Classes and Resentment

With resentment understood as being socially located, and more specifically class-located, we can look at classes where resentment is likely to be found. These classes or fractions of classes are likely to be part of a class trajectory, as Bourdieu (Distinction 1984) described it, classes which are rising or declining. Similar to the concept of class trajectory, Barbalet (1992: 156) wrote of ascendant and descendant groups and the trade cycle, and Sassen (2010) and O’Brien and Leichenko (2003) have deployed the concept of winners and losers. Within such class situations, people’s sense of resentment is in part conditioned by what they see as being ‘fair’, and their sense of fairness is in turn influenced by collective memory, or the characteristic store of sentiments which are passed on and preserved within groups over a number of decades. Fairness or unfairness is almost always determined on the basis of a comparison with ‘others’, another adjacent class or parts of a group’s own class (Hoggett et al. 2013; Rhodes 2010; and Smith 2012 on fairness).

In theoretical and historical discussions of ‘resentful nationalism’, the class experience of elites becomes an important focus, in contrast with the resentments of subordinate classes. Greenfeld (1993) has given an account of how failing and declining sections of aristocratic classes played a key role in the emergence of nationalism in European countries. In addition, Brown observed a distinction between benign nationalism as the product of ‘confident’ elites and resentful nationalisms as the expression of declining or insecure classes. It is ‘those nationalisms, whether civic or cultural, which are articulated by insecure elites and which constitute ressentiment-based reactions against others who are perceived as threatening, which consequently become illiberal’ (Brown 1999: 298).

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