Which did away with social classes ?

Between an ethnographical observation at the stade de France on Tuesday night and an editorial board of the journal Sociology on Thursday morning, I enjoyed a stay in paris to listen to the interventions together in a day of exciting studies, organized so this Wednesday, 12 October 2011, on the Jourdan Campus of ENS Ulm by Alexnadra Bidet, and the “GDR Economie & Sociologie” of the CNRS. This day bore a title a bit long : “The social classes have been dissolved by socio-economists in networks, generations and the hierarchy of income ? “(see the program here), but by and large, as explained by Florence Jany-Catrice in the preamble of the interventions of the morning, it was to ask who had done away with the social classes of the modes of reading the social world traditionally engaged, in sociology and elsewhere. For her, the thinking part of a statement of fact, that of the marginalization of the concept of “social classes” in the broad field of economic sociology, for the benefit of other operators, such as networks, generations, percentiles of income, etc. The stakeholders have therefore been instructed to try to interview the foundations of this marginalization and its challenges, and the role of ratings, and alternative nomenclatures, and, on the other hand approaches in terms of social networks, in this clearing.

As Florence Jany-Catrice went on to explain in order to introduce the interventions of the morning, France has long had a bill, a convenient tool for thinking about the social stratification, one of the PCS : a tool thought to fordism, but multi-dimensional, the effectiveness of which was also without doubt that the PCS was at the time of the learned categories, and the categories of the profane, in which all the world could seize. And it is the decline in the use of this nomenclature for thinking about the social world that we are witnessing today, in a context where we are witnessing the rise of social inequalities and declining social mobility. How do you explain this paradox ? This decline is due to a transformation ontology of the social world, such as in particular the rise of individualism ? Or to the emergence of classifications-concurrent, for example at the european level (ISCO, CSEC, etc.)? This would then be just as much the reality would change, that the tools available to make account… But it says nothing of the ability of firms to seize these new classifications, representations of the social world that they convey, and even investigations that may engage… To clarify the contours and stakes of these questions, the morning continues with the work of Alain Desrosières, Alain Chenu, Thomas Amossé, Cécile Brousse, Stephen Pénissat and Luc Boltanski, I’m trying to summarize quite briefly below…

Alain Desrosières :

Has the origin of ” CSP “, there is the work of Jean Porte, a specialist in mathematical logic input to the INSEE after the Second world war. Responsible for the operation of the 1954 census, he was faced with a request for nomenclature, in a context where marxism marked deeply the social sciences. Jean Porte, endeavored, in this context, to do a job is radically empirical, and trying to group of occupations that are similar “, and this gave the first classification of what he himself has called ” socio-professional categories “.

Among the salient features of this nomenclature, there is the idea that it is deeply rooted in the traditional structures of the time, even if this had not been deliberate on the part of John Gate : it is that these structures were already, at the time, completely naturalized. Another originality of the French nomenclature is to be closer to the nomenclature of occupations and the nomenclature of social groups. Another important point, the nomenclature of the Door was two levels, an aggregated level to a single digit, with less than a dozen of categories, and an aggregate level of two-digit, with over thirty categories….

The next step comes at the end of the 70’s, when it came to tinkering with the nomenclature. This redesign was based on a review much more precise coding operations. Finally, the third step corresponds to the development, today, a european nomenclature, the less “idiosyncratic” than that of France (so much rooted in the specificity of the French context that it cannot be used for the other countries) and based on the criteria sufficiently universal to be able to be generalized.

Alain Chenu :

The important question, to understand the transformations of which it is in this day, is to determine what are the institutions who wear or have worn the representations and nomenclatures. According to Alain Chenu, one can distinguish from this point of view the two great periods :

The first period goes from the popular Front to the 1970s, and is marked by the generalization of collective agreements, and the gradual extension of the classifications of so-called “Parodi-Croizat” to the different branches. This is not a coincidence if in the first nomenclature, there were the miners, distinguished by the fact that they had a collective bargaining agreement and a pension fund-specific. The craftsmen and merchants, who did not want to go into the pension funds by distribution are also distinguished by the nomenclature, and this may not be no stranger to this : the structuring of a classification is never foreign to the peculiarities of a national history of social protection.

