The Great British Class Survey
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The BBC’s Great British Class Survey was launched on 26 January 2011. Already the largest ever survey of social class in the UK, it draws predominantly on CRESC research. The BBC’s LabUK team developed the survey under the direction of CRESC’s former convening director Mike Savage (now at the University York) and Manchester sociologist Fiona Devine.
The scores that respondents obtain on completion of the online survey will be benchmarked against data collected as part of CRESC’s Cultural Capital and Social Exclusion (CCSE) study. The key publication from the CCSE study, Culture, Class, Distinction (Bennett et al 2009), explores the work of French Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu on stratification and inequality and asks what light Bourdieu’s theories and methods for understanding social divisions can throw on contemporary British society. Bourdieu argued that people’s cultural preferences amount to a vital form of capital that helps to define class boundaries. The CCSE team developed the notion that class relationships are constituted by the possession of different types of ‘capital’ by examining the distribution of economic and social as well as cultural capital.
Hence the Great British Class Survey asks about people’s wealth, income and work situation but also about their friendships and social networks and about their cultural tastes and leisure-time activities. By providing a richer, more nuanced picture of people’s resources and practices than traditional, occupational models of class allow, the survey promises to produce the most comprehensive map of the class structure of the UK to date.
What will be of particular interest from the resulting data is whether people who score particularly highly (or have a particularly low score) for one type of capital score similarly on the other types, indicating the existence of coherent class clusters, or whether scores differ, indicating a more complex set of relations.
Whatever the outcome, the survey is likely to generate a range of new questions about the meaning and significance of the relationships that are revealed in the data. These will be of particular interest to those affiliated to CRESC’s core them on ‘Trajectories of Participation and Inequality’, where issues of social identity and power inform several strands of work. At the same time, those involved with CRESC’s cross-theme work on the ‘Social Life of Methods’ will be concerned to explore the technical status of the survey itself, both as a web-based interaction between researchers and the public and a particular kind of data-producing device.
The link to the Great British Class Survey is here:
 Principal Investigator, Tony Bennett, Co-investigators Mike Savage, Elizabeth Silva, Alan Warde. ESRC Reference R000239801