The Sociological Discourse on Inequality and Social Class in France

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 8:45 AM
Room: 315
Oral Presentation
Roland PFEFFERKORN , University of Strasbourg (France), strasbourg, France
The Sociological Discourse on Inequality and Social Class in France

Over the past decades social inequality has grown in France, as in many other countries. Paradoxically, however, during that same period the dominant discourse, both in the social sciences and politics, has tended to conceal this growing social polarization and to eliminate any reference to class. Indeed, since the beginning of the 1980s, sociologists and politicians have vied with one another to invent clever words and expressions to describe the structure of French society. However, these substitute discourses were soon gainsaid by the growing social disparities prevalent within French society, and which existed in spite of the rhetoric which obstinately denied the reality of class. Indeed, in France, the notion of ‘class’ had, at best, changed and become more complex, but remained as present as ever.

This paper will, first, explain the background to this increasing social polarization of French society. This polarization is not unique to France, and can be found in varying degrees in most capitalist countries in Western Europe. The widening wage gap has had clear consequences for all significant aspects of people’s lives, and a number of indicators converge which allow us to expose this tendency, and demonstrate the existence of a system of inequality characterized by segmentation, hierarchization and conflict. After this presentation, some thoughts will be put forward on the words and categories that are used in certain sociological theoretical frameworks. This alternative sociological discourse was pervasive between 1980 and 2000 and continues to be used today, even though it has long since been largely refuted by the facts. We will focuse on the discrepancy between the rhetoric of these theories, which deny the existence of ‘social class’ and the undeniable reality of a growing polarization within French society.

Roland Pfefferkorn, University of Strasbourg