domingo, 1 de julio de 2012

Cortito 4 "Emergence, reformulation and decadence of the FJH hypothesis? Costs of an unfalsifiable hypothesis"

One of the most important contributions of the FJH hypothesis (1975) is how occupational/class mobility studies between industrial countries became consolidated. Furthermore this hypothesis influenced the creation of the Model of Core Fluidity proposed by Erikson and Goldthorpe (EG) (1987a, 1987b), whose objective was not only comparing occupational patterns in industrial(?) countries, but also improving the methodology of how the FJY should be tested. One of the main conclusions of their analysis is a re-definition of the FJH hypothesis since states’ forces should be explicitly acknowledged in order to understand the feature of occupational mobility patterns in these societies. The last wave of comparative analyses, led by Breen (2004) whereby two new variables are introduced i.e. time and gender, seem to bury the FJH hypothesis since some of the countries analyzed show different patterns of fluidity which contradict the assumption that relative mobility rates are likely to be similar among industrial countries. I have, however, the unfortunate impression that both group of authors, regardless of their very important findings and indeed impressive methodological enterprises, miss a decisive aspect of the FHJ hypothesis—which for the Erickson and Goldthorpe case is more relevant than the studies led by Breen—and that is its unfalsifiability.
The emergence of the FJH hypothesis can be associated to some limitations faced by the explanatory power which functionalism faces, whereby the notion of absolute mobility was considered to be a hallmark of the so-called industrial societies. In short these authors acknowledge that the economic dimension remains the most important variable to explain the distribution of a hierarchical order of occupations, but this dimension can explain circulation mobility rather than absolute mobility. The force behind this pattern is literally the distribution of socioeconomic status, which in their operationalization is the conjunction of three elements: “income, authority relationships within and between occupation groups, and education” (Featherman, Jones and Hauser, 1975:335).  Their analysis of two cases, USA and Australia, confirm the latter since both countries show convergence in terms of how decisive the socioeconomic status of  individual’s parent and personal achievements are in the individual’s occupational attainment: “[In both countries] there exists a relative stable process of status transmission in a class of industrial societies (…) and that this process changes in its phenotypical expression according to the rate at which the occupational system is transformed over time” (Featherman, Jones and Hauser, 1975:340). Lastly, these authors acknowledge that, given some discrepancies between Australia’s and USA’s mobility rates, some idiosyncratic features of every society’s stratification need to be considered in order to explain the difference in terms of fluidity[1]. The case of African-American for instance, is an important feature of the latter since their study, and also Blau and Duncan’s, describe the effects of discrimination in this group of individuals. However the latter might be what seems to heavily structure the occupations of society is the economy in conjunction with political institutions (Featherman, Jones and Hauser, 1975:358).
In order to test the similar patterns of fluidity in industrial countries EG advance a very impressive and sounding methodological approach. One of the very first elements, they change however, is the variable which measures mobility, while FJH use a more graded option i.e. socioeconomic status, EG opt for class. A second element that EG highlight is a somewhat arbitrary distinction between strict and less strict form of the FJH hypothesis. I believe is arbitrary because one the FJY hypothesis is explicitly ambiguous in the wording. In other words, since what is at stake is the “similarities” among countries, and not how identical countries can be in terms of fluidity, EG’s rigid interpretation is more likely to be unfavorable to the acceptance of the FJH hypothesis. More concretely they reject the hypothesis as their first model shows in table 4 (Erikson and Goldthorpe, 1987:60), whereby the G2 is statistically significant. Once they acknowledge that the hypothesis can be however interpreted in a looser way, they face the most important question: “How is a ‘basic’ similarity in relative rates to be recognized?” (Erikson and Goldthorpe, 1987:61) and after this impasse they propose the Model of Core Fluidity.
The model of core fluidity starts by spacing the location of every selected country in a three dimensional map, this allow them to tackle two challenges: i) identify which country (ies) is (are) at the center, and ii) establish the distance among the countries. Their results locate England and France as the core countries, and the other countries display different relative mobility rates which depart from this first finding. While this statistical solution seems to be quite promising because there seems to be two “objective” points (countries) of reference, the result is ultimately artificial rather than theoretical and therefore certain elements needed to be clarified further. I have two observations regarding this solution, one intuitive and the second historical. Firstly, one paradoxical implication of the core model is its potentiality to be understood in absolute terms, which I think is impossible. In other words, having England and France as core models of fluidity, it leaves the impression that we have found the real rates of relative mobility. However, by definition, I suspect, in order to locate a given element i.e. a country, in the real universe of mobility, it needs to be accepted that the axes of the three multidimensional spacing are infinite, and therefore the core of the universe of mobility can only be unknown.
Secondly, their historical account, as potential understanding of why these two countries are the core model, is rather limited (see endnote 4 of the second part of their article). For instance in reference to Marx, Giddens points out that the German author saw Britain in a different “stage” of the revolutionary process in comparison to France because at the former the evolution of a ‘compromise’ and more stable political system grew vis-à-vis the expansion of industrialism, whereas the continental country had to deal with several political crises which made the political system less stable (Giddens, 1973). More precisely, for stratification processes, it is noteworthy that France was then “split into different fragments, such that the role of the ‘transitional’ class was particularly important” (Giddens, 1973.39). I bring these two examples because as we will see below one very distinct element which EG highlight in the formation of classes, and the mobility of the individuals, is state’s intervention or rather its absence, and under this case it seems that the French state is quite different from the English.
