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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

the aspirational class « Previous | |Next »
April 2, 2010

Stefan Collini in Blahspeak at the London Review of Books highlights, and criticizes, the concept of the "aspirational society" that has become so influential in the last decade. He says that the word ‘aspirational’ in the UK (and Australia) refers to:

an ‘aspirational class’, rather uncertainly located within a traditional hierarchical social structure, but composed of people who probably had working-class parents, who hope to have professional or managerial-class children, and who want more of ‘the good things of life’. But they want, it is said, to attain these goals without taking on the trappings and snobberies that historically went along with moving into a higher social class. An edge of ressentiment lurks under ‘aspiration’, not the old ‘Jack’s as good as his master’ kind, which acknowledged social position while claiming it was not the whole of life, but a more relativist kind, confident that ‘no one has the right to say what someone else ought to do or think.’ Any other view of the matter is damned as ‘elitist’.

As these attitudes assert and impose themselves, we are encouraged to talk not merely of an aspirational class but of an ‘aspirational society’ at once insistently egalitarian and aggressively competitive. This is the language of market populism.

This holds that markets express the will of the people and that those who say that society can be organized in any way other than the market way, are ideologues, elitists with their contemptuous disregard for the wisdom and values of average Australians.

Collini says that the emphasis on ‘aspiration’ is one symptom of the abandonment of what have been, for the best part of a century, the goals of progressive politics, since, as an ideal, the ‘aspirational society’ expresses a corrosively individualist conception of life that is at adds with social democracy. He says that:

the language of ‘aspiration’ occludes the stark facts of economic inequality in so much public debate. It is characteristic of the antinomies of individualism that the rhetorical stress on ‘choice’, ‘respect’ and so on has to be ramped up to compensate for the loss of any real prospect of altering the economic structure that shapes and sets limits to all agency.

In a society as unequal as contemporary Australia all talk of ‘equality of opportunity’ can function only as an ideological smokescreen to cover up the existence of the socio-economic inequalities associated with class.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:42 PM | | Comments (3)


Want evidence of the aspirational class? Have a look at the ABS stats on primary and secondary school enrolments over the last decade:

the aspirational class---an example of the politics of market populism? The rhetoric is one of individual choice, the ‘level playing field’, the ‘fairness’ of competition, individual mobility, getting on by getting a better job and prosperity is the only agreed good.

That rhetoric of individualism, competition and prosperity covers over the way that the large inequalities of wealth are simply taken to be part of the natural order of things; or that getting on better than other people means that some do worse.

yep there it goes working quietly away in the background. It's a part of the new Labor politics of Rudd and Gillard.

The aspirational society says that what is valuable in life is market-modelled consumer satisfaction. The goals people are assumed to share in the expression of their pent-up aspirations are those of the market: a desire to ‘get on’, to move up the ‘social ladder’, and to become 'successful'.

Combining these gives you "choice" and "equal opportunity" as structural change in the economy replaces the manual and routine jobs with managerial and professional jobs.