WP27 Language, Class and Education

Rampton, Harris, Collins & Blommaert
Collection: Key words , ,


The 20th Century saw efforts to redistribute wealth and income throughout most of the century, but over the last 25 years, material inequalities have persisted and in many ways increased. Traditionally, “class” has been a term used to define and analyze identities and relations between groups located at different levels of the national socio-economic hierarchy. In Britain, for example, class “linked together and summarised” many aspects of any individual’s life (Abercrombie and Warde 2000:145-6): family background, main source of income, cultural tastes and political associations. But in spite of continued inequalities, the analytic utility and the cultural salience of social class have been drawn into question by a number of shifts over the last 30 years: the socio-economic changes associated with globalisation, the decline of traditional collectivist politics, the emergence of gender, race and ethnicity as political issues, and the ascendance of the individual as consumer (Abercrombie and Warde 2000:148). Our contribution focuses on the connections between class stratification, education and language. We argue that class remains an important concept in the analysis of stratification and its effects, and suggest that it can be productively extended beyond the nation-state to issues of language and inequality in colonial and post-colonial settings. We begin with some comments on the definition of social class, clarifying its relation to other axes of inequality (race, ethnicity, gender, generation etc) . Then we provide a sketch of debates about language, education and class leading up to the 1980s, and point to similarities of the dynamics in both “First” and “Third World” countries. After that, we consider processes involved in the “retreat” from class analysis over the last 15-20 years.