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VAM-Velferd, arbeid og migrasjon

Unpacking the modern working class: Life chances, social cohesion and recognition in an age of migration

Alternative title: Den moderne arbeiderklassen - Livssjanser, samhold, splittelse og anerkjennelse i migrasjonens tidsalder

Awarded: NOK 7.9 mill.

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Project Period:

2017 - 2021

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With the surprise election of Donald Trump, as well as the Brexit election, questions about the modern working class came back on the agenda. This is a category that is poorly understood in today's social sciences, not least in Norway. To describe today's working class, their political orientation, life experiences and representation in the media, our project raises four fundamental questions. First, we study changes in demographic composition, with special emphasis on gender, ethnicity, and generation. Second, we analyze changes in political attitudes, with special emphasis on differences between generations. We also study internal heterogeneity in political attitudes in the working class. Third, we study how specific sections of the working class are portrayed in the media, with an emphasis on whether the descriptions emphasize threat or conflict, and on which topics characterize the media coverage of these groups. For a fourth, we study the relationship between the low status attributed to these professions and workers' feelings of intrinsic value. These questions have been answered by an interdisciplinary team that has used various methods and research designs, such as quantitative analyses of population data, surveys, qualitative interviews with different types of actors, text analyses, and participatory observation. Among the results that answer the research questions, we will highlight the following: 1. While the share of skilled and unskilled workers accounted for just over 50 per cent in the population in 1980, the share has fallen to just under 40 per cent in 2017. This is a marked decline, but the working class still makes up a significant part of the working population. These calculations are based on data on the entire population. The definition of class is based on the Oslo Register Class Form (ORDC), which divides the population into 13 classes. Occupation is used as the main criterion for classifying classes because social closure processes are largely organized around access to professional positions. Social closure restricts access to specific professions and to educations that lead to professions with high rewards. The working class is understood to be skilled and unskilled workers, as well as people living on welfare benefits. The share of immigrants has risen steadily, but immigrants nevertheless constitute a minority in the working class. There are large and systematic economic differences between the classes, and the working class comes out worst. The class differences in wealth are greater than the differences in income, and the differences between women are greater than the differences between men. The majority of children from working-class backgrounds get working-class jobs themselves. During the 2000s, there is a large degree of stability in patterns of upward social mobility. There is also a large degree of stability in relative mobility rates. The very strong growth in education from 1970 onwards has to a limited extent contributed to increasing upward mobility, 2. The working class in Norway is similar to its counterparts in other countries, both by expressing less confidence in political processes and by participating in political elections to a lesser extent than people in other classes do. In this sense, the working class can be said to be characterized by alienation from political institutions and politicians. Among other things, exclusion from politics becomes evident because there are significant and relatively stable differences in who answers "do not know" when asked about politics. People from lower classes systematically answer "don't know" in surveys, and this answer is clearly associated with not voting in political elections. Class differences in trust are also clearly present among adolescents. Working-class youth express that they have far less confidence in social institutions than young people from higher classes do. 3. Classic working class sectors have lost media attention in the period 1996-2017. Economic downturns and technological change have meant that working life as a specialization has largely disappeared from the editorial staff. The recruitment and professionalization of the journalism profession leads to fewer journalists having a vocational background or contact network among ordinary (working) people. As production pressures in journalism increase and the threshold for going out and talking to people has become higher, perspectives from "underneath" are to a limited extent represented in the media. 4. Working class occupations have lower status than other professions in Norway. People with working class occupations, or who are outside the labour market, believe that such professions should have higher status than people in higher class positions. Skilled workers, vocational students and health professionals report that they find that others look down on their work. Many develop strategies to counteract what they perceive as a lack of rec

Vår forskning har hatt ønskede virkninger: Vi har bidratt til den internasjonale forskningsltteraturen om ulikhet og arbeiderklassen. Vi har diskutert og formidlet resultater til internasjonale forskere gjennom å arrangementer med stort oppmøte. Vi har bidratt til å sette dagsorden i den offentlge debatten i Norge, gjennom arrangementer og formidlingsvirksomhet. Vår forskning har hatt stor gjennomslagskraft i i medier og offentlighet. Om den bidrar til endringer i integrasjons. og arbeidsmarkedspolitikk, som vi skisserer som en mulighet i søknaden, er for tidlig å si.

With the surprising election of Donald Trump, and the Brexit vote in the UK, the question of the contemporary working class is on the agenda. However, this is a category poorly understood in contemporary social science, and this is especially the case in Norway. Through an innovative e fusing of diverse theoretical perspectives, as well as a genuine mixed-methods approach, our project raises four crucial question that seek to describe the contemporary working class, its political orientation, lived experience and their media representations. First, our project will detail the changing demographic composition of the group, with particular emphasis on its gender, ethnic and generational make-up. Second, we will detail their changing political orientation, with particular emphasis to generational shifts. We will also unpack its internal political heterogeneity, seeking to explain its fracturing into a loyal social-democratic wing and supporters of the right-wing populist Progress Party. Third, we will study the representations of specific working-class occupations in the media, with emphasis on whether these representations are framed in terms of threat or conflict, and which topics characterize media coverage of these groups. Fourth, through ethnographic and interview-based methods we will inquire into the relationship between ascribed low-status of these occupations and workers' feelings of self-worth. We will also study the relation between workers notions of the elite/the dominant cultural group and how they imagine their national belonging and access to power. To this end, we will exploit both administrative register data, high quality survey material, media texts as well as original ethnographic and interview material.

Publications from Cristin

Funding scheme:

VAM-Velferd, arbeid og migrasjon