August 08, 2007

Class Consciousness

author_karen By Karen Sternheimer

A few months back, I got a letter saying that I had won the lottery. No, not that kind of lottery. Not a scam lottery either. I won the kind that gives you a week of jury duty.

So I dutifully showed up at the courthouse to fulfill my civic obligation.

“Jury duty?” a woman asked as I walked out of the parking structure. She must have seen the papers in my hand. 

“Yep,” I answered.  j0178190

“Me too,” she said. “Have you been here before?” she asked. I said no; she said that she hadn’t either.

As we waited in the long security line to enter the courthouse, I noticed that we were among the few white women there. And although she was significantly older than me, our appearances were somewhat similar in other ways: the open-toed shoes revealing manicured feet, slightly cropped pants and short-sleeved shirt under a light sweater. We both carried a tote bag with that day’s Los Angeles Times sticking out. We were “class” mates.

j0411815There were other clues too. The courthouse was located in a working-class neighborhood, where she (correctly) presumed I did not reside. 

“How long did it take you to get here?” she asked.

I said not too long, maybe thirty minutes. “From the west side?” she (again, correctly) guessed, and then asked me which streets I took to get there. In Los Angeles, the west side is synonymous with being at least middle class, if not affluent. 

Once she confirmed our similar class statuses, she complained that she didn’t see any suitable restaurants in the area for lunch. I mentioned that there was a snack bar, and she said there was probably nothing healthy there. I told her that I had the same thought the night before and brought my lunch with me.

Social class is an interesting and sometimes complex sociological concept. Based on more than just how much money you have or where you live, it includes things like educational background, occupational prestige, and whether most of your money comes from income earned from a job or from inherited wealth. And as some sociologists argue, cultural preferences may also provide markers about class membership (like what kinds of food you eat and the sort of clothes you wear). 

Once we got through security and into the courthouse, we found that the jury room was packed; my new friend and I sat next to each other. In such a crowded space it was all too easy to overhear the numerous conversations taking place. Many revealed the class status of the conversant; a group in front of me discussed how many days their employers paid for jury duty—not an issue for a professor on summer break, a business owner, or someone who does not need to be in the labor force at all. 

One of the people in front said he was a mail carrier. In his conversation with the women beside him, he compared the post office’s policy to the transit authority’s jury duty policy, as he used to be a bus driver. His neighbor mentioned that her friend drives a bus too; from their conversation I learned that wages are much lower now than they had been when the man drove a bus, and that finding a good job with a strong union was tough these days.j0411833 

Aside from profession, income, neighborhood, and food preferences, our entertainment choices can also be used to demonstrate class status. As the jury room television played Jerry Springer, the lady next to me mentioned under her breath that she couldn’t understand why anyone would watch such “trash.” Later, someone changed the channel and put on an afternoon soap, much to the dismay of the people in front of us.

“Who do they think they are, changing the channel while people are watching?”  one woman asked. A man nearby her got up and changed the channel back to the raucous talk show (about who the real father of a teen’s baby was). A woman on the other side of me also shook her head and muttered, “I can’t believe these people” when it became apparent that the people in front of us really wanted to watch the show.

Now how did my new neighbors know that I wasn’t I die-hard Springer fan? Okay, I’m not, but why would they presume that they could criticize the show and not offend me? 

My status cues suggested that I wouldn’t be someone in Jerry’s fan base, but instead someone who reads the newspaper daily (an increasingly small demographic). Plus they overheard me talking to an old grad-school classmate, coincidentally on jury duty too. From our conversation they could surmise other reasons that I would be an unlikely fan of the show: I have an advanced degree and work as a professor.

Some of my neighbors displayed their class status by distancing themselves from the show. And the people in front of me did the same thing in a different way. “Her mother didn’t raise her right,” one of the women said of the Springer guest, who (supposedly) had no idea who the baby’s daddy really was. “Mm-mm,” she shook her head, “my momma would have whooped my butt if I was running around with all those guys.” 

Part of establishing class lines includes differentiating ourselves from others, either those we somehow feel superior to (because of what kinds of popular culture they enjoy, in this case) or those we think might feel superior to us (“who do they think they are?”). j0336341

But Americans rarely discuss class, maintaining the illusion that we live in a classless society. The mythology of the American Dream tells us that anyone can rise to the top, provided they work hard. Even our use of the word “class” denotes individual, rather than collective realities. Saying someone has or doesn’t have class is a reflection of their behavior, not a reference to our system of stratification.

Americans often have an easier time noting the impact of race and racial discrimination than we understand the persistence of economic stratification. This is especially challenging because race and class have been so entangled in American life (which is why I purposely haven’t touched on issues of race in this essay). 

