Cynthia's Reviews > Reading Classes: On Culture and Classism in America

Reading Classes by Barbara Jensen
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Jun 20, 12

bookshelves: books-read-in-2012
Read in June, 2012

There are social classes in America??

Jensen brings up the verboten topic of class in America. We’re all one big class right? We’ve been lead to believe we’re all middle class with a froth of elite billionaires at the very top. Wrong. The working class makes up 63% of American society and the middle class make up 36% with 10% of those being upper middle class. I wish Jensen had been clearer where the demarcations between classes lay but I understand how that would be all but impossible. Instead she defines the working class as those who have not gone on to earn a four year degree and who work with their hands. They’re also characterized by a devotion to their friends and family and interacting with them in a cooperative way. They don’t seek to stand out but to get along amongst their peers, to fit in. Jensen also makes the point that without the work they do American society would be at a standstill. The working class is largely invisible to the rest of us yet we count on them to make us comfortable and supply our material needs.

Middle classes are taught to be individuals first and to compete. There is no premium placed on cooperation. They are expected to have at least a bachelor’s degree. They work at desks with ideas. Their product is thought that helps the elite class get and keep their market share. Propping up the elite class (A few times Jensen refers to these elite as a capitalist class.). This is something both the Middle and Working classes share…..serving the most affluent Americans. She also points out that those who achieve a college degree can squeak into the middle class but that often comes at the expense of distancing ourselves from our working class roots and families.

“Reading Classes” is a versatile book. I hope many lay people will read but also that it makes its way into sociology or psychology courses especially courses with an emphasis on cross cultural issues. I recently read Masih’s (editor) “The Chalk Circle” which included essays written by recent immigrants, minorities, and Americans growing up or living outside the US who were born here but experienced a different America than the middle classes. “Reading Classes” could shed light in economics or communications courses as well.

This is a well researched, academic book yet it’s amazingly readable. It’s almost like she was writing for us working classes! It’s close to impossible not to take it personally and to try and find your place in its paradigm. Jensen opened my eyes to many dynamics that have baffled me over the years especially in work situations. She states that though the working classes might use less complex words they have a vast repertoire of body cues and nuances that are easily understood by those with the same background. The middle classes, on the other hand, have been taught to ‘use their words’. The only legitimate communication is verbal; all other types should be ignored. In my career I’ve often been at a loss at meeting post mortems with my co-workers. When I give my take on the proceedings my co-workers reply to my observations with something such as, “That’s NOT what they said!” But they did. I saw it. I felt it.

At less than 250 pages this is a small book but you’ll find yourself reading slowly and pausing to contemplate her ideas. Again I’d like to emphasize how clearly and well Jensen writes.

This review was based on an e-galley provided by the publisher.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Tara (new)

Tara Sounds interesting...


message 2: by Bobbi (new) - added it

Bobbi Thanks for the great review. I'll put it on my to-read list.


message 3: by B0nnie (new) - added it

B0nnie I qualify as middle class, but my roots are working class. I imagine that situation is the most common scenario. "And you think you're so clever and classless and free" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2SDRQ...


message 4: by Jean (new) - added it

Jean Thank you for this interesting review. Although I don't live in the States I'm sure this book is relevant to South Africa, where everyone aspires to be middle class. As a result few people aspire to serve apprenticeships to become skilled tradesmen, but do degrees which will not necessarily serve any purpose in the job market. I will add it to my "to read" shelf.


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