Monday, June 17, 2013

Social Class Structure Australia

The issue of class as well as the role that class plays in human societies is one that has always elicited great interest to sociologists. Such discussions regarding the phenomenon of “class” in Australian social, cultural and political life have always been characterized by two schools of thoughts. The first school of though is that which totally denies the existence of any such social stratification in the Australian nation. The second school of thought agrees that there are indeed social class structures that exist in Australia but argues that such societal stratifications are insignificant and are rarely accorded any importance. Kuhn and O’Lincoln (1996) point out that investigative studies carried out in the last decade of the 2oth century revealed that while the wealthiest Australians make up only 10% of the total population, they possess an estimated 45% of the total wealth in the nation. An estimated 62% of rental property, 86% of investments and shares as well as 60% of bank deposits accumulating interest also belonged to the minority upper class (Kuhn and O’Lincoln, 1996). The issues of inequalities in the Australian nation cannot be elucidated by referring to the individual characters and behaviors of people which are contained in unproven myths such as “the rich are cleverer and work harder than the rest of the people”. As much as many Australians feel uncomfortable admitting it, the Australian system is actually comprised of a four tier class system comprised of the Upper, Middle, Working and Underclass. The Middle class is usually divided into three sub-classes. This paper will discuss the ways in which class differences are marked out in everyday life cultural practices in Australia as well as the manner in which they establish people's places and power inequalities in society. According to McGregor (2001) the social class to which a person belongs to in Australia is usually determined by their income levels. The highest social class in Australia is referred to as the upper class and is composed of individuals who make very high incomes such as Chief Executive Officers in commercial organizations, or those that inherited great wealth. The middle class is divided into the lower, central and upper middle classes. The lower middle class are the Australians who just moved into the middle class or are on the verge of exiting it. McGregor (2001) reveals that these have a life style and income characteristic of the middle class. The Australians in the central middle class are the majority in the middle class division. The greatest percentage of Australians aspires to be in this class. The members of this class are professionals who engage in white collar jobs and get reasonably high incomes. The upper middle class is comprised of Australians who are in between the two subclasses in terms of income and sense of identity. The working class category is comprised of persons engaged in either skilled or unskilled labor such as the workers in factories and different forms of trades (McGregor, 2001). In Australia the persons who are categorized as being in the working class have some level of financial security due to the fact that they have jobs and a hire income in comparison to those in the underclass. The people in the under class are those whose levels of paucity are very high and they live below the poverty line. The category of people in this social class is usually those without hire, the homeless and those who receive welfare assistance from the government. According to McGregor (2001) capitalism as described by Karl Marx is a very important phenomenon in the discussion of the Australian social class structure. Cornell (1982) argues that this is due to the fact that capitalism is the foundation upon which a comprehensive discussion can be carried out on the character of work, class, organization of the work class and exploitation. In capitalistic economies there is usually a riling class that is perceived to own the means of production as well as the greatest social, political and cultural power in society. In the modern day capitalistic states are characterized by the citizenry’s lives being ordered around individual possession of property and the utilization of capital to access goods and services. In the Australian society it is the capitalistic ruling class that owns a majority of the marketized work places in the 21st century commercial environment. Due to the fact that they belong to the ruling class, this minority group in Australia controls the amount of wages that are paid to laborers as well as the circumstances in which they earn this money. In most societies such as Australia that founded upon the principles of capitalism, it is the social class that owns the most wealth that wields the greatest power and authority. The upper class in Australia is the division that manages and regulates a majority of the Australian financial systems. More over, the ruling class determines and controls the financial principles in the nation as well as greatly influencing the government and major political parties in Australia. As pointed out in the descriptions of such a society by Connell (1982), the majority of the people in Australia who belong to the other three social classes are becoming increasingly concerned by the fact that they continue to become more powerless and maltreated as a consequence of being led by the minority ruling class. It is for this reason that in the 21st century there is enough evidence to suggest the emergence of a new category of social stratification- a transnational capitalistic class- that is comprised of individuals from the upper and middle class (McGregor, 2001). Krieken et al (2000) posit that Karl Marx was convinced of the fact that there are two major classes in any society: The bourgeoisie (who own the means of production) and the proletariat (the workers that provide the labor so as to