Module Overview

Lesson 4.1 – What is Social Class?

Social class is a fundamental, key concept in American politics (and in the politics of any society, really). Yet, often, it is talked about in a confusing way. Part of our goal in this module, is to avoid making the mistake of thinking about social class, in simplified and inaccurate ways.

WATCH – Intro Video

Here’s an overview of this lesson:

WATCH – Wealth Inequality in America

This video present how unequal the wealth created by Americans is distributed in America. How is this possible, what makes it possible? What does the existence of such inequality tell us about the society we live in? These questions cannot be answered comprehensively and meaningfully, if we don’t think about them through social classes:

READ – 4. 1 What Determines How Americans Perceive Their Social Class?

This reading present the usual way through which social class is defined, and understood in American society. So we have to be familiar with this view, only to reject it later, in favor of a more accurate and sophisticated understanding of social class:

READ – 4.2 “Inequality and New York’s Subway”

This reading presents another common view of how social class functions in our society. This time, we have the NYC subway map as a guide to social classes. Each station on the subway map corresponds with an average income level of the people living around that stop. This sets up an interesting view of NYC neighborhoods:

WRITE – Discussion Board 4.1

Head over to Discussion Board 4.1:

Lesson 4.2 – What is Social Class (continued)

In this lesson, we continue our study of social class by getting deeper into the question: what is social class, and how does it affect American politics.

WATCH – Intro Video

In this lesson we build on concepts we encountered in the previous lesson:

Lesson 4.2 video intro

READ – Reading 4.3 Michael Parenti on Capital and Labor

Read the following excerpt, which introduces more precise ways of thinking about social class: the concepts of capital and labor.

You will be asked to participate in a discussion group, and answer questions about this reading in the quiz that ends this module:

COMPLETE – Self-Assessment

READ – Reading 4.4 Paul Heideman “Class Rules Everything Around Me”

Read the following text. Here, we have the same story as in the Parenti reading above, except in greater detail. An important part of this read is that it shows how class plays a role in current events, specifically how it intersects with race:

COMPLETE – Self-Assessment exercise

In preparation for our discussion board, review and make sure you have an initial, clear understanding of what the author said about the following concepts in Reading 4.4 (Note, at the end of this module, you will write and submit a response paper, which will ask you do discuss some of these concepts):

1. How do liberals think of social classes? How do socialists think of social classes (see pg. 1-2 especially).
2. What are the two ways in which class is different from social hierarchies? (see p. 5)
3. What are the two implications for politics if we follow the socialist understanding of class? (pg. 7)

WRITE – Discussion Board 4.2

Head over to Discussion Board 4.2:

WRITE – Response Paper 4

  1. Reading 4.4 makes the point that capitalists and workers pursue different strategies in living their lives, because they have different interests. Why is this true? In what ways are the interests of workers and wealth-owners (capitalists) different? Give examples to support your point.
  2. Explain how the following statement from Reading 4.4 might be true in describing current American politics:
Since most people in society are in dependence to capitalists, this means that other forms of oppression in society are also connected to class power.

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WATCH – Module 4 Summary Video

This video summarizes our discussion of Module 4, and should be watch after you have completed all work for the module: