No Retreat in Confusion: Classism in Germany

a chart of the class structure in GermanyWhen I talk about classism in Germany the common reactions range from an unknowing Never heard of it to a disbelieving and doubtful Do you really think classes still exist? to a search-engine-like Did you mean “classicism” to a pejoratively knowing I heard of it, but I think it lacks theory; it is too much about how you feel.

As you see in these reactions, there are some basic problems and misconceptions about the use of the term classism in Germany. The biggest issue is that most people don´t know the term at all and have no idea what it could mean.

Another difficulty is that many people think class today is not relevant anymore. Instead, they use other terminologies like social origin (“soziale Herkunft”) or social background (“sozialer Hintergrund”). This way, they don´t have to talk about class society and the reasons for social inequality.

Little Known or Misunderstood

Additionally, the term classism is almost exclusively used by straddlers who refer to their class experiences and not so much by people who are still in the same working-class or working-poor position. So, the term is sometimes seen as a fancy new –ism from academia, detached from the everyday life experience of working-class and working-poor people. On the other hand, people who do research on class and class society within academia do not necessarily acknowledge the concept of classism, as it is not part of established class theory in Germany.

...there are some basic problems and misconceptions about the use of the term classism in Germany. The biggest issue is that most people don´t know the term at all and have no idea what it could mean.”

In regard to the current situation, the necessity to pursue research to theoretically sharpen the term and to raise awareness for classism seems evident. But with the scientification of the term comes also the potential pitfall of losing its usability in everyday life. The tricky part is to make classism more common and accessible without turning it into an academic or elitist concept.

One possible solution to lifting up the issue of class is to start with a common-sense understanding of classism and combine it with theory. Another solution may be to increase the visibility of theory which already exists but is not recognized as such. A supportive and critical dialog between different class positions is necessary in order to acknowledge where one’s own class-related life experiences are based on prejudice or premature conclusions.

Much to Do

A lot of work has to be done and, as Class Action says, bridges have to be built between people but also between practice and theory. This will be contradictory and confusing from time to time, but as the Furies Collective once put it, when it comes to classism and the intersections with other –isms, there should be no retreat in confusion.

To be continued…

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