The debate over the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’

“Re-contextualizing the meaning of class”

Written by Leigh McLaughlin, Staff Writer

Different social classes by Antuan2007 (flickr)

Recently I made an investigation into the categories of ‘the haves’ and ‘the have nots’.  ‘Have’ and ‘have-not’ assumedly mean exactly what the signifiers say: some have, some do not.  What need not be explicit is a hierarchy, because if you are reading this, regardless of what you ‘have’, you are privileged.  What I want to investigate, are the categories of ‘have’ and ‘have-not’ coming to define class.

The word ‘class’ itself means category and it carries a profound cultural connotation.  In Western society, the concept of class is synonymous with material wealth.  We see this idea conveyed through various media, through T.V, radio, bill-boards and magazine articles. In a recent article entitled “Upper class people more likely to behave selfishly: study,” the data collected based the class of the owners on the “make, model and appearance” of the cars they observed at a San Fran intersection.

Though it could be argued that those with more resources have less of a need for social bonds when it comes to their survival, a similar argument, where money equals class, would surely fail.  This is because class is a cultural thing.  ‘Social class’ and ‘socio-economic class’ are often shortened to ‘class,’ and ‘class’ often infers quality.

The word ‘class’ itself means category and it carries a profound cultural connotation.

We see material wealth as a determining factor of class throughout many historical narratives just as we see it today. (Material wealth has been a determining factor in the articulation of class since antiquity). We can defer the question of how and when class became the preeminent fixation of popular culture for now.

The question is, how can we, in our day to day conversations, in the articles and papers we write, and through the ideas we manifest, create a more inclusive, less qualitative connotation for ‘class.’  In other words an inquiry into how we affect the understanding of class, how we perpetuate it in our daily lives through our speech, our intent, and the media we consume, seems more immediately relevant.  Material wealth is a determining factor of class, but so is education, birth and even mannerism.

Isn’t a big part of a dream we have on this continent the possibility of social mobility?  We perpetuate this dream.  But if we’re hearing messages like all there is to bettering ones’ self is accumulating things with exchange value, blindly, and by whatever means, so as to fit into the category of ‘have’, without regard for education, social contribution or responsibility, there is something wrong.  A unilateral understanding of class as a synonym of wealth is unhealthy because it inhibits the potential for social mobility.

This is not an inquiry into the traditional notion of class warfare or the struggle against inequality.  This is perhaps an inquiry into the power we give words, and the desire to move a word such as class which means ‘category’, into a place where it is understood as more of a denotation of structure than quality.  Can we change the understanding of class through language? Maybe this is an admonition that despite this idea of mobility, we are bricks in a structure. What we have is the ability to re-contextualize and reinforce the meanings of the words we use.

To have or to have not, surely that is not the only question.

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