Second Writing Assignment

Answer one of the following two questions. Essays should be 5–7 pages double-spaced.

1. Within debates over capitalism, one longstanding argument concerns the nature of social class. While in classic Marxist conceptualizations, class is defined by a person's position within the economic relations of production (i.e. as capitalists who own the means of production or the proletariat who works for them), other scholars have broadened this focus.

  • How do Sherry Ortner and Julie Bettie understand social class in ways that differ from this classic formulation?
  • In their view, how do class differences relate to other kinds of differences such as race/ethnicity and gender?
  • Why might it be important to explore class formation in places like schools that are outside of people's work experiences?

Explore these questions through a discussion of the different class experiences of working class and middle class white and Mexican-American girls that Julie Bettie worked with at a high school in Central California. What do you find useful—or potentially less useful—in this kind of social scientific research on social class?

2. Understandings of social class also need to consider the experiences of those who are relatively well off. While Ortner and Bettie consider working class experiences in relation to middle class ones, Nelson Aldrich and Karyn Lacy consider the experiences of the wealthy and upper middle class in relation to the middle class.

  • According to Nelson Aldrich, what are some of the cultural attitudes that Old Money East Coast elites exhibit towards things like work, education, money, possessions, family, taste, and history in contrast to what they view as the striving middle class "market man"?
  • How do such attitudes differ from or parallel those of upper middle class African-Americans studied by Lacy in the Washington D.C. suburbs and who in turn hold different viewpoints from more middle or lower middle class African-Americans in that region?
  • In both sets of readings, how are such class experiences cross-cut by issues of race (whether acknowledged or not)?
  • In your view, what insights about social class emerge from discussions of wealthy or upper-middle class groups and why might such insights be useful in understanding class more broadly?