Contributions to understanding of the significance of class Essay Example
Contributions to understanding of the significance of class Essay Example

Contributions to understanding of the significance of class Essay Example

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  • Published: August 5, 2017
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This essay explores the work and impact of a societal theoretician on the concept of class and demonstrates how it has contributed to our understanding of its significance in people's lives. Specifically, it focuses on Jay Macleod's study "Aint No Makin It" published in 1987 and analyzes the role his research has played in the academic study of social class. First, it outlines the background and foundation of Macleod's study, along with its key objectives. It then examines the main ideas associated with social reproduction theory in his research and how it influenced the study's findings and implications. The essay also discusses other related research that builds upon Macleod's findings before delving into why his chosen methodology and theory were best suited for investigating his subjects. Macleod is considered an ethnographic social researcher due to his utilization of descriptive anthropolo


gy as a critical research method in "Aint No Makin It" (1995).

His influential book is the result of a field research project that began as his undergraduate research thesis. The project took place between 1983 and 2007 in a low-income housing project called Clarendon Heights in San Francisco, America. Macleod's urban anthropology focuses on analyzing the aspirations, attitudes, hopes, socioeconomic class, and racial barriers that young males face in American society. He also explores concepts such as social mobility and the American Dream, as well as the attitudes and perceptions of his subjects towards these topics (Macleod, 1995, p1-9).

Macleod conducted his research by working as a youth worker in Clarendon Heights, a poor working-class housing development. He aimed to study the aspirations of young teenage males in the neighborhood and investigate the reasons and influences behin

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their attitudes. Clarendon Heights shares similarities with other low-income public housing developments in America, as it exhibits an aesthetic of neglect and deterioration. The majority of families in Clarendon Heights are headed by women, with most being white, while the remaining population consists of a mix of black individuals and other minorities.

In his study, Macleod (1995, p6) identifies overcrowding, unemployment, alcohol addiction, drug maltreatment, crime, and racism as common characteristics of the community. He focuses on two distinct groups called "The Brothers" and "The Hangers" who both reside in Clarendon Heights. The Brothers are primarily black and are hardworking, optimistic about their futures, and engaged in sports. The Hangers, on the other hand, are predominantly white youth who hold a pessimistic view on various aspects of their lives and engage in criminal activities regularly (Macleod, 1995, p1-8). Macleod's study aims to gain insight into the lives and aspirations of these young males by examining their contrasting values. The study's research questions revolve around the occupational aspirations of The Brothers and The Hangers, how these aspirations are influenced, and their implications for social inequality reproduction.

Macleod's research focused on exploring why there was a significant variation in values among different groups living in the same country and undertaking the same housing project (Macleod, 1995, p8). His research undertaking stands out as an influential study of social class since he integrates his own research and findings with key sociological theories of social reproduction, providing a deep understanding of the significance of class in people's lives. Specifically, he examines Bourdieu's concept of Cultural Capital and Habitus and also references Bernstein and Heath's notion of Linguistic Cultural Capital to analyze

social reproduction and class issues in Clarendon Heights (Macleod, 1987, p13). However, before delving into the relationship between the experiences of the Brothers and the Hangers in relation to these theories, it is important to define these concepts that Macleod draws upon in this study. One of the prominent social theorists that Macleod draws upon is Bourdieu, who extensively explored Cultural Capital and Habitus.

The two constructs mentioned were crucial for the survey, serving as the foundation to analyze the aspirations and attitudes of both equal groups. Macleod heavily relies on Bourdieu's theories in his research, as Bourdieu, like Macleod, focuses on the aim and external societal forces that shape people's attitudes and behaviors, as well as their perception and actions in the world. Before discussing the significance of these constructs in relation to Macleod's findings, it is important to define the terms. Cultural capital refers to non-material goods such as educational certificates, knowledge and effort, linguistic skills, and aesthetic preferences that can be converted into economic capital.

According to Bourdieu, cultural reproduction occurs when the general cultural background is passed down from one generation to the next, resulting in the perpetuation of cultural capital among the upper and working classes. Bourdieu also explains that the dominant classes possess a different cultural capital than the working class, and institutions like the education system reward the cultural capital of these dominant groups. This emphasizes the significance of the education system in creating societal inequalities based on social class, which will be further analyzed later (Macleod, 1987, p13-16). Additionally, Bourdieu's concept of habitus refers to a mental filter that shapes an individual's perceptions and behaviors, causing the world to

appear as common sense. The habitus influences an individual's actions and orientations, thereby shaping their life opportunities in relation to their particular social positions (Appelrouth & Edles, 2007, p686-689).

The importance of social class in society is influenced by both cultural capital and habitus. Macleod's findings demonstrate that these concepts play a significant role in shaping the attitudes, aspirations, and social positions of both equal groups and individuals in society. While both peer groups come from the same social class background, they differ in terms of their own cultural capital and habitus. The Hallway Hangers, for example, exhibit limited language skills, engage in criminal activities involving drugs and violence, and reject the value of academic achievement. This nonconformity at school reflects a pessimistic outlook on life. Moreover, their habitus is shaped by families that share similar values, where education is not encouraged and the main concern is obtaining money for household expenses. In contrast, the Brothers, who also live in the same community, possess significantly different cultural capital and habitus.