In the second period, from the years 70, one enters into the construction of another type of social protection, which is largely based on the definition of minimum social benefits, and which do not, therefore, refers not to the specification of professional branches. Institutions are moving away, therefore, from this that was at the heart of the construction of the nomenclature of socio-professional categories. Moreover, the massification of the school is coming to undermine the institutional segregation described for example by Baudelot and Establet in The school a capitalist in France (1971), which has come to complicate, and “dénaturaliser” the representation of social affiliation by the classifications in the traditional way. This movement is also gone hand-in-hand with the emergence in the international agenda of the distinction between immigrants and nationals. The situations the statutory become complex, even among the popular classes, as in the case of the bus drivers studied by Olivier Schwartz in the context of a study of very large scale remained, alas, for the moment, unedited (I allow myself here a little scoop for you : it will not be long untold, watch for future issues of Sociology… shhh !).

Thomas Amossé :

From his experience of trainer operators coding the INSEE, and analyst involving socio-occupational nomenclature, Thomas Amossé returns on a number of points raised in previous interventions :

1. The tool CSP was intended to represent the company in the form of social groups, but without resting on a theoretical foundation. The posture theory, ” constructivist “, is reached then, with the work of redesign led by Luc Boltanski, but the nomenclature still remains a tool largely ” empirical “.

2. It was well-attended with a rise of the criticisms of the nomenclature of the PCS, who consider that it would be increasingly obsolete (that is to say, unable to represent the realities of the principles of structuration of the French society contemporary), analytically impure (it is the theory of social classes without saying so, and would, therefore, from the econometric point of view a ” bad variable “), or, on the contrary, it would be insufficiently theoretical, and lacks a vocation to propose a representation in terms of social classes…

3. Its uses are, in fact, in decline : the PCS are less and less engaged in the work in the social sciences, despite the fact that the empirical work show that they are not less relevant than before, since the inequalities that they identify are not diminishing, on the contrary. The erosion of the use of PCS is even stronger than the erosion of the sense of belonging to a class in the overall population.

Cécile Brousse :

Cécile Brousse, who has been responsible for INSEE of the section of socio-occupational nomenclature during the debates on the construction of a european nomenclature, begins his intervention by choosing to take a little different approach to the criticism since the beginning of the morning to this list. For her, he must first rejoice in the will lead to the construction of such a nomenclature.

That said, she emphasizes how the construction of this nomenclature is made in a context that is not conducive, where the statistical tradition is almost exclusively to compare countries between them. It is as if all the statistical socio-economic French was limited to compare the regions between them. It is, therefore, a matter that was little enough invested to Eurostat, with the argument that the professions are not a criterion sufficiently established and harmonized in Europe. And in fact, many countries did not have in reality no nomenclature of socio-economic development of the professions that is stabilized.

In this context, the merit goes to the researchers in the wake of Goldthorpe have sought to develop a nomenclature of socio-professional european. They met in 2004 in what was called the consortium ESEC, and presented their report in 2007. The nomenclature is based on the notion of ” employment relationship “, measuring the degree of autonomy of the employee, between the two extremes are the ” labor contract “, the subordinating them strictly to the employer, and the “service relationship” (relationship service) marked by a high degree of autonomy. The categories are ordered on this scale according to 9 classes.

There are points in common between CSEC and the PCS : the artisans and the self-employed are thus isolated and distinguished in the two nomenclatures. But the differences are many : we can’t quote them all, but for example, the heads of company with more than 10 employees are mixed with the executives in CSEC, which is surprising from the point of view of the PCS…

From 2007, institutions of national statistics have had to evaluate the classification ESEC. The critics were many : for example, ESEC would be ill-adapted to the southern countries of Europe, where the criterion of the employment relationship would be less important than the distinction between self-employed and employed. Or even, the project would aim to propose a grid universal, but in reality it would be very ” idiosyncratic “… to the british society. For other researchers, it fails to validate empirically the theory of the employment relationship… The criticisms made by the INSEE and the DARES were also on the absence of considerations in terms of cultural practices or modes of consumption. Then, we can show that the employment relations are not stable over time, in particular the category of “supervisor” distinguished by the nomenclature CSEC is subject to a high degree of mobility, which poses a problem for it to be regarded as a category by itself. In another register, Thibault de Saint-Pol has shown that the nomenclature is very little heuristic for analyzing cultural practices. Finally, the INSEE is much interested in the reception of the nomenclature by the general public, from a amazement by the fact that the headings of the nomenclature differ in the version for researchers, and in the version for the general public. A survey of 4,000 people showed that 17% of the respondents fail to identify with a category. Another survey, from card games, shows that these are the frames that are best to recognize themselves in the representation of the world socio-professional as proposed by the nomenclature CSEC (for a number of these criticisms, see Bush, Of Saint-Pol, Gleizes, The Uk, and Marical, Monso and Wolff, 2010).

