Class formation and class identity: Birth, death, and possibilities for renewal

  • Eidlin B
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Abstract

While social class served as a powerful organizing identity for much of the 19th and 20th centuries, many doubt its contemporary relevance. This article examines the formation and development of theories of class identity over the past century. From a debate largely among Marxists in the early 20th century about the conditions under which the working class will mobilize to defend its interests - moving from a "class in itself" to a "class for itself" - the question of the relationship between individuals' class position, social interests, and political mobilization attracted greater attention among social scientists following World War II. However, postwar socioeconomic transformations led some to argue for the "death of class" as a central organizing principle for modern social and political life. While others countered that class identities remained relevant, the sharp decline in class-based organization in the late 20th century led scholars to develop more nuanced understandings of the relationship between individuals' class position and collective identities. Although current scholarship shows that there is no natural translation of class identities into collective action, the reality of growing socioeconomic inequality, along with the resurgence of social and political mobilizations to contest that growth, suggests that class identities retain the capacity to unite. © 2014 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

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Authors

  • Barry Eidlin

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