The contemporary concept of class is as old as the socioeconomic and political system known as capitalism. Within the modern Western societies such as the US, social stratification of people is organized into three principal stratums namely: upper class, middle class, and lower class.
In essence, social stratification of people into the above named layers entails categorization of people into groups founded on common socioeconomic circumstances and, a relational set of disparities that has social, political, ideological, and economic perspectives (Pine Forge, 2006, p.2). Americans have a weak sense of class consciousness, and in addition, this class consciousness is not the same for the upper class and the middle class.
Literary, consciousness refers to an individual’s notion of being; self-awareness. For Marxists, class consciousness is an individual’s political sense of self (Little, 2009, Para. 2). It is believed that Americans, at best, have an exceptionally weak sense of class consciousness. From a comparative viewpoint, Americans have a weak or no class consciousness particularly among the working class (Shortell, 1999, Para 1).
Scholars opine that, the American workers have not had the sense of consciousness manifested by their European counterparts. However, even though there is an evident weakness of class consciousness among the American workers, labor historians assert that, American workers have a sense of their interests as workers and that they comprehend methods used by the powerful in order to ensure that they remain powerless (Shortell, 1999, Para. 3).
When persons understand their life experiences as shaped and constrained by their social position, then their sense of being is literary class-based. Shortell points out that, class consciousness is not limited to occupational unity and labor activism. In a way, he tends to imply that class consciousness is wrongly associated with labor activism because of its perceived origins in the European labor movements of 19th century (1999, Para. 4).
Class consciousness is certainly not the same for the upper class and the middle class. The available evidence shows that, even though, people do not think about their class position every moment of their lives, if asked about who they are, they readily identify with a given class position (Shortell, 1999, Para. 4). For example, statistics from recent General Social Surveys show that, most Americans identify with the middle class or the working class (Pine Forge, 2006, p.20). This data confirm that Americans are also capable of thinking about themselves in terms of a class position.
Class is slowly becoming part and parcel of the American language. According to Davos (2011), the American middle and upper-class people are aware of the class position within the American society particularly on the basis of income disparity. The upper class is defined as having unlimited purchasing power irrespective of the harsh economic conditions.
They are characterized by a sense of gentle optimism (Davos, 2011). On the other hand, the middle-income earners are characterized by fear because; if they have not lost their jobs, they are worried they might lose them sooner or later. Their spending is described as being a “pay-packet to pay-packet” sort of living (Davos, 2011, Para. 3).
It is evident from the available statistics that Americans are capable of thinking about themselves in terms of class. The only difference between the Americans and others like Europeans is that, class consciousness has not, albeit in a revolutionary manner, made them mount the form of labor movements witnessed in the European labor history. In a recap, Americans have a weak sense of class consciousness which is not the same for the upper class and the middle class.
Davos, J. M. (2011). Class consciousness comes to Davos. The Economist. Retrieved
Little, D. (2009). Understanding society: Marx’s theory of political behavior. Retrieved From
Pine Forge. (2006). Social Class in America. Retrieved From
Shortell, T. (1999). Class Consciousness. Retrieved From