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  A concept that describes systems of stratification derived from social relations of property and work. Class is central to theoretical accounts of capitalism but there is a wide range of views as to its meaning. There is also debate as to whether classes exist in non-capitalist societies (see Giddens, 1987, p. 62; Gibson-Graham, 1996).

Geographers use a range of class definitions, drawn from different theoretical traditions. In gradational approaches, classes are measured by attributes such as income, status, and education and tend to be descriptive rather than explanatory categories. With relational approaches, the social relations between classes are definitive and gradations in income and status taken as outcomes rather than defining characteristics of class position. David Harvey\'s book Social justice and the city marks the transition from the use of gradational to relational approaches to class in geography, in Harvey\'s case to Marxist class theory.

There is a variety of relational approaches to class. A conception of class based on market relations is associated with Weberian theory. Max Weber used the term class to refer to \'objective\' market interests that influence \'life-chances\' (access to economic and cultural goods). He contrasts this to the concept of status groups, which are communities based on common \'styles of life\', and perceptions of similarity. Although Weber restricts the notion of class to \'pure\' economic relations, he presents a pluralistic model, distinguishing between:

{img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } property classes, whose membership is based on command over forms of property that can be used to realize income in the market; {img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } acquisition classes with membership determined by marketable skills or services; and {img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } social classes that refer to clusters of class situations linked by common mobility chances (see Giddens, 1973 for a description and critique).Weber\'s definition of property classes has been used to argue that classes also emerge out of urban housing markets to form an important basis for conflict in the city and within national politics (Saunders, 1984: see housing class; housing studies).

Other approaches ground class exclusively within the relations of production but, once again, these relations are conceived in different ways. For some theorists, production relations are equivalent to occupation and industrial sector. This interpretation of class has been used by Ley (1996), for example, to explain the gentrification of inner cities in terms of the expansion of professional occupations and the service sector. Marxist theorists conceive of the division of labour (the organization of work into occupations, industrial sectors and firms) as distinct from class (Walker, 1985) and usually define the latter in terms of ownership of the means of production, domination (control over labour) and exploitation (appropriation of surplus value). Sheppard and Barnes (1990) and Gibson-Graham (1996) provide critical discussions of the controversies within Marxism surrounding the centrality of each of these factors to the definition of class. As Gibson-Graham note, various concepts of class co-exist in Marxian political economy, \'often within the writings of the same person\' (1996, p. 49). At the most abstract level of theory, the three criteria lead to the identification of two classes (capitalist and working), although considerable effort has been made over the last decade to revise Marxist class theory so as to theorize the middle classes in contemporary industrial societies (see Wright, 1985; 1993). In one of the most influential accounts, Wright theorizes the middle class through a more complex conception of exploitation, loosely defined as a process by which one group is able to appropriate part of the social surplus produced by another group. Without owning the means of production, the middle classes nonetheless appropriate part of the surplus through skill exploitation (by which owners of scarce skills extract wages beyond the costs of producing and reproducing the skills) and organization exploitation (through the power managers command within bureaucratic structures of capitalist production).

Debates about and the use of class theory have shifted within geography over the last decade. Theoretical debates between Weberian and Marxist theorists, perspectives once considered irreconcilable, now assume less importance. Weberians now tend to contain their use of the class concept to market relations within the production sphere, using different terminology to analyse distributive- and consumption-based exchange relations (Saunders, 1984). Similarly, Marxist theorists tend to use the concept more specifically, and admit the importance of other dimensions of power and social division (e.g. gender- and race-based forms of oppression). This creates the opportunity to explore the ways that class and other relations and identities are intertwined. Without reducing one set of relations to another, it is argued that gender relations are central to the restructuring of class relations; for example, the increase in contingent forms of labour (e.g. part-time, temporary, and other short-term contractual workers) is intrinsically linked to an increased female labour supply and to gender relations within households.

