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The upper-class family

Second, the upper class shares a common background in that it is mainly made up of members of a fairly small number of wealthy extended families, often inter­connected by marriage. Studies of top companies frequently reveal that members of upper-class extended kinship networks hold multiple directorships across a range of companies.

The upper-class family is an important agency of socialisation because it makes a crucial contribution to 'social closure'. The upper class is a self-selecting and exclusive elite which is closed to outsiders. We can see two processes here which are important in ensuring the ability of the upper class to close itself off from lower socio-economic groups, thus denying upward social mobility into its ranks. The first process is the encouragement of children to choose marriage partners from other upper-class families rather than from other social circles. John Scott (1982) argues that attempts by members of the upper class 'to many off their children to those who are eligible socially, economically and politically guarantee the perpetuation of an intensive kinship network'. As Sampson argues (quoted in Scott), inter-marriage 'confers access to a common background and attitude, a common language and trust, re­inforced by Eton, Oxbridge and country house life, which leads one member to prefer another'.

The second process is the immersion of children into a culture of privilege which clearly distinguishes this class from other social groups and reaffirms awareness of their social superiority and the subordina­tion of other social classes. This may be expressed in a number of ways.

· Children's names (think about how many working-class people you know called Camilla, Rupert, Sebastian, Tamara, Arabella or Hugo) and the presence of nannies and other domestic staff.

· Socialisation into 'high culture' (being familiar with classical music, art, ballet, opera). Supporters of high culture believe it has artistic merit and aesthetic qualities that can only be appreciated with good breeding and the appropriate education. Critical sociologists note that such a culture has had a dispropor­tionate influence on British culture in general and in particular in the field of education, in which it has partly shaped what should be included in the curriculum. It has also been influential as a critique of popular culture (televi­sion, cinema, music), which is often dismissed as low culture and seen as less valuable than high culture.

· Participation in blood sports such as fox­hunting and grouse-shooting, and also the 'social season', which involves being in the country or London or abroad in particular holiday resorts at particular times of the year, or at debutante balls at which they meet prospective upper-class partners.

· Concern with etiquette (social conven­tion): members of the upper class must be addressed in the correct fashion, appropriate dress must be worn on par­ticular occasions, particular subjects must not be talked about (talking about money is regarded as vulgar).


Date: 2016-03-03; view: 119


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SUB-UNIT 4.3. Presenting statistic data | FAMILY LIFE AND POVERTY by John Williams
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