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This construction gave credence to the concept of class consciousness. Class consciousness is really class identity; it is the way entire groups of people conceive themselves as belonging to a whole. This understanding permeates the corpus and unites the initiated into a common group think. This group or class view is reinforced through the economic determinants that are at the foundation of the group's position. These determinants reinforce inequalities and class identities.
The challenge to class as a locus of identity formation; results from the assertion that contemporary society is too layered and complex for class identity to be relevant. The discussion centers not on the existence of inequalities but the explanation of those inequalities. In the postmodern context the inequalities that exist are not anchored in an a priori formulation of class structure. This formulation considers the development of a classless society. This is not to be interpreted as a blurring of the economic divisions for these are materially evident. Classless society suggests that class is no longer a viable explanatory medium for the elucidation of social phenomenon. The questions therefore that are asked by sociologists who hold this position largely ignore the role of class and incorporate other variables into the debate.
Many of the postmodern formulations of identity decry the omission of critical areas of human identity formation from the class argument (Cerulo, 1997). Notably the issue of gender becomes important to the postmodern debate. Gender as an organizing concept is essentially absent from modern class theory but remains important for understanding contemporary society (MacPherson 1978). The issue of how women conceive of themselves and the social construction of femininity and masculinity are important constructs to engage the debate of identity. These concepts move the debate beyond the boundaries of class and into another arena. In this arena class is not as useful in explaining personal understandings of the self.
Additionally, Goffman constructs identity based on a micro-sociological perspective (Psathas 1996). Thus identity is the result of the behavior of individual actors. The actor and the environment coalesce to produce the unique formation the actor's identity. In Goffman's formulation of identity, the manner in which individuals interact with each other and the accompanying meaning results in identity (Scheff 2005). Employing dramatic imagery as an explicative device, identity production has a front stage and a back stage (Chriss 1995). The performance is controlled by the individual to manipulate and influence what others think of them (Fremstad 1977). This construction eliminates class as a necessary determinant of identity. In this micro conception of identity class is not an immediate correlate of identity (Becker 2003).
In opposition to Goffman, Marcuse provides a macro perspective on the problem of identity formation. Marcuse emphasizes the pivotal role that the external structure plays on the creation of the individual's identity (Wolin 1991). Thus political and social forces are major determinants of identity. The inclusion of market place forces and the unequal nature of the distribution of power, into the argument suggest that there is a curtailing of the development of individual identity. This externalized dimension as explicated by Marcuse is highly coercive (Matheson 1992). The importance of the explanation advanced by Marcuse is not the disagreement with Goffman but rather the underplaying of class as an important consideration in the formation of identity.
The arguments of Goffman and Marcuse are useful they however cannot eradicate the material reality that class exists. Classlessness is not a contemporary reality. The economic situations in many societies create inequalities. Despite claims to the contrary there is still a small, powerful upper class that dominates decision making and wealth acquisition. While it may sound discordant with postmodernity individuals identify very powerfully with their class and the interest of that class. In fact the notion of mobility is not only tied to the increase of income or wealth but also a change in the perceptions of the self by others. However, as Bottero (2004) suggests, the limitations of class identity require a more contemporary formulation that considers previously ignored variables. The result is an explanation that overcomes the minimalist notions of class alone and the impediments of those who advocate "class is dead." The resulting theory would synthesize the intersection of multiple viewpoints to produce a more robust conceptualization.
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