They are a group of optimistic young individuals who strongly believe in achieving political orientation and meritocracy and aspire to build a better future for themselves and their families through hard work and dedication at school (Macleod, 1995, p135-139). Macleod's research shows that both cultural capital and habitus play a significant role in shaping the different attitudes exhibited by the peer groups regarding their outlook on life. Additionally, he also discovered that factors like social capital and physical resettlement were essential in explaining social mobility and stagnation. For instance, in a later stage of his study examining the occupational and geographical outcomes of the peer groups, his

findings had intriguing implications for the interpretation of social class. He found that among both peer groups, those who initially rejected the idea of social mobility were slightly more successful in terms of their job positions and place of residence.

According to Macleod (2009, p411-419), the brothers who invested in achieving a political orientation were disappointed with their futures. They had aspired to middle-class lifestyles but faced class inequality and racial discrimination, which limited their opportunities. The study found that educational qualifications and social networks were key factors in improving the participants' social position. Many of them found jobs through contacts they knew, increasing their social capital and striving for upward mobility. However, it was also noted that a lack of human capital could prevent them from entering certain occupations.

Therefore, Macleod's research suggests that the value of societal and human capital plays a crucial role in determining social mobility. The significance of these factors has been recognized in academic studies on social indicators for mobility, as well as in research on the role of human capital in shaping individuals' mobility patterns in society. Land and Spilerman's (1975) work further explores the relationship between occupational skills and social mobility, highlighting their close correlation. Their findings demonstrate that a person's occupational skills influence their social class positions, but are influenced by various individual characteristics such as ability, values, and motivation (Human Capital). These characteristics also serve as important indicators for the level of social mobility they can achieve. Furthermore, the availability and accessibility of job vacancies and opportunities within the economic structure are key determinants of their occupational skills (Land & Spilerman, 1975, p334-344). In relation to "Ain't

no Makin it," we can identify the areas where Land and Spilerman's findings align.A clear example of Spilerman's findings is demonstrated in the research, which shows that young individuals in the 1990s experienced advantages due to economic growth. However, various structural factors, such as race, social class, and geographic location, contributed to inequality among them.

The human capital analysis, as seen in Macleod's survey, reveals that young individuals' resources and opportunities shape their career paths from an early stage. This often leads them to disqualify themselves from desirable jobs, forcing them to remain in their original social class (Macleod, 2009, p411-415). The study also highlights the education system as a significant contributor to the reproduction of class-based inequalities in society. The Brothers and the Hangers both find that the system fails to provide them with the necessary skills, connections, and cultural abilities required to ascend the middle-class ladder and achieve economic success. This sentiment is expressed by Shorty from the Hangers: Hey, you can't get an education around here unless you're sleeping with riches, you know? You can't get no education… And you can't get a job once they find out where you come from. You come from Clarendon Heights? Oh crap. It's them kids again.( Macleod, 1987, p121 ) The Hangers subculture perceives these peculiar attitudes, viewing their societal positions as the bottom of the social class structure as influential in shaping their future opportunities. They also see the American opportunity structure as flawed with unfairness and elitism ( Macleod, 1989, 120-121 ) . Sacks ( 2007 ) research on Class Matters exposes the skepticism towards the American Education System, as his work confronts

the persistent class divisions in modern society.

The author argues that despite attempts to diversify student populations and include individuals from various social classes, the American higher education system remains more stratified by social class than it was three decades ago. Moreover, the author suggests that disparities in opportunities between privileged and disadvantaged students have not decreased but have actually widened between those from affluent backgrounds and those from lower socioeconomic statuses. Nevertheless, there has been a notable reduction in educational inequalities based on gender, race, and ethnicity. The author also compares the structure of the American higher education system to a pyramid, with a small number of prestigious institutions at the top and a larger number of community colleges at the bottom. This division has resulted in upper-middle-class students dominating private and public universities while community colleges cater primarily to less privileged individuals. Consequently, this creates a dual economic structure where one system serves the elite while the other offers secondary education for economically disadvantaged groups such as the poor, working class, and immigrants who are trained for jobs benefiting the dominant upper class. Sacks proposes that disparities in income as well as differences in social and cultural capital between wealthy and poor families contribute to inequalities in children's aspirations and achievements (Sacks 2007 p118).The education system in American society exemplifies how social class continues to significantly influence an individual's background from a young age (Sacks, 2007, p111-p119).

After closely examining Macleod's survey and its theoretical deductions regarding societal reproduction theories, it is intriguing to observe his methodological approach to analyzing societal categories. It is important to note that his research can be associated with the

academic concept of the Birmingham School, also known as the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies. This school is known for developing a cultural field of sociology, employing traditional methods of descriptive anthropology while rooted in Marxist sociology.

