Status and Class and How Class Uses Article Review

Excerpt from Article Review :

status and class and how class uses words to prioritize themselves. The world as we perceive it -- or our reality -- is run according to symbols. It is symbols -- or words - that define that which is socially approved of and also symbols -- and words that peg individuals and groups in particular positions.

Bordeaux argues that the powerful elite have categorized substances, pegged certain values to them, made them correspond with particular symbols and then attached these symbols to certain class structures. These defining words are also grouped in terms of polarities and, so for instance, you have one item that may denote a positive sense whilst it's opposite condemns. These class structures also vary from generation to generation and from country to country. So for instance, a Rolls Royce is actually a vehicle as amongst any other, but the elite (a certain class) attached a certain meaning to the connotation 'Rolls Royce'. They consequently attached this symbol to a certain class of people ("he owns Rolls") and this person in return becomes respected, adulated, placed in a certain social bracket that is distinct from the 'lower' classes. The word defines him and sets him apart. In a similar way, words are used arbitrarily to denigrate and objectify humans, such as 'dame' that may be used for a woman' or more notorious the Black person who was tagged' boy' in the 1950s. 'Boy' was a pejorative term. It tagged the person in a specific class. In other words, Bordeaux maintains that "that all knowledge, and in particular all knowledge of the social world, is an act of construction implementing schemes of thought and expression," and that this system of knowledge represented in words is used to classify groups of people and categorize them into particular classes. Worse still there is a self-reinforcing effect where -- as social psychology shows -- people who are tagged in a certain way tend to see themselves in terms of those particular classifications and tend to actualize them. This is particularly so since "The cognitive structures which social agents implement in their practical knowledge of the social world are internalized, 'embodied' social structures"

Sometimes, words can change the whole experience of a social system, such as 'paternalism' and more often than not in the history of mankind; countries have used words to wage war against particular individuals or classes in order to dominate them. .

This is nothing new. Apparently, rhetoric has long been used in the struggle of class against class, or rather one ruling class against another in order to oppress lower classes. Bourdieu points out that:

Commonplaces and classificatory systems are thus the stake of struggles between the groups they characterize and counterpoise, who fight over them while striving to turn them to their own advantage. Georges Duby shows how the model of the three orders, which fixed a state of the social structure and aimed to make it permanent by codifying it. was able to be used simultaneously and successively by antagonistic groups: first by the bishops, who had devised it, against the heretics, the monks and the knights; then by the aristocracy, against the bishops and the king; and finally by the king, who, by setting himself up as the absolute subject of the classifying operation, as a principle external and superior to the classes it generated (unlike the three orders, who were subjects but also objects, judges but also parties), assigned each group its place in the social order, and established himself as an unassailable vantage-point. (p.35)

People, as Bourdieu says, have long resorted to using words as a tool for oppression. Religion used it -- and uses it -- against heretics; the knights used it against the feudal class; the aristocracy used it against bishops and kings; and then the king employed words as means to subjugate others. Each has been put into certain social groups through the use of words.


Bourdieux's observations are acute and deep. They remind me of Sartre's observation and, indeed, Bourdieu brought Sartre into his argument. Sartre spoke about the "being-for-others" whereby our behavior of ourselves and self-definition not only comes from outside but to a larger extent is defined by others. Our ability to self-reflect or create oneself, in other words, can not only not be objective as we think it may be (nor can we have pure self-knowledge), but rather all of this is created by the ontological and forced presence of others in our world. The example of this is "the look" where someone catches us in "in the act" of doing something humiliating and we define ourselves (where correctly or not) in those terms. Accumulation of these judgments shapes our persona for good or for bad. We are forced to share the world with others; we cannot -- even though many of us erroneously think so -- choose to separate ourselves from others. To Sartre, "Hell is other people." And Bourdieux seems to think likewise, although he refers this only to the extent of one class using terminology to demean and dominate another. (Jean-Paul Sartre; online)

Words do seem to connote certain class brackets and more so, we see how people have used them throughout the ages to 'put certain individuals in their place'. As noted, for instance, the White police official tagged the Negro of the South as boy -- professional though he may have been -- to humiliate him. 'Elderly people experience ageism (where they are stereotyped for being old). The term 'old' is not a very commendable expression. Contrast to 'new' or 'modern'; people often use it to snub an item. Similarly too, certain immigrants from certain countries (or people past a certain age) have variously been called 'unproductive' merely because they do not measure up to the American standards. American sees them in certain terms as instrumental. People of a certain class are generally seen as more 'productive' than others. If you earn beyond a certain wage bracket, you are often tagged 'unproductive' or at its worst 'a good-for-nothing' or tramp.

'Poor' is another term that too has its negative connotations. We use 'poor' to describe a sad day (for instance), a miserly situation and so forth ('rich' on the other hand erroneously connotes fullness and happiness). A poor person is alternately called 'disadvantaged' -- but who says that he is 'disadvantaged' -- he may have advantages in other aspects, such as being far wiser or more academically gifted than the wealthy man. Contemporary Western society therefore pegs a biased term to their expressions, thereby pushing people into certain classes. These classes then gradate into a hierarchy of social expressions and symbolism.

There are many more examples that we can supplement to Bordeaux's argument.

On the other hand, however, denigrating words or rhetoric are not just used by classes to manipulate another; they are used across the board by institutions and individuals who wish to single out anything that is threatening to them and thereby to eradicate it. The media used words with abandon to denigrate those it considers 'alien' or 'abnormal'. Corporations use words to vilify those it considers threatening to them. Armies of one country call their enemies in another 'terrorists' whilst their own soldiers are called' freedom fighters' and heroes. In fact, all groups use rhetoric to categorize and label others into groups that reflect their displeasure. And groups always did. Religion of the medieval and puritan ages called certain people 'witches'; the word has remained as condemnation for anyone who wishes to dehumanize another. The problem is that the same observation of Bordeaux applies in this case too:

Dominated agents, who assess the value of their position and their characteristics by applying a system of schemes of perception and appreciation which is the embodiment of…

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