Furthermore, the struggles of 1968 (time which necessarily is captured in the French surveys analyzed by EG) also raise the question of what other criteria are relevant to think that England and France are more alike. Or in EG’s own terms, is there a solid answer to the implicit assumption that the ‘Hieracrchy’, ‘Inheritance’, ‘Sector’ and ‘Affinity’ effects for these two countries are rather similar? EG’s potential answer to this question is rather limited. They acknowledge that—along with the case of USA—given the English Civil War and the French Revolution (and for that matter the American Civil War also), these two countries represent the examples of “of the development of modern industrial societies” (Erikson and Goldthorpe, 1987b:162), but clearly invoking these political events without referring to their eight matrices creates a lag in their analysis which is not obvious of how that should be fulfilled.
The analysis of EG is nonetheless very impressive because they grasp the notion of how different type of barriers, advantages and desirability can either inhibit or trigger individual class mobility. The operationalization of these characteristics is done by introducing eight matrices which represent different ‘cases’ which a society might display in reference to the obstacles of relative mobility or the presence of structural mobility. These matrices are very good devices to understand why the countries analyzed not only depart from the core model but also why they have specific or idiosyncratic rates of fluidity. For instance, it is interesting to see the influence of the socialist state in Poland or Hungary, however, the direction of the influence of this type of state in terms of fluidity remains unsettled. These findings guide the authors to reformulate the FJH hypothesis, by introducing the participation of the modern state as a “control” variable which needs to be consider in order to measure the fluidity of the country, as the Wisconsin scholars proposed. However, as we could see in the brief revision of the FJH hypothesis, these authors had already acknowledged the influence of political institutions in the shaping of these countries. Furthermore, it is hard to see how these American scholars could have failed to see the importance of the state in the shaping of society in the comparison of Australia and USA. On the one hand, it is important to recall that Blau and Duncan had made explicit the need of implementing public policies to tackle the discrimination against African-Americans from a public perspective in The American Occupational Structure, or on the other hand, the heavy influence of Keynes’ work in American social science.
While EG claim having had reformulated the FJH hypothesis by introducing a yardstick and then test it, a truly test of the FJH hypothesis could only be done by analyzing two very important variables, time and gender[2]. The first one, was actually one of the elements foreseen by the American scholars once they identify the need to carry out analyses over time (Featherman, Jones and Hauser, 1975:358). Breen et al developed a very thorough account of eleven countries by formally introducing the core model proposed by EG and then comparing it to different mobility rates. Two graphs illustrate quite nicely changes over time (1970-1990) in social fluidity between countries in men and women respectively. From figures 3.3 (p.59) and 3.5 (p.72), we can appreciate that the falsification of the FJH hypothesis is almost straightforward. However they fail to completely reject the economic part of the hypothesis. Firstly, Germany, France, Italy and Ireland are more likely to be the least fluid, whereas Hungary and Poland are the most fluid, in other words there is no convergence towards fluidity in the sample. Furthermore in order to see whether this pattern of similarity behaves closer to what the FJH postulates it can be observed that there is no stability of the fluidity rates of the countries analyzed. In fact there are important divergences that make harder to accept the hypothesis of common similarity if for instance we consider the case of Sweden with Hungary or Germany with Holland. Effectively these results reject strongly the FJH but, what remains uncertain in how strong the economy is in these effects. At the end of the book Breen and Luijkx actually explore the effect of the economy by taking GDP as a proxy of this dimension. Even though they admit this analysis is rather limited, their results are ambivalent towards the hypothesis that (macro) economy forces are very important variables in shaping the occupational structure of the societies (Bree and Luijkx, 2004:398). In other words some elements prove that GDP has an effect on the fluidity patterns but once the year variable is introduced the GDP effect disappears. The point about this last attempt to falsify part of the FJH hypothesis, and the seemingly hard task of disprove it, only speaks of the limitation of how this hypothesis was conceptualized. Hypothesis building can actually be a difficult task especially when theories which explain stratification are rather vague or inexistent.
Breen et al, 2004:59 and 72

Breen, R., Ed. (2004). Social Mobility in Europe. New York, Oxford University Press. Chapters 1, 2, 3 and 15
Erikson, R., and J. H. Goldthorpe. 1987a. “Commonality and variation in social fluidity in industrial nations: Part I: A model for evaluating the “FJH Hypothesis.”” European Sociological Review 3.1: 54–77.
Erikson, R., and J. H. Goldthorpe. 1987b. “Commonality and Variation in Social Fluidity in Industrial Nations: Part II: The Model of Core Social Fluidity Applied.” European Sociological Review 3.2: 145–166.
Featherman, D.L., F.L. Jones and R.M. Hauser 1975 “Assumptions of Social Mobility Research in the US: The Case of Occupational Status” Social Science Research 4: 329-60.
Giddens, A. (1973); The Class Structure of the Advanced Societyes. Hutchinson University Library.

[1] I am following Breen’s definition of social fluidity whereby the relative mobility is equated to the former concept (Breen, 2004:4).
[2] The third variable to close the cycle of potential refutations of this hypothesis is the analysis of fluidity in “less advanced” societies.

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