The subjective approach to social classes is found in the writings of Hans Speier, one of the most competent and careful students of this subject. He writes: 93Next Page
The concept of class compatible with this theory of honor cannot be found in Marx; rather its formulation must follow the line suggested by Eugene Dupreel: "A social class is a group placed in a hierarchy in a position above or below that of another group comparable to it, another class. The inequality of two classes or their hierarchical order does not result directly from any advantage or prerogative of either of them, such as wealth. It results only indirectly: it is necessary that one of the two classes be recognized by itself and by the other class, as advantageous and superior. This recognition is explicit or implicit."
Honor, implicitly or explicitly paid, is a basic phenomenon of man's social experience.
One of the most expert formulations of social class, as it can be seen to be after careful comparison with others, is that of Ginsberg: 94
Classes in modern societies may be described as groups of individuals who, through common descent, similarity of occupation, wealth and education, have come to have a similar mode of life, a similar stock of ideas, feelings, attitudes and forms of behavior and who, on any or all these grounds, meet one another on equal terms and regard themselves, although with varying degrees of explicitness, as belonging to one group.
The psychological basis of social class distinctions is well expressed by MacIver: "The sentiment of class is above all a sentiment of disparity. It does indeed unite those who feel distinct from other classes, but it unites them primarily because they feel distinct. Above all, it unites the 'superior' against the 'inferior.' "
Exclusiveness, that is, social exclusiveness, is the cornerstone of all social structures. The upper classes are protected, or, more properly, they protect themselves, from intimate contact with the classes below them.
Human beings are very sensitive to those different from themselves, 96 and social class differences are doubly significant because they immediately call into play attitudes of deference, subordination, or condescension. Until one knows who the other is, in the social class sense, one is likely to remain aloof and to feel ill at ease. Thus the importance of correct social introductions. When one knows the class to which another belongs, one knows how to behave towards him.
Another short and lucid definition of social class reads: "The class is a group (ensemble) of individuals socially assimilated to each other, excluding distinctions caused by age, sex, and occupation." 97 That is to say, the assimilation does not have to be complete. Room is left for such heterogeneity as springs from age, sex, and occupation. It is a bold, but commendable, step to disassociate the term occupation from that of social class.
Dawson and Gettys have listed the non-material stuff out of which social class is made: hauteur, snobbishness, titles, specialization in certain forms of etiquette, speech, etc. 98
It would seem to be the wiser course to refer to families, not individuals, as the elemental units of social classes. Descriptively, the behavior that makes for the formation and maintenance of social classes reads something like this: 99
Every family has, also, to keep up a "front" and to gain acceptance within some group of families. It becomes identified with a social class, or with a "social set" in which it plays a rôle. This rôle requires effort and conscious thought on the part of some members of the family. The family income will be budgeted among the various kinds of expenditure according to the conception the family has of itself ... Each separate family has to maintain, by conscious effort, its place among the other families.
Is it not probable that this is the basis upon which the social class structure rests: the ceaseless activities of families finding their places in the different communities throughout the land?
93. Hans Speier, "Honor and Social Structure," in Social Research, vol. II (1935) pp. 96-97.
94. Ginsberg, op. cit., p. 536.
95. MacIver, op. cit., p. 173.
96. Georg Simmel, Grundfragen der Soziologie (Berlin, 1917) p. 39.
97. Ferré, op. cit., p. 51; translation ours.
98. Dawson and Gettys, op. cit., p. 545.
99. Robert E. Park, editor, An Outline of the Principles of Sociology (New York, 1939) p. 341.