Robert Colls

Who Do You Think You Are?

Social Class in the 21st Century

By

Pelican 449pp £8.99 order from our bookshop

Over a century ago, Charles Booth’s surveyors were colouring in large-scale maps of London according to their estimate of each street’s level of poverty and moral standing. Booth came up with seven classes, but by then the British had grown used to thinking of themselves as having three – working, middle and upper – as formulated by Marx in the 1840s (though this had in fact already been anticipated by British labour and radical movements two decades earlier). The 1911 census added occupation and infant mortality to the measure and the 1921 census presented five classes, but three remained the basic number (with all sorts of barnacles) until the 1950s, when sociologists broke the model by asking it to bear social mobility and affluent workers as well. Prominent left-wing commentators and comedians continue to talk in terms of three classes, with an overarching and slightly ridiculous landed Tory Establishment at the top and a long-suffering, food-bank-dependent proletariat at the bottom, but really it’s not much of a reflection of how things are for most of us. 

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • Start your week with a dose of Russian Revolutionary zeal. Donald Rayfield reviews Tobie Mathew's 'Greetings From t… ,
    • A treat from the LR Archive: exactly 20 years ago, Malcolm Bradbury reviewed John Updike's 'Bech at Bay' ,
    • ‘When bullets come close, the noise they make as they go past changes from a zing to a crack’ John Lanchester's dy… ,
    • Man with a Bloody Paintbrush: Robin Simon on Lucian Freud ,
    • Jane Ridley reviews The Diaries of Kenneth Rose (ed. D R Thorpe) ,
    • ‘Look,’ says Trump. ‘The fact is I’m only human.’ On the evidence of this book that point is debatable. From the A… ,
    • From our December/January issue - here's John Banville's review of Colm Tóibín on the fathers of Wilde, Yeats and J… ,