The Birmingham School is particularly concerned with the reproduction of order in capitalist society and holds the belief that subcultures serve as forms of opposition to dominant ideology and reject the rules of the capitalist ruling class (Downes & Rock, 2007, p235). Thus, it becomes evident that Macleod's study aligns with the tradition of the Birmingham School, as his focus primarily lies on the process of social class reproduction in the United States.

Macleod's study adopts a research methodology rooted in descriptive anthropology, and it is pertinent to analyze the way in which he conducted his research as this approach had a significant influence on the composition of his study.The text emphasizes the roots and definition of descriptive anthropology, as well as the methods utilized by Macleod in his survey. Descriptive anthropology, rooted in qualitative research tradition, involves direct and sustained contact with human agents in their daily lives and cultures. This includes observing events, listening to conversations, asking questions, and documenting richly written narratives that respect the unique experiences of individuals. Macleod employs a range of methods in his survey, including intensive participant observation, unstructured interviews, group discussions, and visual anthropology, where interviews are recorded using tape recording equipment.

By combining societal reproductionist theories with a range of methods, the researcher conducted an all-encompassing survey on the significance of societal category in people's lives. Theory and data were mutually informative in this study. One key method that was used to

gain deep insights into the culture and nature of both peer groups was intensive participant observation. The researcher completely immersed himself within the Clarendon Heights community and formed a close relationship with the participants over the course of 12 months in the youth enrichment program. He actively engaged in various activities such as sports, homework assistance, and day-to-day interactions within the community. Through these participations, the researcher developed resonance and earned a respected position in the community, allowing the participants to trust him and facilitating the completion of his research.

However, an important ethical issue arises when using this methodology to study a community. This issue involves informing the participants about the nature of the research. In his survey, Macleod only informed the participants once he had established a good level of rapport with them. By informing the participants about his research, Macleod was able to easily analyze them as they were more aware of his true intentions (Macleod, 1987, p270-277). The findings of the survey were primarily obtained through intensive participant observation. According to Cargan (2007), this method is rewarding as it allows the researcher to continuously interact and negotiate with the participants. It also enables the researcher to immerse themselves in an authentic life situation and provides concrete examples for study (Cargan, 2007, p154).

The pick of this method was a cardinal strength of Aint No Makin it, as it allowed the survey to have an component of real-life significance. The research findings have important implications not only for the subjects of the study but also for other readers. Notable implications include the effects of social class and background on the types of aspirations and

attitudes young people adopt, as well as the extent to which specific social class origins can restrict the opportunities available in the economic structure for different individuals (Macleod, 2009, p408-120). Another important study associated with the Birmingham School is Paul Willis's research (1977) 'Learning to Labour - How working-class children obtain working-class jobs.' Just like Macleod's study, Willis's research aimed to understand how working-class attitudes, perceptions, and life experiences contribute to opposing structures that hinder upward intergenerational mobility. Willis's study in England yielded similar findings to Macleod's, as it examined two distinct subject groups referred to as 'The Lads' and 'The Ear'oles.' The study found that working-class students believed that conformity at school would not lead to future prosperity.

Importantly, it was found that these observations of school culture were created and repeated in the environments that perpetuated negative attitudes towards the institution of education, leading to the societal reproduction of class divisions. Similar to the "Hangers" in Macleod's study, the "Lads" also understood how society functioned and their behavior reflected their circumstances, resulting in a working-class culture that emphasized non-conformity and rebellion. Therefore, both these studies, stemming from the Birmingham School tradition, provide evidence of the emergence of anti-school subcultures in educational institutions. Furthermore, they highlight the structural inequalities present in the education system, where different values and systems seem to benefit the middle class while alienating the lower and working class from opportunities for success due to their social backgrounds (Kinchcloe & Steinberg, 2007, p80-83).

However, it is important to note that this line of thought has faced criticism from feminists such as McRobbie (1980) for failing to acknowledge the interests of women in their

research and producing studies that focus solely on male class culture.

Both Willis and Macleod's surveys on male subcultures demonstrate this spread, although Macleod's survey acknowledges it in his findings (McRobbie, 1980, p66-67). In conclusion, the success of Macleod's survey Aint No Makin it lies in its ability to creatively combine key societal reproductionist theories and research data to illustrate the significance of social class. His findings indicate the crucial role social class plays as a structural framework that influences and shapes the aspirations and attitudes of young individuals in society. Additionally, he emphasizes the importance of concepts like cultural capital and habitus in shaping social class patterns. By examining other research in this field, we can see that these concepts still hold importance in contemporary society, where social class remains a key indicator of social mobility potential. Importantly, Macleod's research approach and methodology allow for a comprehensive and insightful study that delves deep into the lives of real individuals and real-life situations. This contextual richness makes the survey accessible and contributes to its international influence.

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