Class Paralysis

It’s behind a paywall, but Catalyst, the Jacobin spinoff, has an interesting piece titled “An Agenda for Class Analysis,” by sociologist Göran Therborn.

It is a reworked paper from a conference paying homage to the late, not-so-great Erik Olin Wright, who spent an entire academic career dithering unhelpfully around the edges of the topic of social class. In his prolix and stumbling efforts, Wright set a certain standard for careerist game-playing, for which he was repeatedly, deftly, and humorously (albeit, in effect on the subject, fruitlessly) taken to task by Russell Jacoby.

In this Olin-Wrightishly underwhelming Catalyst piece — which, by the way, provides nothing like an agenda for doing class analysis in this epochally troubled, massively class-oppressed century — Therborn basically admits that Erik Olin Wright spent all his supposedly analytical energy worrying about stillborn ideas like “class boundaries” and “contradictory class locations.” Therborn also comes very close to saying that Wright himself indulged in the very social-scientific “grantsmanship” and reputational grooming he ought to have rejected.

The main point Therborn misses in his near-take-down of Olin Wright is the plain fact that Olin-Wright always steamrolled over superior/classic views of what class analysis was, is, and could be. But such views were never very compatible with the “mainstream quant-sociology” Olin Wright fancied himself cracking into.

As it stands, it remains utterly remarkable how little creativity and insight has gone into the extension and refinement of class analysis, despite the relentless growth and refinement of the actual phenomenon it could and should be trying to explain. Sure, few topics have been less welcome than this one. But we, its supposed exponents, have hardly done much to damn the torpedoes. We have been downright dunderheaded about our own core topic.

Shame, this.

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