Maybe that’s because we seldom have opportunities to mingle with people from other social class levels outside of the workplace, and at work stratification may seem normal. Even jury duty, a seemingly perfect possibility for a cross-class gathering, generally excludes those at the top and bottom of the socio-economic scale. 

Those at the bottom may not be registered to vote or have a driver’s license, and therefore would be excluded from the pool of potential jurors. Also, people earning minimum wage with no vacation time or benefits might not lose their job if they go on jury duty, but they probably would not get paid and thus could be excused for financial hardship reasons. And as for the wealthy, the threat of a $1,500 fine for failing to appear might not be a big deal (that is if they couldn’t use connections to get themselves excused in the first place). 

At the end of the day, the jury room supervisor let us know that none of us would be needed on a case, and we were free to go. I said goodbye to my “class mate,” knowing that I would probably never see her again. But I will probably encounter many other “class mates” like her in the future, as America remains in many ways more segregated by class than it is by race.


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It is very hard to be consider one group. History has told us of many classes we have only change the name to make it sound nice. Even if you do not refer to people as a class people will not be as one united.

I think that everyone is seperated into a class. Everyone is different and the same in their own way. Even if you dont think of people as a class, Everyone is different and not as one like it should be.

The women noticed that they were in a neighborhood that they did not live in and they were dressed alike, but different than others around them. Other people in different classes, displayed their class by their conversation topics, their attitudes, and thir mannerisms.

diffrent classes of people will always be and each of the class' will come with their own share of worries and complaints. People often are distinguished by the way they are dressed or by the topics they communicates on and a good example would be a group on educated people versus a group with very little education. Just because people are of different backgrounds does not mean that one is more superior than the other.

The two saw how they were dressed and they had thing in common. As the two talked they felt like friends. The others that were there connected either by having a simliar job or by liking the same show.

Everyone gets seperated into class not only by the way they present themselves, but a lot by where their from, or whom they are related too. Sometimes it can have a lot to do with their income. and people shouldn't be judged. and classified.

The two women found some similarities that they shared. The other people in the story identified their class by the way they watch television.

Its really easy to place people in groups and select which group or people are more similar to your traits which is a natural habit of wanting to feel comfortable in your own setting.H

The women realized that they had a lot in common with the other. Everyone else in this article had in common other things that weren't as similar as the women.

At the beginning of the article the women displayed their class conciousness in many ways. They began talking to eachother because they had first noticed that they were wearing similar clothing. Not only were they alike in the way they dressed but in how they dressed. They both had the newspaper in their tote bags and they both dressed nice. The people in the jury began to show their class conciusness by what was on the television and who liked what. The people who did not like Jerry Springer talked and complained to those who looked like them. The ones who seemed to be enjoying the show were noticable in the way that they communicated.

when you look around and study your surrounding it makes you wonder if you are out of place. they all had a prejudgement to the other women. but by their way of dress or the shoes they seem to pick them because of the things they thought they had in common. again the status is al about what you look like,hair, makeup, if you on something thet bling then that could put you into a different group.

The two women noticed they were at the same place for the same things, and when looking in greater detail at themselves they were wearing same style clothing, same news in handbag, and come from same neighborhoods upon talking to one another. People displayed class status by jobs, wages, neighborhoods, and preferences.

social classes are unavoidable!! everyone is unknowingly grouped together by there subconsciousness

Everyone is going to group you in a certain way. Since the two women had a lot in common they identified with each other. They were generally from the same class. We all display our group status in many different ways. What we are wearing, talking about, and what stores we shop at,etc.
You can tell who is above you in class or somewhat lower than what you beleive is your class.

whether we like it or not, social classes are everywhere. We classify people by what they wear, what tv shows they talk about, music they listen to, neighborhoods, what kind of car they drive, and so many more things. It is just soemthing our society does.

The two women began by "feeling" the other out, the one asked her how long it took to get to the court-room, the other by noticing that they both had the L.A. Times in their bags. The other people displayed their social status by revealing personal things about themselves. One man revealed that he worked as a postal worker, and before that had worked as a bus driver.

By analyzing here surroundings and comparing various things. Almost everyone does this whethere knowing are unware of it. Class is very evident in our culture. Just by observing a person one can conclude what type of status or class they have. The way a person speaks, dress, or even it reveals a lot about social class. Even by what a person decides to entertain themselves with on the television is revalation to what kinda class one has. Personally I don't think that no one is better than anyone else no matter how much money, class, or anything you have.

The two women realized that they had several things in common with one another. They were at the same place for the same things. The others were connected by the jobs that they had or the things that they watched on TV.

