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Class is relative social rank in terms of income, wealth, status/position and/or power.



What do we mean by "class"?

In the U.S., class is a very confusing and elusive thing. Mostly we don't talk about it.

We consider ourselves a "classless" society or think if everyone except for a few lucky ones at the "top" or unfortunate ones at the "bottom" "middle class."   Class can evade any attempt at categorization or simplistic definition. One person's definitions may not make sense to another. We present these definitions in the hope of starting a dialogue about class and how it impacts on us.


A class consists of a large group of people who occupy a similar economic position in the wider society based on income, wealth, property ownership, education, skills, or authority in the economic sphere.


Class affects people not only on an economic level, but also on an emotional level.

Class identity - A label for one category of class experience, such as ruling class, owning class, middle class, working class, poor

Class Indicator - a factual or experiential factor that helps determine an individual's class or perceived class. The criteria for determining class membership or identity can be easily debated.



- if, what, where, how many

Job Status



Stuff -how much and what kind

Cultural Capital



Language- vocabulary ,dialect/accent, non-verbal-posture

Class Continuum - There are no hard and fast divisions between class groups. Income, wealth, and occupational status are on spectrums, and most of us move a little up or down the spectrums during our lifetimes. Immigrants can change class status from their country of origin to their new country. Some people grow up in one class and live as adults in another. Class operates along a continuum or hierarchy.  

Lines may be drawn at different points along this continuum, and positions can be labeled differently. Class is a relative thing, both subjectively (how we feel) and objectively (in terms of position or resources). Our felt experience often varies depending on whether we look up or down the continuum. However, it is clear that everyone at the top end is mostly dominant with respect to class and derives substantial benefit and privilege, while everyone at the bottom end is mostly subordinate and has limited access to benefits. The following visually demonstrates this:


DOMINANTS Ruling Class
Owning Class
"Have Mores"
Mostly DOMINANTS Middle Class "Haves"


Working Class
SUBORDINANTS Poor/ Low-Income "Have Nots"


What is Classism?

Classism is the systematic assignment of characteristics of worth and ability based on social class. It includes individual attitudes and behaviors; systems of policies and practices that are set up to benefit the upper classes at the expense of the lower classes, resulting in drastic income and wealth inequality; the rationale that supports these systems and this unequal valuing; and the culture that perpetuates them.

Classism is differential treatment based on social class or perceived social class.

Classism is the systematic oppression of subordinated groups (people without endowed or acquired economic power, social influence, and privilege) by the dominant groups (those who have access to control of the necessary resources by which other people make their living).

Classism is the systematic oppression of subordinated class groups to advantage and strengthen the dominant class groups.

Classism is held in place by a system of beliefs and cultural attitudes that ranks people according to economic status, family lineage, job status, level of education, and other divisions.

Middle-class and higher-class people (dominant group members) are seen as smarter and more articulate than working-class and poor people (subordinated groups). In this way, dominant group members (middle-class and wealthy people) define for everyone else what is "normal" or "acceptable" in the class hierarchy.


People who are poor/working class sometimes internalize the dominant society's beliefs and attitudes toward them, and play them out against themselves and others of their class.


Internalized classism is the acceptance and justification of classism by working class and poor people. Examples include: feelings of inferiority to higher-class people; disdain or shame about traditional patterns of class in one's family and a denial of heritage; feelings of superiority to people lower on the class spectrum than oneself; hostility and blame towards other working-class or poor people; and beliefs that classist institutions are fair.

Class Privilege Fruits of the many tangible or intangible unearned advantages of "higher" class status, such as personal contacts with employers, good childhood health care, inherited money, speaking the same dialect and accent as people with institutional power.

Class Ally A person from the more privileged classes whose attitudes and behaviors are anti-classist, who is committed to increasing his or her own understanding of the issues related to classism, and is actively working towards eliminating classism on many levels.



Class Action  P.O. Box 1300  Northampton, MA 010610-1300  tel/fax: 413.585.9709
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