I am taking a closer look at a New York Times series on Class in the United States, published in 2005. In this overview of the series, the author talks about the invisible, or shadowy, lines that divide us. Depending on the place and time period, the dividing lines may be more or less visible. And the factors that divide may not always be the same.
I like the metaphors of invisible lines or shadows because it reminds me that we need to dig beneath the surface when thinking about the social world. Whether students are examining sources from the 16th century or the 21st century class is often a useful entry point.
Additionally, distinctions need to be made about the indicators, or markers, of class and the causes of class divisions. Markers of class include, or have typically included, the way a person dresses, what and where they eat, the kinds of cars they drive, the zip codes they live in, to name a few. Getting at the root causes of class divisions and the factors that maintain and perpetuate these divisions is a much larger, and worthwhile, undertaking.
The times series explores a number of the markers tied to class as well as the connections between class and access to education and health care.
Particularly puzzling, according to the authors, is the disconnect that appears to exist in the United States between perceptions of class and statistics about inequality. They seem to be moving in opposite directions. As the concentration of wealth intensifies, a reality which can traced back to the 1970s, attitudes about class and its perceived relevance seem to be diminishing.
As history students, it is important that we pay attention to the role that class plays in the sources that we examine. Sources come from people, and people have different points of view, which can often be tied to class differences, to a person’s position in society. Point of view analysis means you are attempting to identify and articulate key factors that may influence an author’s point of view.