Social Class

By Graham Scambler

I reached the conclusion 20-30 years ago that it is premature to abandon classical Marxian notions of class and class struggle. While it would be ludicrous to claim that Marx hit the 21st century nail right on the head – he was writing 150 years ago – it is to me apparent that his analyses and the close-knit family of theories that emerged from them have continuing resonance. The distinction between capital ownership and wage labour still strikes me as pivotal, albeit in new and unanticipated structural and cultural contexts.

I also lament the ‘absence’ from putative class schema of those whose ownership of capital buys more power from the state in post-1970s financial capitalism than could possibly have been foreseen during postwar welfare capitalism. The less than 1% that comprised John Scott’s ‘ruling class’ have always been able to hide in ‘socio-economic classifications’ like RG, NS-SEC and the confused and confusing GBCS.

An obstinate commitment to Marxist thinking – to my mind, any credible macro-analysis of the contemporary scene has to be ‘in the spirit of Marx’ – has led me to posit an alternative classification of class. It takes off from the theories of Carchedi and the attempts to apply them of Clement and Miles.

Here goes!


CATEGORY (A): Capitalist executive (significant, largely transnational and ‘detached’ owners of capital) (1%)



CAPITAL MONOPOLISTS (hard core of heavy capital-owners who are ‘players’)


CAPITAL AUXILIARIES (soft auxiliary core of heavy capital-owners who are non-players)


CAPITAL ‘SLEEPERS’ (insider higher management, light capital-owners who support players)


CATEGORY (B): New middle class (managers in the service of capital) (24%)



INSIDER HIGHER MANAGERS (‘Co-opted’ higher/middle managers who support players)


OUTSIDER HIGHER MANAGERS (higher managers, independent of players)


MIDDLE MANAGERS (middle managers, independent of players) (P)


CAPITAL ASPIRERS (‘aspirational’, petit-bourgeoisie, independent of players) (P)


CATEGORY (C): Old middle class (established professionals) (15%)



INSIDER PROFRESSIONALS (‘co-opted’, high-status professionals who support players) (P)


OUTSIDER PROFESSIONALS (high-status professionals, independent of players) (P)


SEMI-PROFESSIONALS (semi-professionals, independent of players (P)


CATEGORY (D): Working class (waged workers) (45%)



INSIDER WORKERS (‘co-opted’, supervisory, waged workers, support players) (P)


OUTSIDER WHITE-COLLAR WORKERS (non-manual waged workers, independent of players) (P)


OUTSIDER BLUE-COLLAR WORKERS (waged manual workers, independent of players) (P)


OUTSIDER SEMI/UNSKILLED WORKERS (waged semi- and unskilled manual workers, independent of players) (P)


CATEGORY (E): Working class (outside paid work) (15%)


DISPLACED WORKERS (never worked and long-term unemployed) (P)


Within the capital executive there exists a hard core of heavy ‘globalised’ capital owners personally committed to the enhancement of their capital (or material) assets. I define these as ‘detached’   This fraction of the 1% constitutes the class driver for order/change, exercising its will through the offices of those in the political elite, whose members have mostly been recruited or are allied to the capital executive. The governing oligarchy’s personnel are – and this is the key sociological point – surfers of a revised class structuring of British society in financial capitalism (which is, as intersectionalists remind us, also structured by gender, ethnicity and so on).

I have made a distinction between supporters and non-supporters of players. This is important because the less than 1% critically ‘rely on’ the co-option of others in the capital executive, new and old middle classes and even the working class. This is not a matter of electoral or infrastructural support but of a compact of interest. These are people – from managers and accountants to lawyers and physicians to supervisors and union officials – whose cooperation with the governing oligarchy has been directly or indirectly hired or bought: they profit from the liaison.

The term ‘precariat’ appears (now as (p)) in parentheses. I do not accept, as the GBCS would have it, that Standing’s precariat is a class in- let alone or for- itself. But I certainly accept that there is a structural and cultural precariousness associated with financial capitalism. I here regard this as a cross-class matter placing an emboldened question mark after the security and well being of most members of the new, old and working classes (90+% of the population as a whole). My employment of ‘precariat’ acknowledges this insecurity without making the ‘error’ of discovering a new class.

It may appear injudicious to insert class percentages. My ‘guesswork’ is largely consonant with research findings but it lacks independent support. But it maybe helps establish the point of the blog.

Sociologists should in my view be focusing far more attention on: (i) the 0.1% who comprise a cabal of globally heavy-hitting owners of capital who buy sufficient national state power to secure governance sufficient to further of their agendas and interests; (ii) the 2% who comprise a governing oligarchy; and (iii) the 7-8% of ‘supporters’ and ‘co-optees’ (represented in each of the class categories (A) to (D)) who are critical for the viability of this governing oligarchy.

How the 0.1 – 2% solicit sufficient electoral support to exploit and oppress is much better understood within professional sociology.

We can and should document poverty and its sequelae. But sociology should do more than document. To explain poverty it is necessary to have a sufficiently theorized notion of class structures and relations in general, and a grasp of the key class drivers in particular.


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