Why Class?

Over the years, a number of prominent legal scholars at various academic conferences have made off-handed comments to the effect that economic “class” is not a serious subject of discussion in U.S. law or jurisprudence. The prevailing attitude seems to be that the idea of “class” is an absurd, outdated concept beyond the bounds of legitimate discussion. At a 2000 conference of the Society for the Advancement of Socioeconomics (SASE) in London, I was in a session where a U.S. legal scholar specializing in “law and economics” talked about globalization and the possible contributions of broad-minded economic analysis to social justice. When some puzzled European scholars asked about the role of class, the question seemed completely incomprehensible within even a liberal-leaning L&E framework. Even in the expanded framework of “socio-economics”, or an approach that gives some value to liberal policies of “redistribution”, the question of economic “class” generally seems not only unasked, but unaskable.

By refusing to shy away from the concept of classhowever, I don’t think we need to necessarily revive or stay within the bounds of traditional Marxian literature or concepts. Like a number of participants in this year’s founding ClassCrits workshops, I have some doubts about whether “class” is the most useful concept through which to discuss economic inequality. But “class” does seem like something that should be at least on the table for rational consideration. What I like about “class” is that this term suggests the problem of economic justice is not at the economic”margins” — the poor, insecure, or excluded — but instead is at the center of the economic mainstream. Further, the term “class” suggests that economics is deeply and comprehensively interrelated with culture, identity, politics and power.

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