In This Article Geography and Class

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Contested Conceptualizations
  • Class and the Geographical Political Economy of the Capitalist Society
  • The Middle Class, the Creative Class, and the Ruling Class
  • Class, Race, and Gender
  • Class and the Urbanization Process
  • Class, Environment, and Society—or Working-Class Ecology
  • Class and Subjectivity/Identity
  • Class and Labor Geography
  • Class Conflict and Class Politics

Geography Geography and Class
by
Raju J. Das
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0204

Introduction

The concept of class has been alive in the social sciences and humanities for well over a century. In geography, class was popularized in the late 1970s as Marxism was brought into the field by the likes of David Harvey and Richard Peet, and with the establishment of the journal Antipode at Clark University in Massachusetts. Geographers have approached class from the vantage point of key concepts of geographical inquiry—namely space, place, scale, and the environment. In recent decades, alongside the postmodern turn in the social sciences and humanities, research and thinking about class has been challenged by feminism and antiracist thinking, which have questioned the centrality of class in explanatory critique. It is argued that the class-centric approach to society ignores, or heavily underemphasizes, the gendered and racial dimensions of society. Given the race- and gender-based fragmentation of the working class, the class approach could not present a unified force against capitalism, so there was a need for new conceptualizations that went beyond class. Later works in this strain of thought argued that class position only matters as a site of experience and does not necessarily provide any potential for resistance. As such, the power of class as a concept has become increasingly diluted in the field, with a seeming resurgence that plateaus with the triad of oppression (race, gender, class) and the so-called method of intersectionality. More recently, debates surrounding class as a category have resurfaced in geography in relation to studies on the agency of labor, but this work has been found wanting for its voluntarism and empiricism. There is only a minority voice in geography and allied disciplines that argues for the primacy or centrality of class as it is rooted in the relation of production, and that has implications for understanding nonclass social oppression and anti-capitalist resistance.

The author’s graduate student, Rupi Minhas, helped with the research and the compilation of some of the references when the work was in a very early stage.

General Overviews

Cited here are the central references that talk about class, including in relation to geographical imagination. Taylor 2010 examines class as produced through combined social, cultural, and economic practices, but in ways that do not reify class over and above other paradigms. Sadler 2003 provides an overview of how the concept of class has been used in geography. Relevant sections of Sheppard and Barnes 1990 talk about class in relation to the dynamics of capitalist production. Thrift and Williams 1987 is dedicated to the relationship between class and space, and contains various case studies from the 19th and 20th centuries that address changes in class relations and their spatiality. Wright 2005 is a collection of an array of Weberian, Marxist, Bourdieuian, and other approaches to class analysis, all of which have impacted geographical thinking on class. McNall, et al. 1991 presents the ongoing debates regarding the relationship between structure and agency, the centrality of class, and the dynamics of class formation, class culture, and class consciousness. Gibson-Graham, et al. 2001 presents a range of essays on class relations and their different aspects, from different regions and from a post-structuralist perspective. Wood 1998 presents a critique of “post-Marxist” trends in class theory that separate politics and ideology from their class-material roots, and makes a passionate call for taking class seriously while recognizing the theme of fragmentation of the working class.

  • Gibson-Graham, J. K., Stephen Resnick, and Richard Wolff. Re/presenting Class: Essays in Postmodern Marxism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001.

    DOI: 10.1215/9780822383093E-mail Citation »

    This edited collection compiles a range of essays on class relations and their different aspects and from different regions, providing an overview of the post-structuralist class analysis. The authors tackle the question of class in relation to higher education, nature, the Iranian Revolution, the former USSR, and more, in order to move beyond the traditional Marxist conception.

  • McNall, Scott G., Rhonda F. Levine, and Rick Fantasia, eds. Bringing Class Back In: Contemporary and Historical Perspectives. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1991.

    E-mail Citation »

    A collection of articles by well-known practitioners of class analysis, including Wright, Burawoy and Wacquant, this book presents the continuing debates over the relationship between structure and agency, the centrality of class, and the dynamics of class formation, class culture, and class consciousness.

  • Sadler, David. “Concepts of Class in Economic Geography.” In A Companion to Economic Geography. Edited by Trevor J. Sheppard and Eric Barnes. Oxford: Blackwell, 2003.

    E-mail Citation »

    Sadler provides a comprehensive review of class in economic geography in relation to broader trends in academia, from Weberian to Marxist to post-structuralist and postmodern conceptions. He points to the explanatory values and weaknesses of these approaches, and concludes with an assessment and necessity of the concept in economic geography.

  • Sheppard, Eric, and Trevor J. Barnes. The Capitalist Space Economy: Geographical Analysis after Ricardo, Marx and Sraffa. London: Unwin Hyman, 1990.

    E-mail Citation »

    The book focuses on the capitalist space-economy from the standpoint of Marx, Ricardo, and Sraffa. Part 3 of the book, “Disequilibrium: Class Contradiction and Struggle,” (pp. 199–262), introduces Marx’s concepts of class-in-itself and class-for-itself, and examines (inter- and intra-) class conflict in relation to the locational dynamics of capitalist production.

  • Taylor, Yvette. Classed Intersections: Spaces, Selves, Knowledges. Farnham, UK, and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2010.

    E-mail Citation »

    Taylor examines the salience and transformation of class analysis at a juncture when class investigation is gaining some renewed academic attention. The articles collected in this book examine class as produced through combined social, cultural, and economic practices, but they do not reify class over and above other paradigms.

  • Thrift, Nigel, and Peter Williams. Class and Space: The Making of Urban Society. London: Routledge, 1987.

    E-mail Citation »

    This book focuses on the processes of class formation in advanced capitalist societies in the 19th and 20th centuries. The authors employ geographical concepts such as scale, space, and place in order to show the concrete and spatial organization (or disorganization) of classes, in relation to social and technological changes. The introductory chapter provides a good overview of Marxist and Weberian approaches to class.

  • Wood, Ellen Meiksins. The Retreat from Class: A New “True” Socialism. Rev. ed. London: Verso, 1998.

    E-mail Citation »

    This book presents a critical overview of “post-Marxist” trends in class theory, which are traced to their Marxist roots. Wood argues that these trends put far too much stress on difference, and also separate politics and ideology from their class-material roots.

  • Wright, Erik Olin. Approaches to Class Analysis. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511488900E-mail Citation »

    This book presents six different perspectives on class analysis, including neo-Marxist, neo-Weberian, new-Durkheimian, and Bourdieuian perspectives. It also discusses the ways in which these perspectives answer questions about economic inequality, people’s subjective perception of their economic position, social conflicts, historical changes, and what is needed to eliminate oppression and exploitation.

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