Monday, July 03, 2006

Knowledge Class Marriage

I am starting a new project that will occupy me for the next few years, if not decades. I want to compare marriage and family life in the knowledge class versus the corporate class. I will explain what I mean by this over the next series of posts.

We are starting with some of the foundational theory of the knowledge class. This week we are working through Pierre Bourdieu's Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. For my money Bourdieu was the best French sociologist until his death a few years ago.

Bourdieu says that in looking at the class structure of society we need to examine three components of class for any given group:
1) the volume of capital;
2) the composition of capital; and
3) the trajectory of the class over time.

Volume is what we usually think of as "class" – how much stuff your group has. Composition, though, introduces an important nuance of the different kinds of capital. In addition to economic capital – which is basically how much wealth you have – Bourdieu also looks at cultural capital, made up of the kinds of knowledge and understanding that make for social status. Cultural capital comes from two main sources – what you learn in school, and what you learn at home.

The great advantage that people from higher classes have is not only that they start with money. Just as important, they learn the kinds of high culture most esteemed in society by growing up with it. Smart poor kids can learn school culture in school, but it is harder to pick up these more subtle kinds of family-based culture, of taste, of distinction, on your own. It can be done, but it is harder. It is particularly difficult to learn extra-curricular culture because people from low-status families don't even know it exists, and people from high-status families don't know that they are passing on to their kids a kind of capital just by their lifestyle.

Bourdieu was, therefore, concerned with the effects of families in transmitting capital. He did not, though, give much attention to exactly how families produced these effects, nor to what difference different approaches to marriage and children would make for transmitting cultural capital.

It has become more obvious in the generation since Distinction was written that the knowledge class is the class most likely to never marry, or to never have children. The cultural capital that knowledge class individuals accumulate is more likely to die with them than is other kinds of capital, or in other classes.

A class will only pass on its capital to the next generation if it has a next generation. One hypothesis that we are exploring is that knowledge class life makes it less likely that you will produce a next generation.

5 comments:

Kerri said...

The thing that really interests me, and that I started thinking about in the tradition paper for your class, is how one moves about between these classes, and (like you mention in this post) the problems that come with it (I definitely feel like I'm at a cultural disadvantage compared to some of my peers that have a longer legacy of college-ness). And, how would you denominate other classes? Are the knowledge and corporate classes divisions of the upper/middle class?

Gruntled said...

Bourdieu uses the cumbersome designations "the dominant fraction of the dominant class" and the "dominated fraction of the dominant class." In the normal way we talk about these things, these would roughly be the upper class and the upper middle class. I think his focus on the composition of capital a the same wealth level, though, is quite helpful.

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mary jo tewes said...

Sounds like a fascinating project! I wonder how you'd measure the amount of 'cultural capital' a given family has. College education is a great starting point, but doesn't quite tell the whole story.
I think there are lots of books out now about the differences between the upper class and working class; it's a hot topic, as it has probably always been. Rich Dad Poor Dad, for example. I saw another one like that more focused on women too. I picked up a book in the library the other day to read the cover and it was about the health benefits of being in the upper class. I don't remember the title but it had the word 'status' in it.

LMR said...

What I think might be interesting in terms of your project is to consider how where you live affects your knowledge. I don't know if you followed the NYTimes series on class in america that appeared several months ago (maybe as long as a year ago, really don't remember), but one of the things it pointed out was that in suburbia, how well off you are is measured in terms of how much stuff you have, whereas for those who live in big cities without the space for more stuff, their quality of life is measured more easily in terms of what they choose to spend money on - vacation in Greece v. vacation in Florida, designer clothes instead of closets full of clothes, nanny v. daycare. It is not conspicuous consumption, rather it is a kind of discreet, inconspicuous consumption. This kind of consumption has always been more a mark of the long- moneyed upper class (rather than the upwardly mobile upper middle class), but I also find the urban/suburban distinction significant. You can also consider that children raised in a big city environment have more access to cultural events and also are forced to interact with other people (often of different cultures) because they have to play in a local park rather than in their own backyard.