Qui a fait disparaître les classes sociales ?

Cécile Brousse

Etienne Pénissat, following the intervention of Cécile Brousse, presents the results of a survey, funded by the ANR, on the construction and reception of the european nomenclature that comes to evoke Cecile Bush. It shows, in substance, that the conditions of production of this bill, and the debate it has inspired, remained confined in the small universe of socio-statisticians, and even in the discussions between the directors of INSEE and sociologists goldthorpiens.

Luc Boltanski :

For Luc Boltanski, one can leave the paradox, reported by Thomas Amossé, between the maintenance of inequalities and the disappearance of the PCS and representations in terms of social classes. The question is basically whether one can separate the object and how to observe it, or if it must instead put the focus on the relationship between the social reality and the categories of the observer in a perspective that is constructivist. Here, it was certainly the case, rather than a social construction of reality, a state construction of reality, as the role of States is crucial in this area.

We are witnessing a new turning-point very interesting, including the benchmarking is an indicator that is obvious, and sees the bodies of power that have long pestered against a constructionism deemed to be of the left, to discover finally that it was true, and that you could in reality use, of these instruments of knowledge, to change the construction in the sense that suited them. In The new spirit of capitalism (1999), Luc Boltanski reminds us that Eva Chiapello and him had tried to show that have put in place a whole set of movements for deconstruction of the conventions, unions, institutions, which are at the origin of the rise of individualism.

The problem is that the sociological tools and statistics are in part self-sustaining, as subject to constraints related to their evaluation by peers, by the scientific community, which exercises a form of control. Sociology, therefore, is in part ” self-contained “, and the social classes, as a grid of reading, were more resilient in France than in other countries. The social classes, are entities ” sociological “, and all the sociological work has been to assign properties to these entities, or even to attribute to them intentions, as in this type of statements : “workers bear less of the pace of the inferno “. This has contributed to the hunt for individual agents to the description of social mechanisms, an issue that was thought to solve the micro-sociology, but to raise up a new that it does not resolve, that of aggregation, macro-sociological behaviors. As regards the analysis of networks, it is enough to examine the foundations, for example, in two famous articles by White, Boorman and Breiger (White, Boorman and Breiger, 1976 ; Boorman and White, 1976), to see that it can be, sometimes so explicitly, a machine to undo the analyses in terms of categories and classes.

Qui a fait disparaître les classes sociales ?

Luc Boltanski and Alain Desrosières

The interventions of the afternoon, while enrolling in the continuity of the reflections of the morning, is concentrated, for some of them, on the question, raised in particular in the morning in a very critical way by Luc Boltanski (and part times to his account by Philippe Steiner, in its preamble, introductory), the role of social network analysis in the marginalization of the approaches in terms of social classes. I unfortunately had to leave before the end, so I missed the intervention of Frédéric Lebaron (sorry, Fred !) and the general discussion, but I propose to you a preview of the remarks made by Stéphane Beaud, François Dubet, André Orléan, Olivier Godechot and Emmanuel Lazéga…

Stéphane Beaud :

Stéphane Beaud, in a about which is the continuation of an article on social classes that appeared in the journal Movements in 2007, proposes to begin leave of the paradox already mentioned by the previous speakers, between inequality and conflictualités persistent, and a lack of interest more marked in sociology for the social classes. However, the interests and the désintérêts sociologists have effects on social reality and its representations common. For example, it is not absurd to think that the work of the Pinçon-Charlot, The life in the best neighbourhoods (1989) the President of the rich (2010), have in part contributed to the dissemination of the idea that there was a ruling class in France, independent of the other and conscious of its interests.

To understand this lack of interest, it is necessary to first be interested in the training of sociologists : the social classes have gradually disappeared from the models of the curriculum of sociology, where the students are in the same motion turned away from this type of concern, possibly also because they raise questions that are too close to their own social conditions of origin, to which they do not wish to be recalled.

Then there are important issues of method, for example around reporting around the sociology and statistics. For statisticians, the PCS are no longer reliable, are costly to the institution because they require a lot of recoding, and is no longer very useful. This position, very widespread, and strongly contributes to make more difficult the debates between sociologists, economists, and statisticians around these issues, yet critical, ways of representing statistically the social world.

