Statuses and their Hierarchies

My choice to give priority to status over class does not mean I want to dissociate myself from class research. One reason for my choice of terminology is quite simply that status is a more flexible tool and as such better suited for the long time span covered in this research than the concept of class, which tends to be too closely associated with modern times. This limitation is often highlighted especially in research on the nobility (Clark 1995; Snellman 2014). The second reason is more serious: this has to do with my angle in this project. In line with Weber’s notion of status, I take the view that social position is constituted under the combined effect of objective criteria and social esteem. It is the latter aspect that brings social standings into closer contact with everyday life. The other choice I have made concerns stratification, which I elaborate through a multitude of status hierarchies. Here, my angle deviates most strongly from contemporary sociological class research, which presumes a single comprehensive system of classes into which all people in the labour market are incorporated, or, as Bourdieu (1989, 107) paraphrases it, a way of linear thinking that only recognizes the simple ordinal structures of direct determination. Goldthorpe (1980) is as good a representative as any of recent class research: he and his collaborators have played a central role in social stratification research as a whole (Coxon and Davies 1986, 36; Jaeger 2007, 530; Erola 2010, 29; Savage 2015, 39-40), as is clear from many studies (Clark and Cummins 2012; Long 2013; Erola and Moisio 2007). Offices of Population Censuses also apply this kind of socio-economic stratification, providing researchers with a ready-made list of occupations divided into socio-economic strata (Skeggs 2005, 43). Goldthorpe (1980, 39-42) divides classes into seven categories, which for the most part are constructed on the basis of occupation, education and training, although some additional criteria are also applied, such as opportunities for the exercise of authority and considerable autonomy and freedom on the job.

With a relatively small number of classes packed into a single class structure, it is inevitable that classes are too heterogeneous and too internally divided to act as a concerted force for any length of time (Clark 1995, 183). It is perhaps for this reason that rather than naming his classes, Goldthorpe has chosen to distinguish them from one another by serial numbers (I-VII), giving the impression of a descending order. Interestingly, though, Goldthorpe remarks (1980, 42) that his class schema is not intended as a consistently hierarchical form, with the exception of Class I and Class II, whose specificity he clarifies when discussing social mobility. Upward mobility, he says, is only adequate in the case of movement into Classes I and II; and, conversely, downward mobility is only adequate in the case of movement out of Classes I and II. Thus, these two classes are distinctive in their capacity to be above all other classes. Other studies have also reported similar findings (Erola and Moisio 2007; Savage 2015). However, if the remaining classes (III—VII) are indistinguishable, then why not bracket them all together as a huge mass of employees and employers, with just Classes I and II above them? It is indeed unclear why, for instance, sales personnel are placed in Class III, self-employed artisans in Class IV and lower-grade technicians in Class V.

It is not my intention here to challenge the schema currently applied in class research, especially as they have not been designed with a view to analysing earlier periods in history. Rather, my intention is to revisit the underlying logic of existing rankings, which I think needs to be done every now and then—and which Savage (2015) has indeed recently done. This same question is what Skeggs (2005, 43) has in mind when expressing concern about class research that is preoccupied with how to slot people into categories rather than with whether or not the categories are appropriate in the first place. The reassessment of the logic of rankings requires two steps. The first is to identify status hierarchies according to their specific constitutive principles. One way of doing this could be to apply Weber’s (1978a; Habermas 1999, 157-68) notion of the differentiation of social orders. Weber distinguishes the state, the economy, religion, science, the arts and the family as separate social orders on the grounds that they develop their own operating logic, values and culture. This understanding is supported by studies on elites. A classical distinction is made between the political, economic and intellectual elites (Bottomore 1976, 69-90). C. Wright Mills (1970), another prominent name in this field, draws a distinction between the economic, political and military elites, but additionally identifies a new type of elite, that of celebrities. Clark (1995) refers to economic, political, cultural and status power. Ruostetsaari (2014, 66-71), in turn, distinguishes a wider spectrum of elites, that is, political, governmental, organizational, media, scientific and cultural elites.

The common idea behind these divisions is that in each elite, elite position is attained on different grounds, or as Bourdieu (1989, 113) suggests in his theory of distinction: the specific logic of the field and of the type of capital needed in the field determine how the elite position is attained. Capital is a social relation, in other words, an energy which only exists and only exercises an effect in the field in which it is produced and reproduced. It was from these vantage points that I set out to identify status hierarchies. Royal and noble dynasties represent the political or, better to say, governmental elite—or the state elite. Entrepreneurial dynasties are part of the economic elite, while the clergy represent the clerical elite (which is not mentioned in elite research), and professors stand for the scientific or intellectual elite. Artists, or more precisely the most prominent artists, represent the cultural elite, but some of them also come close to the elite of celebrities. Another interesting question is how these elites or uppermost echelons come into contact with one another. In this book this question is addressed first and foremost through marriages, but also through social networks. It is on this basis that we can deduce which occupations belong together as a ‘class’.

The second step has to do with the term of status. Let us begin with Weber (1978a, 302-4; 1978b, 927-8, 936-7), who suggests that status order is eventually produced by the way in which social honour (or social esteem or prestige) is distributed in a community between typical groups participating in this distribution. However, the objective bases of ranking and prestige do not function independently, but in close connection with each other. In the propertied classes, for example, the distribution of wealth lays the foundation for the ranking, but that foundation only becomes effective if prestige is distributed in accordance with the hierarchy generated by the unequal distribution of wealth. To put it simply: the objectively measurable criterion of wealth—having more or less wealth— organizes people into a hierarchical order, but only if more wealth attracts more esteem than less wealth. In the legal order, by which Weber means state governance, what is distributed is power. In that case, the foundation for the ranking order is first and foremost laid by offices in state governance, but again only if prestige follows this order. Prestige is what we intuitively sense because we have learned to recognize its signs in different performances.

As many recent studies have shown, Weber’s notion of status is in fact quite up-to-date. Clark (1995, 5) points out that status does not mean rank on a dimension or several dimensions of stratification, but it denotes a positive or negative social evaluation. Bourdieu (1989, 112) speaks of secondary or subsidiary variables and claims that socio-occupational category derives much of its effect from them. For Savage (2015, 95), whose social classes are largely constructed in line with Bourdieu’s thesis, the key issue is whether one’s tastes and interests are seen as legitimate—socially approved—and as respectable and worthy. These secondary properties— prestige or socially approved tastes and interests—are smuggled into the class stratification and the way we intuitively understand it. To elaborate how the status ranking works, it is better to take status hierarchies under separate scrutiny in order to establish their specific objective grounds and then to see how different kinds of performances manifest social esteem and perhaps link two or more status hierarchies together. In this book the choice of spouse and the succession of occupations are used as such performances on the basis of which I identify which occupations are acceptable to whom. The hierarchical order is constituted through such exclusions and inclusions, but the hierarchy remains elastic. So in line with Weber, Bourdieu, Clark and Savage, the next step would be to contemplate how prestige or esteem works when designating statuses into the hierarchical order. For me, the key term is status performance.

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