Some debate between Weberian-inspired and Marxist class analyses persists in studies of gentrification. Ley (1996) explains gentrification in terms of the growth of a generational cohort of what he terms the cultural new class comprising college-educated professionals and managers in private and, especially, public sector employment who were influential in and influenced by the counter-cultural youth movements of the 1960s (see cultural politics) and came to reject the suburbs as conservative, homogeneous and alienating places (cf. alienation). Smith (1996) continues to prioritize the rent gap in the production of gentrification and sees the production of gentrifiers (consumers) as secondary; he argues that we require analytical tools other than class analysis to understand consumption processes. Bridge (1995) draws upon the notion of levels of abstraction (moving from mode of production, through social formation to conjunction) as a means of reconciling these different approaches.

A theoretical issue that continues to perplex many class theorists (both Marxist and Weberian) is how to move between abstractions about class structure to analyses of class structure, consciousness and formation in concrete societies. Walker (1985) reviews various attempts to resolve this difficulty and argues that the abstract definition of class must be \'recast\' in each historical context. Most theorists, including Marxists, no longer expect a direct link between position in the class structure and class consciousness and action, and interpret the constitution of class identity as a highly contingent socio-political activity. More attention is now given to the interrelations between different social identities; an early example is Willis\'s (1977) discussion of the links between masculinity, race, and an affirmative manual, white working-class culture.

There are, however, different strategies for theorizing this contingency and a sharp point of debate has emerged between what have been labelled \'essentialist\' and \'anti-essentialist\' Marxist theorists. In their influential critique of marxist essentialism, Laclau and Mouffe (1985) criticized marxist class analyses for positing class as an objective and foundational social location that should come to consciousness if not distorted by processes of mystification and false consciousness. Laclau and Mouffe displaced the economy from its founding and unifying role within society and theorized the social as open and constituted within multiple discourses (see post-structuralism; radical democracy). Drawing on this, and Resnick and Wolff\'s (1987) class theory, Gibson-Graham (1996) have elaborated an anti-essentialist marxist perspective in geography in which the economy in capitalist societies is not seen to exhaust the social and is conceived as complex combinations of capitalist and non-capitalist processes (e.g. feudal, communal, slave, independent: see feudalism; slavery). Class is represented not as a grouping but as processes of producing, appropriating and distributing social labour. Class processes are constituted by every other aspect of social life; what distinguishes class from gender analysis, for instance, is the point of analytical departure, the fact that class analysis theorizes society and subjectivity from the entry point of class. Class processes occur wherever surplus labour is produced, appropriated and distributed; the household (and not just the workplace) is thus a major site of class processes. Individuals are conceived as contradictory and fragmented social sites, as the intersection of a multiplicity of class and non-class processes (see subject formation, geographies of). It is thus unlikely that an individual will be located in one class position; to search for a \'true and singular class identity in this complex and shifting intersection would involve a quest for the type of “regulatory fiction” that Butler sees gender coherence to be\' (1996, p. 63: see gender and geography; performativity. This method of conceiving class allows Gibson-Graham a way out of a perennial problem for class analysis: how to theorize individual in relation to household class location.)

Gibson-Graham pursue an anti-essentialist position because it suggests new political possibilities; they make no exhaustive claims to knowledge (see masculinism) and credit Wright (1993) for opening other political options with his more traditional marxist class analysis. Gibson-Graham are reacting to the restructuring literature in geography which posits a dissolution in traditional working-class politics with the restructuring of the economy (e.g. the growth of the service sector and contingent forms of work, the feminization of the labour force). Their re-theorization allows class transformation wherever there is an attempt to change the ways that surplus labour is produced, appropriated and distributed (in, for example, the redistribution of domestic work within the household). Their anti-essentialist Marxism has provoked critical commentary and debate (Graham, 1992; Peet, 1992) but should be distinguished from the identity politics that Harvey (1996) criticizes for displacing class politics.

