SM and GMA) and three for the bottom (GL, PMO and TO). This illustrates that effectively there are differences and commonalities between both orders, however the differences seem to, by statistical tests, be more relevant to identify different social structures. There is a question that remains luckily open, why class and stratification measures of granularity (i.e. social distance) will show differences in terms of their association to political or cultural patterns as these two authors claim? Which sociological theories can explain why differences in metrics show differences in social commonalities? More explicitly why class schemes are better associated to political traits than metrics of status, whereas metrics of status seems to be more precise to identify patterns of cultural consumption (Chan and Goldthorpe, 2007)?   

Bottero, W. and K. Prandy 2003. “Social interaction distance and stratification.” British Journal of Sociology 54(2): 177--197.
Bourdieu P. 1985. “The Social Space and the Genesis of Groups.” Theory and Society, 14(6): 727--744.
Chan, T. W. and John Goldthorpe 2007. “Class and status: the conceptual distinction and its empirical relevance” American Sociological Review 72:512--532.
 ____________ 2004. “Is There a Status Order in Contemporary British Society?: Evidence from the Occupational Structure of Friendship.” European Sociological Review. 20(5): 383--401.
Hedström and Swedberg 1996; “Social Mechanisms.” Acta Sociologica, 39(3):281--308.
Rytina S. 1998. “Loosening the Chains of Philosophical Reductionism” pp.192--218 edited by Alan Sica What is Social Theory? The Philosophical Debates. Blackwell publishers.
van den Berg, A 1998. The Immanent Utopia. From Marxism on the State to the State of Marxism. Princeton Press.

[1] van den Berg has another perspective in order to illustrate the foregoing point “But of course, the fact that people can and do cooperate in the defense of their common interest does not automatically make them unable to tolerate anything but cooperation and solidarity” (van den Berg 1988, 66).
[2] Somewhat related is the social mechanism approach promoted by Hedstöm and Swedberg whereby they state that “class in and of itself obviously cannot influence an individual’s income or health. A class cannot be causal agent because it is nothing but a constructed aggregation of occupation titles” (Hedström and Swedberg, 1996:289)
[3] Their emphasis.
[4] Since we have briefly commented on Bourdieu’s proposal and we will dedicate more specific readings to Rytina’s proposal I will focus on the Cambridge stratification group.
[5] My emphases.
[6] It is not forcing them per se because as latent-class analysis suggests observations (i.e. individuals) have a probability of being part of a hidden group.

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