SOCIAL STANDING IN AMERICA: New Dimensions of Class by Richard P. & Lee Rainwater Coleman


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If people often accuse sociology of spending a lot of time finding out what non-sociologists already know, it's because of books like this one. Coleman and Rainwater (both of the Joint Harvard-MIT Center for Urban Studies) set out to determine the constituents of the popular conception of social class, and to provide some guidelines for merging ""subjective"" and ""objective"" studies of class. On the first score, they utilize survey-research material from Boston and Kansas City to come up with such ground-breaking conclusions as ""money, far more than anything else, is what Americans associate with the idea of social class."" Of course, this insight does not stand alone--it is surrounded by quantitative embellishments which seek to correlate the ratio of income to status (does twice the income imply twice the status?) and the requisite techno-scientific jargon. Other unsurprising results are: people place themselves into the highest class they can on defendable criteria; they value job autonomy and security; education is prized as a means to higher income, etc. All of this is ""analyzed"" straight from the questionnaire data; the authors do not employ social theory or a cultural framework to situate the responses or raise them above the trivial. Instead of offering guidelines for the merger of different perspectives on social class, they merely point to the need to do what they have not done--i.e., look at the power relationships actually existing in the workplace, market, and other aspects of social life. A lot of money and time went into this study, but very little comes of it. Similarly-minded sociologists will find the formulas exciting, others will yawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 20th, 1978
Publisher: Basic Books