Another important development involves the spatialization of class theory (Thrift and Williams, 1987). In the mid-1980s, Walker (1985) complained that geographical analyses of class suffered from \'the fallacy of sequential ordering\' (i.e. class theory was applied to geographical problems but the role of space in the constitution of classes was usually ignored). The linkages between space, place and class have since been expanded and there is a vast literature, not only on the constitutive role of class in the production of space and places (see Pratt, 1989, for a review at the urban scale and Corbridge, 1989, for a review at the international scale), but also the place-specificity of class relations and the role that space plays in class formation and the development of class consciousness and class practices (Massey, 1984; Peck, 1996). Sheppard and Barnes (1990, pp. 209-10) argue that the insertion of abstract Marxist theories of class structure into a spatial (as opposed to aspatial) economy disrupts some of these theories\' central conclusions. Focusing on class politics, Herod (1991) argues that spatial immobility leads some class actors to take up positions that are opposite to those that an aspatial class analysis would predict. Architecture and landscape status markers are thought to be especially significant in the formation of an otherwise ambiguous middle-class identity (see Pratt, 1989 for review of this literature). (GP)

References Bridge, G. 1995: The space for class? On class analysis in the study of gentrification. Transactions Institute of British Geographers NS 20: 236-47. Corbridge, S. 1989: Marxism, post-Marxism, and geography of development. In N. Thrift and R. Peet, eds, New models in geography, volume 1. Boston and London: Unwin Hyman, 224-54. Harvey, D. 1996: Justice, nature and the geography of difference. Cambridge, MA and Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. Herod, A. 1991: Local political practice in response to a manufacturing plant closure: how geography complicates class analysis. Antipode 23 (4): 385-402. Gibson-Graham, J.-K. 1996: Capitalism (as we knew it): a feminist critique of political economy. Cambridge, MA and Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. Giddens, A. 1987: The nation-state and violence. Cambridge: Polity Press and Berkeley: University of California Press. Graham, J. 1992: Anti-essentialism and overdetermination — a response to Dick Peet. Antipode 24: 141-56. Laclau, E. and Mouffe, C. 1985: Hegemony and socialist strategy: towards a radical democratic politics. London: Verso. Ley, D. 1996: The new middle class and the remaking of the central city. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Massey, D. 1984: Spatial divisions of labour. London and New York: Methuen. Peck, J. 1996: Work-place: the social regulation of labour markets. New York: Guilford. Peet, R. 1992: Some critical questions for anti-essentialism. Antipode 24: 113-30. Pratt, G. 1989: Reproduction, class and the spatial structure of the city. In N. Thrift, and R. Peet, New models in geography, volume 2. Boston and London: Unwin and Hyman, 84-108. Resnick, S. and Wolff, R. 1987: Knowledge and class: a Marxian critique of political economy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Saunders, P. 1984: Beyond housing classes: the sociological significance of private property rights in the means of consumption. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 8: 201-27. Sheppard E. and Barnes, T. 1990: The capitalist space economy: geographical analysis after Ricardo, Marx and Sraffa. Boston and London: Unwin Hyman. Smith, N. 1996: The new urban frontier: gentrification and the revanchist city. London and New York: Routledge. Thrift, N. and Williams, P. 1987: Class and Space: the making of Urban Society. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Walker, R. 1985: Class, division of labour and employment in space. In D. Gregory and J. Urry, eds, social relations and spatial structures. New York: St. Martin\'s Press, 164-89. Willis, P. 1977: Learning to labour. Farnborough: Saxon House. Wright, E.O. 1979: Class structure and income determination. New York: Academic Press. Wright, E.O. 1985: Classes. London: Verso. Wright, E.O. 1993: Class analysis, history and emancipation. New Left Review 202: 15-35.

Suggested Reading Giddens, A. 1973: The class structure of the advanced societies. London: Hutchinson. Gibson-Graham, J.K. (1996).



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