produce value. This relationship comes about due to the fact that the bourgeoisie possess the land, capital machinery and raw material. Since the proletariat owns nothing, the only thing they can offer is their labor. The two groups are thus dependent on each other. Weber, on the other hand, was not inclined towards Marx’s model of class. Weber argued that societies such as the Australian society are comprised of status groups. According to Krieken et al (2000) Weber defined a class as an “unequal distribution of economic rewards” and a status group as an “unequal distribution of social honor” (Krieken et al, 2000, p. 58). The market value described by Weber is that which recognized and acknowledged the individual distinctively rather than the categorization by Marx of people as non-distinct members of social classes. Krieken et al (2000) assert that another main difference in the definitions of class by Marx and Weber is their depictions of social mobility. While Marx argued on the existence of two major classes in a power relationship that could only be terminated by a revolution to oust the bourgeoisie from their powerful positions, Weber argued that social mobility did not require any revolution. Weber was convinced that individuals have the ability to move from one social class to another if only their acquire marketable competencies and capabilities (Krieken et al, 2000). One of the most common depictions of social class in Australia is education. Bourdieu (1984) points out that the cultural requirement that individuals have in a society such as the Australian society tend to be determined by their upbringing and education. Education and social class are perceived as being intimately related due to the fact that they are both determined by the income individuals of families have. Martin (2004) claims that cultural practices such as reading, visiting certain recreation events such as concerts and theatrical performances as well as preferences for particular literature, art and music are all determined by the quality and quantity of an individual’s educational background (Bourdieu, 1984). In addition to this, education and social class are themselves indicators of the income that one has. According to McGregor (2001) an Australian’s level of education will determine the jobs that they get as well as the amount of money that they make. Due to the propensity of the members of the upper class getting the best education, they have greater chances of getting the best jobs in Australia (McGregor, 2001). A great number of Australian children in the under and working classes drop out of school; those who do not drop out early rarely make it to the universities. Education in Australia is a very important phenomenon since it is the most significant and reliable in which individuals can move from a lower social class to a higher one. It is for this reason that McGregor (2001) describes education as having a tendency towards social mobility. Education thus serves to not only create, but also sustain class divisions in Australia. Kuhn and O’Lincoln (1996) point out that another socio-cultural aspect of the Australians that is affected by the phenomenon of class and social stratification is the health care that they can access. The incomes that individuals earn as well as the jobs that they do are very significant in determining both the quality and quantity of the health care services that they can access. In addition to this, individuals in Australia who exercise a greater control over their jobs for instance CEOs and other highly paid executives tend to experience less levels of stress and enjoy more nutritious diets than those in the lower classes. Consequently, such individuals tend to be healthier. According to Jubb (2012) names tend to be very important in communicating information about a person. Another way in which the social class structure in Australia is depicted is through the names that people are given. Different names are associated with different socio-cultural origins which imply a person’s social class status. The manes that a person has may be misinterpreted. The names associated with the upper class tend to be those that are very popular as well peculiar in choice. In Australia this serves the purpose of ensuring that clear boundaries are set between individuals in wealthier social classes and those from the less privileged ones (Jubb, 2012). In conclusion, class is indeed a very important reality in Australia. The different social classes in Australia are divided by the disparities that exist in their incomes as well as the sense of identity and belonging that different Australians form towards the existent social divisions. The social tendencies that are depicted in the manner in which wealth and income are distributed in the Australian context influence every day life cultural practices in Australia and determine power disparities in the Australian society. This paper has revealed that one of the most important determinants of class in Australia is education; this is due to the fact that education determines the socializing that an individual gets as well as the occupations that they pursue. More over class in Australia also depicts the manner in which power is distributed in society and inequalities are experienced in areas such as education, health and housing. References Bourdieu, P., (1984), Distinction (trans. R. Nice), Polity Press, Cambridge Connell, R.W. (1982), Ruling Class, Ruling Culture, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge Jubb, (2012), A Bogan Name Is A Life Sentence, in The Sydney Morning Herald, February 13 Krieken, V. R, Smith, P., Habibis, D. et al, (2000), Sociology Themes and Perspectives, Melbourne: Longman Kuhn, R. and O’Lincoln, T., (1996), Class & Conflict in Australia, Longman: Melbourne Martin, F., (2004), Interpreting Everyday Cultures, New York: Arnold McGregor, C., (2001), ‘Class Counts’ from Class in Australia, Penguin: Ringwood