How about a riot against class determinism?

The fashionable idea that an individual’s class background determines his future and his fortunes is not nearly as radical as it seems.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Politics

A year on from the urban riots that rocked English cities, commentators are still trying to work out what caused them.

Many have settled on the idea that it was a lethal combination of poverty and lack of social mobility. That is, the rioters’ misfortune at having been born poor, into a class of people that doesn’t have much going for it, drove them to take to the streets to emit a screech of rage. In the words of Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, authors of The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, the riots were caused by the ‘social poison’ of inequality and by certain people’s ‘class position’ in this divided England.

Such observations seem radical, or at least sympathetic to the less well-off, with their diagnosis of a class component in social upheavals. But don’t be deceived. Because in fact, in these sorts of discussions the category of ‘class’ is increasingly treated as a natural or inherited trait, like disability, rather than as a social position that is susceptible to supersedence. We are witnessing the rise and rise of what we might call class determinism, where radical observers look upon certain people’s social origins as the deciding factor in everything that will befall them in life. Class is now treated less as social predicament that might be transcended than as something innate, whose inevitable problematic consequences must be managed, ideally by the state…

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Topics Politics


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