Finally, there is a third factor, that of the injunction to ” intersectionality “, in other words, the mobilization combinatorial and multi-dimensional different categorizations of classes, genders and races, in which social classes, beyond the petition of principle, are in reality very ill-treated.

Qui a fait disparaître les classes sociales ?

Stéphane Beaud

François Dubet :

For François Dubet, this lack of interest that the stakeholders complained since the beginning of the day may also be the effect in a mirror from a interest to be overstated in the earlier decades, where it was able to happen, that we put the social classes in all the sauces. What made the strength of the notion of social classes, it is that it made it possible to insist on the systemic dimension of the social world. And quite brutally, it is this intellectual world that has disappeared. But the question can be asked another way : why, previously, didn’t see it in the social classes, and not the principles of differentiation that triumphs today in the interpretation of the social world, but which had nevertheless already at work : ages, generations, gender, ethnicity…

What is not in doubt is that at the same time, the figure of the social question is transformed : it is now in the suburbs, it is no longer in the working world. And about the latter, the requirement of social justice is no longer to aim for a reduction of inequality, but an equality of opportunity to attain positions unequal. We don’t want that the workers have working conditions and access to training comparable to that of executives, we want the children of workers to have as much of a chance that children of managers achieve a position as a framework from which they can continue to exploit the workers.

We are therefore in a system where persist of inequality, of violence, of exploitation, but where all of this is not reflected in the principles of identification, at least where they are supposed or expected before : before, if I wanted to convince myself that there were social classes, I went to Flins ; today, if I want to convince me, I’m going to Neuilly…

André Orléan :

The question of social classes has been evacuated by a large part of the economists, on the pretext that we are in market economies, and report that dealer is a universal form that is indifferent to this type of specifications. This thesis plays a very important role structuring in the economic thinking. However, it seems to André Orléan that this reduction of capitalism to “the market economy” does not hold, because it excludes the wage relation in its field.

And what we see, it is a conjunction between this predatory of the wage ratio of the mode of representation of the capitalist economy, and a rupture in the history mode of the distribution of productivity gains : while for several decades, they have benefited to the increase in the level of employees ‘ lives, the report is now clearly against them.

Olivier Godechot :

After the attack on the analysis of the networks through which Boltanski had ended his speech, the debate around the relationship between networks and social classes as patterns of explanation could not fail to bounce back with the intervention of Olivier Godechot, then with Emmanuel Lazéga.

Olivier Godechot begins his speech by saying that the subject “Networks and social classes” sounds like a subject for a dissertation, which has also courted controversy last year, at the time of the introduction of the question of “social networks” in the programmes of the secondary education of economic and social sciences (see my post here). There is the idea that social networks véhiculeraient a representation irénique to the society, without class boundaries or social relationships in conflict. But to do this, is reduce the issue of networks of sociability, based on a scientific literature that is beginning to be dated.

In the work of the founders, yet there is a very strong relationship between the issues of class and issues of networks. Among economists, from the outset, for example, in Quesnay the distinction of different social classes is based on a specific design of a relational system, in this case the form of the merchant trade. We can say exactly the same thing approach to marxist social classes, which is very clearly a relational approach. Then, in structural anthropology, principles of social differentiation are very clearly built on systems of relationships. There was, therefore, all the items in the social sciences to build relations between systems of group and systems of the relationship.

We could therefore expect that the analysis of the networks vienna to bring water to the mill of an approach classist social structures. However, it is rather the contrary that happened, and this is observed from the origin, in the famous inaugural of John Barnes (1954). Off in search of the social classes, the ethnographer is said to have found networks. From there, some have made social networking a war machine against the social classes, such as, for example, Maurizio Gribaudi in its “exercises in social networks” (1998), as the fact actually Harrison White, in the work already referred to this morning by Boltanski, or as Padgett and Ansell in the no less famous article offering an explanation reticular of the ascension to power of the Medici (1993).

That being said, from the 90’s, we have seen the emergence of new forms of articulation possible between classes and networks : where does the position in the network ? How the network is formed ? What is the homophilie, and how to explain it ? These questions have re-introduced the wolf into the sheepfold, the attributes in the relations, the social classes in the social networks.

