Monday, May 26, 2008

Knowledge Class Social Register

This month I am working my way through the writings of one of my favorite sociologists, E. Digby Baltzell. In all of his work, Baltzell argued that a nation is best led when its elite of individuals is molded into a socially responsible "establishment" by a well-functioning upper class of families.

In his first book, Philadelphia Gentleman: The Making of a National Upper Class, Baltzell explores the overlap between the elite and the upper class. To find the elite of the day he turned to Who's Who. To find the upper class, he turned to The Social Register. A crucial question for him is how much overlap there is between the two - that is, what proportion of the elite who run things now come from the intermarried descendants of elites who ran things before. The answer in 1940, the critical year of his book is about 25%.

My concern is with the knowledge class, the class of people who make their living from control of the knowledge necessary to run the social system. Many knowledge class people are in the elite, and thus in Who's Who. This got me to wondering, though: could there be a Social Register for the knowledge class?

There are two obstacles to making a knowledge class social register. One is that there just isn't much of a market for it. The descendants of various monied families make social institutions that bring them together, help them intermarry, and form a social class with a real organic unity. Thus the value of a social register, sometimes called "the stud book" for the upper class. In the knowledge class, though, there is not the same call to keep "old books" families together in the way that there is for "old money" families.

The second is that the knowledge class does not expect that it can produce a distinctive class and way of life by "breeding" (in the sense of nurture), the way the settled upper class does. Most knowledge class individuals rise through a meritocracy that selects an elite. They do not expect that their families will remain in the knowledge elite over generations.

I think this last point is an empirical question well worth pursuing. And if, in fact, significant portions of the knowledge class do keep turning up in the elite generation after generation, then perhaps there could be a market for a Knowledge Class Social Register.

2 comments:

SPorcupine said...

Have you considered what a knowledge class couple, say a professor and a lawyer, might be able to find out about a young man just using Google? Especially, if (just for example) the other young person's parents had published work accessible on line?

A social register seems truly primitive by comparison.

Endub said...

Very true. The couple might, though, know about all the knowledge class scions in the area of their daughter ahead of time.