America is a classical society

Culture of disrespect

What does "classicism" mean and how can classicist discrimination be understood? Both the individual EU member states and the EU Commission regularly publish figures on the social situation and the educational participation of people with experience of poverty or people from working-class families. The educational qualifications of the parents and the associated access to material and ideal resources of society are used as a basis.

In this context, researchers understand the life situations of those affected as the result of discrimination, social disadvantage and exclusion. These factors are explicitly named as the cause of poverty and exclusion, and other discriminatory characteristics such as gender, migration background or physical constitution also determine them as exclusion factors that overlap with the risk of poverty. The struggles to make these connections publicly visible and to change the situation are mainly due to social movements, including the anti-classic movements, workers' and trade union movements and the women's movements.

Name suppression

The term "classicism" (a translation variant of the English-language "classism") originally comes from the US context and is defined as a form of discrimination and oppression, analogous to racism, anti-Semitism or (hetero) sexism. According to this understanding, however, the term encompasses more than the exclusion of material resources and political participation.

When analyzing classicism, the status of people in the production process is taken as the starting point, but the economic position is not used as the only distinguishing feature. For example, gender relationships also play an important role. For example, a female cleaner in a private household earns an average of eight euros an hour. Often these are precarious, invisible jobs. With regard to the entire labor market of cleaning staff, however, differences in the pay of women and men can be noted: Building cleaning is a profession in which mainly men are trained, who mostly earn more visibility when employed with social security contributions.

Class society

Classism is always about processes of withdrawal on a cultural, institutional, political and individual level, for example in that rights and legal claims are denied, lifestyles and values ​​are not recognized and are not visible. The class concept, on which the critique of classism is based, relates to the economic status as a basic category, but is thought to be changeable and expandable. Even if the terms "below" and "above" are not without problems, they are used in anti-classical education work to describe classical phenomena.

The "ruling class" refers to those people who hold positions of decision-making and distribution powers in the central institutions of society (such as politics). The “possessing class”, on the other hand, means rich people and families who have enough income in society to let others work for them. The "working class" includes people whose income is based on hourly wages for work, as well as people who are paid above daily wages. The "lower class" includes, for example, unemployed and poor people, that is, people who are partially or wholly dependent on state or other forms of support.

Lesbian-feminist impulses

As already mentioned, the origins of the term classicism lie in the USA and are closely related to the newer social movements against sexism and racism. The term arose almost at the same time and in the same political context as the term "sexism". The first records of the concept of classicism can be found in 1974 in the publications of the lesbian group The Furies, in which the daughters of workers with different experiences of racism and heterosexism discussed their discrimination on the basis of their social origin (see article by Anne-Carina Lischewski).

About a decade later, the term appeared in a book by Anja Meulenbelt, the original Dutch version of which was published in 1985 and which was published in 1988 under the German-language title "Scheidelinien. On Sexism, Racism and Classism". In Germany, however, the book received little attention, and even the concept of classism in all its complexity did not meet with a great response in the women's movements in the Federal Republic or in other European countries, although at that time there were some books on the question of "class" and gender and on workers' daughters at universities were published.

Moved with two New York police officers in the 1980s white Feminism into the TV mainstream: Als the female buddy duo in the US television landscape presented themselves Cagney & Lacey against chauvinism in the world of work and on the street. Christine Cagney is the tough as well as chic and career-conscious single woman and comes from a wealthy family. More traditional, but no less assertive Mary Beth Laceywho grew up in modest circumstances. When her husband Harvey, a steel worker, loses his job, she becomes the sole breadwinner of the family with three children for a while. Later she even catches up with her degree - quite Working Class Pride.
Text: Vina Yun, illustration: Bianca Tschaiknersize>

Intersection lines

Since the late 1990s, particularly in the USA, there has been an increasing number of extensive analyzes of the intersectionality of gender and social origin or "class". The British sociologist Beverly Skeggs, for example, formulates in this context that not only the gender role is learned, but "class" is also acquired as cultural behavior. Closely related to this are also different perceptions of girls and women depending on their social origin. Suki Ali, also a sociologist from Great Britain, can show, for example, that girls who behave loudly and space-consuming are more likely to be assigned working class identities. On the other hand, teachers attribute qualities such as calm and orderly to girls with an Asian background. As a result, they are more likely to be perceived as belonging to the middle class, even if they come from poor contexts.