Emmanuel Lazéga :

After the intervention of Olivier Godechot, Emmanuel Lazéga would like to extend the discussion by examining what could be a position of ” neo-structural “, that sought to build an interpretative model of relations between micro-, meso – and macro-sociological. The analysis of the relations of interdependence between the actors brings, it is the ability to think at the same time, interdependence, and conflict, and to do so in a quite complex.

There is no denying that this approach has, however, a critical potential under-exploited. However, the analysis of networks allows to distinguish between the relational resources of individuals, and the collective dimension of this “social capital” of relations : forms of solidarity, but also of the forms of exploitation, land grabbing, exclusion. We may therefore use these methods to analyze the forms of domination, social control, etc The domination is a relational form, so it is fully amenable to an analysis in terms of networks, which has thus virtues heuristics, including in a critical perspective, and so we can no longer keep to the criticism addressed by Boltanski in the work the founders of White : it is since elapsed 35 years, during which network analysis has developed tools to think about it in a complex way, for example with the work on transformations of networks led by Tom Snijders.

In conclusion of his speech, Emmanuel Lazéga is thus led to suggest that the interaction between “networks” (he prefers to speak of systems of interdependence) and social classes can be thought of fruitfully through the notion of grabbing opportunities developed by Charles Tilly (2005), in the last years of his life, and precisely at the touch of Harrison White at Columbia. Has the scale macrosociologique, the company is organizational, in which one “comes out” by organizing themselves collectively to occupy, or to achieve positions from which it is possible to seize the opportunities : not only resources, but first opportunities to access it without too much trouble, when we need it, what we cannot do alone : the jobs, finance, apartments, places in the nursery… All of these things are collective, but informal, and the analysis of the network capacity, methodologically, to think of that level of articulation between the different levels of social processes.

Qui a fait disparaître les classes sociales ?

Bibliographic references

Barnes J. A. (1954), ” Class and Committees in a norwegian Island Parish “, Human Relations, 7, pp. 39-58.

Baudelot, Christian and Establet, Roger (1971), The school a capitalist in France, Paris, François Maspéro

Beaud, Stéphane (2007), ” The left and the social classes : from the eclipse to the revival “, and Movements, n° 50, pp. 66-78.

Boltanski Luc and Chiapello, Eva (1999), Le nouvel esprit du capitalism, Paris, Gallimard, coll. ” nrf trials “

Boorman, Scott A. and White, Harrison C. (1976), ” Social Structure from Mutliple Networks II : Role Structures,” American Journal of Sociology, 81, pp. 1384-1446.

Bush Cécile, Saint-Pol, Thibaut, Gleizes Francis, Uk, Nicolas, Marical Francis, Monso, Olivier and Wolff, Wolf (2010), Assessment of the European socio-economic classification prototype (EseC) : lessons from the French experience, INSEE, coll. “Working paper Insee, n° F1006. Available online: http://www.insee.fr/fr/publications-et-services/docs_doc_travail/docf1006.pdf

Gribaudi Maurizio (ed) (1998), Spaces, temporalities, stratifications. Exercises on the social networks, Paris, EHESS

Padgett, John F. and Ansell, Christopher K. (1993), “Robust action and the rise of the Medici, 1400-1434”, American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 98, No. 6., May, pp. 1259-1319.

Pincon Michel, Pincon-Charlot, Monique (1989), living in the best neighbourhoods, Paris, Seuil

Pinçon, Michel and Pinçon-Charlot, Monique (2010), The president of the rich : an Investigation into the oligarchy in the France of Nicolas Sarkozy, Areas

Tilly, Charles (2005), Identities, boundaries and social ties, Boulder, London, Paradigm Publishers

White, Harrison C., Boorman, Scott A. and Breiger, Ronald L. (1976), ” Social Structure from Multiple Networks : I. Blockmodels of Roles and Positions “, American Journal of Sociology, 81, pp. 730-780.



In the bibliographic references gathered above, I obviously could not mention all those who were mobilized by one or another of the speakers of this study day. But there is one that has been mentioned by several of them, and that I forgot to mention, this is all the more unforgivable that this very good article is in direct contact with the issues discussed above. It is :

Pierru Emmanuel and Spire Alexis, ” the twilight of The socio-occupational categories “, French Review of political science, 2008/3 Vol. 58, p 457-481.

Given the duration of the mobile barrier of the RFSP, It should be accessible online free of charge in the spring of 2012, but in the meantime you can find already the summary here :


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