The No-Nonsense Guide to Class, Caste & Hierarchies

Seabrook, Jeremy
Publisher:  Between the Lines, Toronto, Canada
Year Published:  2002  
Pages:  144pp   Price:  $15   ISBN:  1-896357-56-3
Library of Congress Number:  HT609.S37 2002   Dewey:  305.5
Resource Type:  Book
Cx Number:  CX6695

Concentrates mainly on the history of social hierarchy in Western civilization, and particularly the struggles of the working class.

Abstract:  This guide concentrates mainly on the history of social hierarchy in Western civilization, and particularly the struggles of the working class. The author, Jeremy Seabrook, describes the form of social hierarchies in feudal Europe, the effects of the Industrial Revolution on this system and the new class-based stratifications that emerged. He explores Marx's contributions to theory around class inequality and what has happened to the working class as the economy becomes increasingly driven by advances in information and communication technology

Even though it can be argued that Marx, in "prognostic" terms, appears to have been incorrect, at least so far, in foreseeing that capitalism in industrial societies would necessarily result in a socialist revolution, his "diagnostic" evaluation of the class dynamics of capitalism is more-or-less accurate. Marxist theory continues to be relevant to both Western society, where working class jobs now tend to be in retail and service and lack security or benefits, and the global South, where transnational corporations have set up manufacturing operations with conditions as bad as those experienced by the British working class during the Industrial Revolution.

The continuing pertinence of class relations in an increasingly globalized world is currently obscured by a number of factors, not least the fact that the traditional understanding of class has been replaced by the term 'inequality'. 'Inequality', explains Seabrook, is an abstraction appearing to be solely statistical in nature and unchangeable in its enormity. It does not highlight the ways in which relationships between the working and upper classes are characterized by exploitation or the common interests of those exploited.

In the view of the author, Western-based social justice movements have become individualistic in nature by focusing on identity politics to the exclusion of class. Barriers to (traditional middle class) privileges for individuals affected by racism, homophobia, ableism, and sexism are addressed, but not the ultimate injustices that are the result of the dynamics of advanced capitalism.

The last part of this book focuses on the difference between caste and class, caste being a position that is inherited and hence a societal position from which the individual cannot move. A history of the caste system in India is described, including an examination of what parts of this system, ostensibly eliminated, have survived to the modern day. The author notes that caste-like elements can also be discerned in Western class-based societies.

[Abstract by Meg O'Brien]

Table of Contents


1. What are 'class' and 'inequality'?
2. The importance of a working class
3. Class: alive and kicking
4. The consistency of change
5. Class and globalization
6. Goodbye to the working class?
7. The enduring injuries of class
8. Caste and class
9. Conclusion


Subject Headings