Concepts of social classes challenged

Virginia professor argues that America has a classless society


CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - Are there social classes in America? In a new book, "The Classless Society," University of Virginia sociologist Paul Kingston forcefully answers no.

Published by Stanford University Press, the book challenges a long-standing intellectual tradition of class analysis and calls for a new, more complex understanding of social divisions.

Kingston, an associate professor of sociology, argues that members of presumed classes do not significantly share distinct, life-defining experiences and, therefore, cannot be viewed in any meaningful ways as classes, the way they might inform some other societies.

He examines five dimensions of life, including social mobility, interaction patterns, cultural orientation, class sentiment and political orientation and contends that the case for a class society "is weak in light of the fact that members of all presumed `classes' have diverse family backgrounds and that friendship patterns commonly cross `class' lines."

Although Kingston readily acknowledges that economic inequalities persist in America, such realities do not mean that distinct groups, or classes, exist, he said.

"For the most part, groups of people having a common economic position do not share distinct, life-defining experiences," he said.

Kingston approaches this contentious issue by first discussing the question, "How would you recognize a class if you saw one?"

He then presents a wide-ranging synthesis of contemporary research so that readers can assess the evidence that leads to the book's conclusions.

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