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Comparative Analysis of Social Spaces in Post-Industrial Nations

Periodic Reporting for period 4 - CASSPIN (Comparative Analysis of Social Spaces in Post-Industrial Nations)

Reporting period: 2020-11-01 to 2021-04-30

The proposed research had two overarching objectives. First, it aimed to examine whether it is possible and appropriate to extend a novel way of measuring social class recently devised for the United Kingdom to other post-industrial nations for the purposes of effective cross-national comparative research. This measure, influenced by the pioneering work of Pierre Bourdieu, is designed to capture not only hierarchical differences in economic, cultural and social resources (or 'capitals'), but horizontal differences too, that is to say, divisions between those possessing a greater weight of economic resources to cultural resources and those with the opposite profile. These two facets of differentiation and inequality are referred to as the 'capital volume' and 'capital composition' principles respectively. If it were possible to extend this measure, the project was to begin to explore, through secondary and primary analysis of large-scale survey data, the different shapes, trajectories and effects of the class structures – or ‘social spaces’ – of various nation states.

The conclusions in respect to this objective were that a wide range of post-industrial societies could indeed by modelled as multidimensional social spaces but that it was not possible to produce a cross-nationally transposable occupation-based proxy measure. Comparison thus proceeded by other means and outlined the points of convergence and divergence between nations.

Second, the project aimed to explore, through both statistical analysis and qualitative interviews, how social class is actually lived, experienced and balanced against other pressures and sources of recognition in everyday life, with a focus on three specific nations: the United States, Germany and Sweden. Of particular interest in this respect was the balancing of desire for recognition through money and education – the two cornerstones of social class in post-industrial capitalist societies – and their associated lifestyles with desires for recognition and love within the family.

Delays to the fieldwork related to this objective mean that analysis is still ongoing and conclusions are yet to be drawn.
The key results are as follows.
1. Using Categorical Principal Components Analysis (CatPCA) on data from the 2009 Social inequality module of the International Social Survey Programme, it was possible to model the class structures of 23 nations as multidimensional social spaces defined by volume and composition of capital. The models were then subjected to multiple additional analyses to unearth (i) the consistent effect of household formation in attenuating gender differences in the spaces; (ii) the constant association of cultural capital with youth, urban residence and irreligiosity; (iii) the variable relationship between class and political outlooks, though with a relatively stable association between economic capital and right-wing parties; (iv) the correspondence between high/low economic capital and high/low self-placement in society; and (v) the strong belief in meritocracy across the spaces but, in some cases, with those at the bottom tending to be more likely to deny the role of parental resources in getting ahead. These analyses have now been published as the first volume of a three-part monograph series. Results for France were also published in a journal article.

2. Complementing the secondary analysis was the implementation and analysis of the new surveys. These were designed and delivered in the US, Germany and Sweden in 2017. With a much more refined set of indicators than are available in the ISSP dataset, the surveys facilitated the use of Multiple Correspondence Analysis (MCA) to construct very detailed models of the social spaces of the three nations. These models allowed more confident conclusions to be drawn about the relationship between capitals and occupations, industries, age, gender, race/ethnicity and urban/rural residence. Crucially, they enabled comprehensive examination of the homology between the class structure on the one hand and tastes, lifestyles and self-evaluation (or ‘symbolic violence’) on the other. Although each national model displays some idiosyncrasies seemingly related to industrial and socio-demographic composition and cultural heritage, the overriding conclusion is that the three nations, as market societies with expansive education systems, appear to be remarkably alike in their class structures and their symbolic manifestations. This analysis formed the basis of the second volume in the three-part series, which is currently in production. Results for Germany and the US are also currently being written up as stand-alone papers.

3. Complementing the construction of the models of social spaces, separate analyses have been undertaken to construct MCA models of the space of lifestyles in each nation. To assess the homology between class and lifestyles from the ‘other direction’, indicators of social position have then been mapped into the spaces. Again, the overriding result is of cross-national convergence in the shape of the space, but with some variation in the effects of age and race/ethnicity in shaping the relationship with class. These analyses have formed the basis of three journal papers, one of which has been published and two of which are currently under review.

4. Conclusions regarding the lived experience of class and its balance against other forces have yet to be drawn as analysis continues. The expectation is that this analysis will form the basis of the third volume in the three-part series.
1. Progress beyond the state of the art:

The major contribution has been to confirm, for the first time, that the class structure, or social space, takes the same basic form across a wide range of capitalist societies, albeit inflected by national specificities deriving from industrial composition and the state of the education system. This is something which, until now, has only been guessed at or conjectured in research on a small selection of specific nations, most of them (Northern) European. On top of that, the research has: (i) unveiled consistent intersections between class, gender, age and ethnicity; and (ii) documented, in an innovative fashion and on a scale never before achieved, cross-national patterns of social mobility, political attitudes, self-identity, tastes/lifestyles and symbolic violence.

2. Expected results until the end of the project:

Cover art for the first monograph from the project.