The days are supposed to be over when the social arc of our lives was determined by the class we were born into. Governments have leveled the playing field, and elites have ceded power to everyone else. Yet today, class still matters.
Political parties across the globe still claim to represent particular social classes. In the developed world, the big prize is the middle class-the class that most people say they belong to. In some places, populist movements appeal to working people. But that hasn’t stopped politicians on both the left and right from claiming to have eradicated class difference.
This series of stories explores these issues through the eyes of a disparate group of individuals: a bank employee in Egypt, a TV producer in Ukraine, an Indian scientist in New Jersey, a farmer in China, a
former mineworker in Britain.
In 1944, Britain introduced the Eleven Plus exam. School students age 11 who passed this mandatory test could enroll in elite secondary schools that prepared them for college. The thinking was that bright working class kids would have a path to a middle class education and career. Those who failed the exam would go to regular schools, with the expectation that they would leave school for good at 15. This two-tiered system was criticized for writing off all but the smartest kids, and it was scrapped in the 1970s. Now however, the Conservative-led government is starting to re-introduce it. More>>>
Revolutions, it is said, need the support of the middle class to be successful; often they’re led by the middle class. In Egypt, a year after Tahrir Square, a bank employee still holds out hope that the promise of the anti-Mubarak revolution will usher in a more democratic, tolerant society. More>>>
Revolutions, it is said, need the support of the middle class to be successful; often they’re led by the middle class. In Ukraine, seven years after the Orange Revolution, a TV producer wonders whether it was worth it, as her nation slips back into its corrupt, pre-revolutionary past. More>>>
Inter-caste marriage is still the exception rather than the rule in India. That’s despite a surge in modern forms of bringing people together. In fact, as The World’s Alex Gallafent reports from Chennai, in south India, the substance of what’s taking place is remarkably similar to how it’s always been. More>>>
In India, society has traditionally been stratified according to the caste system. Caste has its roots in scripture, but over the years it has expanded into many spheres of Indian life: work, education and, most recently, politics. Today, many urban Indians ignore caste, except when it comes to choosing a marriage partner. But abroad, some upper caste Indians have a nostalgic affection for a system that favored their forefathers. More>>>
Anand Giridharadas is a columnist for the New York Times and the author of India Calling: An Intimate Portrait of a Nation’s Remaking. He was born in Cleveland to Indian immigrant parents. His parents came from different castes, and raised him to ignore the proscriptions of the caste system. Here, he talks with The World’s Marco Werman about how caste came into being and how India is gradually shaking free of it. More>>>
No-one in China is lower on the totem pole than farmers and villagers. When they migrate to cities to work in factories, they are treated like dirt. So what happened to Mao Zedong’s communist revolution? The revolution was supposed to improve the lot of the rural poor. We visit a part of rural China where Mao once lived. Mao went there to educate himself about the conditions of the farming class. But decades later, the descendants of the people Mao interviewed aren’t much better off, at a time when other Chinese are enriching themselves. More>>>
For our final story, we return to Britain, the country where the modern class system was born. Since the 1980s, one prime minister after another has declared Britain to be a “classless” society. At the same time, working class institutions have been vanishing: manufacturing factories have closed, union power legislated away, benefits slashed. Everyone is expected to be middle class. If you’re not, you may be described as “feckless,” “lazy” or the “underclass.” Britain, it turns out, hasn’t become classless. It has just re-invented its own class consciousness. More>>>