Management Seminars: Charles Umney (Leeds University Business School)

19 November 2019, 12.00 PM - 19 November 2019, 1.30 PM

Charles Umney (Leeds University Business School)

1.01 Howard House

Title: Class, classification, and the dialectics of precarity 


The concept of class has had a resurgence in British political discussion. However, this has often taken a self-serving and misleading form based on cultural or identity tropes: for instance, in the common presentation of Brexit as “the rage of the working class”, or in the lazy juxtaposition of “traditional working class” and “metropolitan elites”. By contrast, I will argue in support of a Marxist view of class which sees it as a dynamic relationship related to individuals’ roles within capitalist economic systems.

Revisiting a Marxist view of class helps us do various things, three of which I will emphasise in the talk. First, it enables us identify how work and labour markets are changing, centralising various forms of “class discipline” which transcend those class typologies familiar in mainstream sociology. Second, it enables us to better understand the role of the state. In particular, we need class theory to understand why ostensibly stable institutional systems across Europe have been so aggressively disturbed in recent years, even by ostensibly left-leaning governments. 

Finally, it helps us critically re-examine the tools we use in social inquiry, casting doubt on the value of widely-held sociological aspirations such as the refinement of prediction-generating conceptual frameworks and the valorization of “puzzle-solving”. Instead, I argue for an emphasis on using the idea of class as a dynamic relationship to explain and contextualise social problems, rather than engaging in academic solution-mongering.

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