The Moral Economy of Class: Class and Attitudes in Comparative Perspective.

Author:Dugger, William M.
Position:Book review

The Moral Economy of Class: Class and Attitudes in Comparative Perspective, by Stefan Svallfors. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2006. Cloth ISBN 0804752850. $45.00. Pp. xvii, 226.

Are social attitudes affected by a person's class? Stefan Svallfors investigated several dimensions of this question using survey research based primarily on the International Social Survey Program ( The ISSP data he relied on for comparisons was for 1992 and 1999 from the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and Sweden. He also used some data for Sweden by itself. Although Svallfors conducts a very careful investigation and analyzes all the important theoretical and empirical complexities, the simple answer he found to the question is "yes." Class does affect attitudes. Furthermore, the affected attitudes change over time and vary from country to country. Class is not dead. It is still a vital force in determining opinions and normative beliefs about a wide range of social issues over space and time.

Svallfors defines the concepts he uses very clearly. Class refers to a person's relation to work and to the means of production. Svallfors also discusses microclasses (similar to occupations) and the relation of class membership to family membership. He defines attitudes as normative beliefs and opinions about specific societal objects.

Svallfors finds that the pursuit of individual economic interest (neoclassical model) is an inadequate explanation of social attitudes. He argues that attitudes are best understood in terms of a moral economy of class, which Svallfors describes as a whole constellation of forces including political institutions, public policies, ideological articulations, and norms regarding obligations, rights, responsibilities, and reciprocity. Class interest is important, but it must be made vital within a social and political constellation, if you will. It is this constellation of forces that varies between countries and over time. Class remains important, but exactly how it affects attitudes is, in turn, affected by that changing constellation. According to Svallfors, it was the English historian E. P. Thompson who first coined the phrase "moral economy" in his work on bread riots in eighteenth century England.

Svallfors devotes a separate chapter to each of five sets of attitudes, to see if and how they are related to class. A highly selective peek at some of his findings on each set is enlightening. First...

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