Unit Four – Political Economy and Class Stratification

What to Do for Unit Four

What to Post:

Ethnographic Notes

Remember, your notes are for your audience and done from a holistic and non-essentialist cultural anthropological perspective  

1) Ethnographic Notes A – Capitalist Commodities on American Campuses.

After an introductory note on what capitalism is and what a capitalist commodity is, provide visual material with description about different commodities on American campuses.  

Minimum of one piece of visual material per group member.

2) Ethnographic Notes B – Socio-Economic Class on a Campus.
Read  the content of the webpage page and links of the site titled Social Class on Campus


After an introductory note on what socio-economic class is, particularly socio-economic class during present neoliberal capitalist conditions, offer visual material and description to tell your audience how socio-economic classes are constructed, symbolized, represented, and formed on a campus of your choice.

Minimum of one piece of visual material per group member.

3) Ethnographic Notes C – Sustainability on a Campus

After an introductory note on what sustainability is, or various interpretations of what sustainability is, provide visual material and description about sustainability on a Campus for your audience. 

Minimum of one piece of visual material per group member.


4)     Ethnographic Notes DDiscussion Topics

Choose  one of the following questions/discussion topics per group and discuss it for your audience.  

Minimum of one visual piece of data per group member

Discussion Questions/Topics:

 2a)      It is argued that in the U.S. “favorite objects” are favorite because they connected people to each other, they symbolize important relationships.

Discuss cars as favorite objects in the U.S. How cars express relationships and how people construct their ideas of self via their cars?

2b)      Anthropologists view all human behavior holistically; that is, in an inclusive social and cultural context. Examine the life of a modern simple object in your daily lives. Where did the raw materials come from? What technology was employed to transform the raw materials into the item you see today? How did it come to be part of your life? What mode of modes of production were used in its production? What are the meanings associated with the simple object you are writing about (symbolism of material culture objects)?

2c)      Critically review and discuss the contents of the following site on class in America

Class in America: The Unspoken Divide


2d) Critically review and discuss the contents of the following site on class in America
Class Matters: New York Times Special Issue on Social Class in the United States of America


2e) Critically review and discuss the content of the text titled Culture and Social Class


2f) Critically review and discuss the content of the animation or talk titled Crisis of Capitalism



3)      Research Project – Social Class Aspects. Do some research on the socio-economic class (social class) aspects of your topic and post the results on your project blog with proper citation.

Also Give feedback (questions, comments, etc.) to the posting by another class member.


What to Read and Watch:

Unit Four Notes Political Economy and Stratification

Social Class – by Erik Olin Wright

Social Class on Campus – by Will Barratt

Culture and Social Class

Florida Institute of Technology – Social Psychology Class Reading

Crises of Capitalism  – RSA Animate


Unit Four Notes Political Economy and Class Stratification

Cultures suggest a range of options for making a living, as well as furnish the tools to pursue those options.

Human economic activity is usually divided into three sites or stagesproduction, distribution, and consumption. 

Market exchange is the dominant mode of distribution in capitalist societies.

Formal neoclassical economic theory developed in an attempt to explain how capitalism works. This theory gives its emphasis to market exchange.

Marxian economic theory views production as more important than exchange in determining the patterns of economic life in a society. According to this perspective societies are classified in terms of their modes of production. Each mode of production contains within it the potential for conflict between classes of people who receive differential benefits and losses from the productive process.

Particular consumption preferences that may seem irrational make sense when considered in the context of other consumption preferences and prohibitions in the same culture.

Globalization and Localization
In an era of globalization, the consumption of Western market commodities is often embraced by those whom we might have expected to reject them.

Moreover, this embrace frequently involves making use of market commodities for local purposes, to defend or enrich local culture rather than to replace it.

In a global world in which everyone everywhere increasingly relies on commodities provided by a capitalist market, critical attention needs to be focused on inequalities of access and the negative impact of contemporary economic institutions on most of the world’s population.
Anthropology of Socio-economic Class Stratification
 speaking, there has been a dominant tendency in the U.S. to think of America in classless terms, as a land of economic opportunity equally open to all.

Social class, however, remains a central feature and fault line of the American society.

Anthropologists study the experiences and understandings of class among Americans coming from various class backgrounds.

They are interested in interpreting how class is experienced and thought of in daily lives of people, and how it intersects with other forms of social difference such as race, ethnicity and gender. Their studies of the class construct also treats the construct of culture in one way or another.

Ethnography remains, for the most part, grapples with the social (lived) world. Anthropologists engage theoretical constructs and debates about class as they try to make sense of the world at large and the world-at-small that they find in their field sites. It is important to note that the constructs such as class, gender and ethnicity are not discussed in abstraction but rather in relation to the lived worlds that ethnography seeks to follow (in field work) and to represent/portray (in writing); as such these constructs live in ethnographic work and representation.

Two Interesting Sites on Class in America

Review the content of the following two sites on class and social mobility in America. They also look at class in relation to some other major aspects of life in America.

Class in America: The Unspoken Divide


Class Matters: New York Times Special Issue on Social Class in the United States of America


Question: Critically review the content of the above site. What do you think about how each of these sites have discussed various aspects of class stratification and mobility in America?

The following is from Class and Education part of the NY Times site:

“Many more students from all classes are getting four-year degrees and reaping their benefits. But those broad gains mask the fact that poor and working-class students have nevertheless been falling behind; for them, not having a degree remains the norm.

That loss of ground is all the more significant because a college education matters much more now than it once did. A bachelor’s degree, not a year or two of courses, tends to determine a person’s place in today’s globalized, computerized economy. College graduates have received steady pay increases over the past two decades, while the pay of everyone else has risen little more than the rate of inflation.

As a result, despite one of the great education explosions in modern history, economic mobility – moving from one income group to another over the course of a lifetime – has stopped rising, researchers say. Some recent studies suggest that it has declined over the last generation

Put another way, children seem to be following the paths of their parents more than they once did. Grades and test scores, rather than privilege, determine success today, but that success is largely being passed down from one generation to the next. A nation that believes that everyone should have a fair shake finds itself with a kind of inherited meritocracy.

In this system, the students at the best colleges may be diverse – male and female and of various colors, religions and hometowns – but they tend to share an upper-middle-class upbringing. An old joke that Harvard’s idea of diversity is putting a rich kid from California in the same room as a rich kid from New York is truer today than ever; Harvard has more students from California than it did in years past and just as big a share of upper-income students.”

Social Class
Erik Olin Wright
Department of Sociology
University of Wisconsin – Madison

Culture and Social Class

Florida Institute of Technology – Social Psychology Class Reading

Social Class on Campus 

Will Barratt – Indiana State University



Taxes, the Rich and the Poor –  Sociological Imagination



Book: New Landscapes of Inequality


Introduction to the book, available online as a pdf file:



Crises of Capitalism

RSA Animate



Wealth Inequality in America


Occupy Wall Street – Democracy Now

“Occupy Wall Street Emerges as “First Populist Movement” on the Left Since the 1930s.” Dorian Warren of Columbia University


Occupy Wall Street – Jeffrey Sachs, Columbia University professor.



Zizek at the Occupy Wall Street Protest


Ad Busters – Occupy Wall Street


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