More recent feminist studies therefore advocate examining the complexity of class and classism experiences as well as other stigmatizations and attributions in educational contexts very precisely and in a differentiated manner in order to be able to identify the reasons for exclusion and to better combat it.

68 million

Without ideologies of justification, structures of economic inequality cannot be sustained, at least in democracies. Because the unequal distribution of resources requires argumentative justification. Classicism therefore also includes a discursive pattern of justification in order to legitimize certain images of people whose share of social and material goods is kept low.

In the study "Special Eurobarometer: Poverty and Exclusion" from September 2007, not only the economic realities, but also discrimination and prejudices against poor and homeless people were discussed for the first time at EU level. [1] 68 million citizens in the EU live below the poverty line or are at risk of poverty. The report examines how poverty and exclusion are perceived in the European member states (for example what attitudes citizens have towards homeless people). This perception is strongly dependent on one's own economic situation: the richer and more secure a person is, the less they acknowledge poverty.

Keep your distance

The study also shows how very poor people are excluded from social and cultural participation in society. The prejudices are remarkable: Thirty percent of those surveyed think that poor people have always been poor, twenty percent attribute poverty to the fact that those affected are "lazy" and have a "lack of willpower". Only one percent of citizens can imagine becoming homeless themselves. To a large extent, poverty is perceived as "different" and, as the study shows, kept as far as possible from one's own life - unless the people themselves are directly affected.

Such perspectives do not arise inevitably and for no reason. They are the result of complex structural discrimination processes with a long history. For a long time, however, there was no name for it. With the term "classicism", which starts from "class" as a construction, new fields are opened for thinking about social mechanisms of power and domination. Classism analyzes also question the stereotyping and degradation that go hand in hand with socio-political status, as well as the associated strategies of legitimation.

Traditional Marxist class analyzes, on the other hand, hold fast to the priority of economic status and the assumption that the class problem is settled with a general improvement in it. So far, however, there is no historical example that a tendency towards equalization of economic living conditions (such as in the former so-called socialist countries such as the GDR or Yugoslavia) would automatically have settled social structures of rule and discrimination between classes.

Multiple discrimination

Numerous scientific studies show the different types of discrimination to which members of the "lower" social classes are exposed. For example, scientists at the University of Duisburg-Essen examined the provision of outpatient psychotherapy and once again stated "an undersupply of groups of people with a low level of education, ie with a secondary school leaving certificate or below, or of children whose parents have a corresponding qualification. The supply situation for adults with higher educational qualifications (from technical college entrance qualification) and children of parents with corresponding qualifications is much better. "

Vlatka Frketić and Perry Persson Baumgartinger, on the other hand, show in their study how trans * people as job-seekers and unemployed people are discriminated against on the Austrian labor market on several occasions: "Since I am looking for work, I try to get a job somehow, which is extreme due to my age difficult. I'm afraid that if I show up for an interview with my 'dream sex', I don't even have the slightest chance. " [2]

A study by a Jena research group on the subject of "Recognition and Unemployment" shows that unemployed people often try hard to find work. They are active, establish networks, but experience massive repression from the authorities and the media: pressure, discrimination, suspicion, permanent scrutiny, justification. The consequences of this discrimination are illness and depression. Discrimination is sometimes seen as worse than unemployment itself.

Change of perspective

Only when the normative power of class relationships and the associated culture of disrespect and domination emerges and classes are understood and analyzed as structures and constructions can new images arise, new ideas for a different organization of society. Optimal and fair participation in education begins in early childhood and is made possible by free crèches, compulsory kindergarten, high-quality all-day schools and a decoupling of children's educational paths from their respective family structures. The voices of people who need help and support in complex life situations - single parents, old people, sick people, disabled people, refugees and others. -, must be audible and visible in educational contexts, politics and science so that other social perspectives can arise.


[1] Special Eurobarometer: Poverty and Exclusion 2007:

[2] Vlatka Frketić / Persson Perry Baumgartinger: Trans people on the Austrian labor market. Vienna 2008.