The two women were very obvious in their class consciousness. They showed it in the way they dressed - shoes, pants, shirt, sweater, and manicured toes. The women also talked about their status by discussing where they lived and what they ate for lunch. While the others in the room were clearly marked by their job titles and by the entertainment they so clearly enjoyed or saw as distasteful.

Seth Cardwell

people are placed in different groups depending on how they adapt to the situation that they are in

I see examples of this everyday. If you take a look around a college campus you automatically see how people break off into different groups based on your interest, hobbies, appearance, and sometimes income. That's just how it is. Always will be that way. Disturbance of this would cause chaos and pandemonium.

The two women developed class conciousness by noticing the way each other was dressed and they way they presented themselves. It happens everyday. Most of the other people displayed their class status verbally, by talking about their job or income or what they thought was appropriate and what they thought was "trash".

People put themselves into these groups based on their on interests, or whats comfortable to them. Most people are not going to be placed in a group that they are completely fearful of.

The two women displayed their class status by just the way the dressed and acted. This allowed one another to connect more on a class level. The others in the room could be judged by what was on the television and how they reacted to it.

The two women showed there status by the way they acted and dressed. The other people class was descibedon how they reacted to the show they was watching.

The two women could tell by what a person wanted to watch or how they dressed which social class they were apart of. The other people showed their social class by what they wanted to watch or how they talked down about the show.

Everyone is put in their own class. Some people rank themselves in the high class. I feel that we should all be in one class even though I know that will never happen. Society shows everyday that people are put into different classes depending on what you wear to what you eat and to what you drive. I wonder sometimes if it will ever just stop.

People are going to gather and converse with others that have the same interest in common. That's just human nature. Do you think that a factory worker is going to want to hang out with a bunch of corporate lawyers?

you can see by the way they dressed and acted. now the rest of the people just placed them by reaction of the show

I think that everyone is different and the same in their own way. When you look around and study your surrounding it makes you wonder if you are out of place. We all prejudge everyone before we get to know each other.

The two women developed class consciousness in noticing their similarity in style and taste. The other people displayed their class status by their job interests, as well as the types of TV show they liked or not.

I think everyone is different in their own way, and people should respect that.

The women at developed class consciousness by noticing how they were dressed and what kind of purses they carried, as opposed to how the others were dressed. The talked about they neighborhood they lived in and how the restaurants werent acceptable and how they didn't like jerry springer which suggests that they are higher class.

The other people displayed their class by distancing themselves from the jerry springer show and making comments about how they didnt approve and even tried to change the channel.

I believe the woman was being judgemental by saying the woman looked much older then her, we as people always seem to judge others by what they wear and how they talk not knowing that we might share more of the same values.

No matter if people like it or not everyone is put into a category. It can be based on your car, the way you look, the type of family you came from. it happens, unfortunately. It happens to everyone, like these ladies.

The two women were dressed similar and had a great deal of things in common. Other people displayed their class but the way they spoke and the shows they watched.

I don't think that one can tell what social class they are in just by apperance or anything from the first time meeting someone. I saw a man wearing no tee shirt and some overalls and some fip flops. He was older, and had an "old man belly" and looked very tired and relaxed, but like he had worked all day. That man was one of the richest in the state. I recognized his face from a newspaper I had read a while back and recollected his social status. When he left the store we were in (Abercombie & Fitch) and didn't purchase anything, the sales person asked him if he found anything. He softly replied that he hadn't, the sales person asked him "not even on the clearance rack." He said no, and continued walking. The sales person said "oh you dont have enough money?" He just quietly left, the next day there was an article in the local newspaper talking about how this man had filed a lawsuit against the company, and for some reason or another tried to boot the business out of the city. Can't judge a book by its cover.

The women are looking at professions and who can afford to miss work and who cant. This is wrong although many people base their opinion of you on where you live and work. The tv programs you like to watch on tv also take part in your view of social classes. Some people watch things like the jerry springer show because they can identify with the people on the show or because they feel better about their social standing because the peiople on the show are beneath them.

The two woman found that they had more similarities then the other people. The other people were more in a class than and the two ladies was in another.

i think everyone has something in common or something similar to the next person but society has brought in different groups depending on were u work and how much money u make

What this author describes is everyday class consciousness, a symbolic interactionist concept and NOT class consciousness, a Marxist concept. It behooves me that there are individuals with advanced degrees in traditional sociology who do not know the difference between the two concepts. Because the author describes reading other's material possessions, eating habits, values, etc in face-to-face interaction, this would relate to everyday class consciousness. Class consciousness is a completely different concept and they should NOT be used interchangeably.

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