Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


A fast-paced novel of conjecture and surprises


Working class

core definition

Working class is all those people who work for a wage or salary and includes dependents and retirees dependent on a work or state pension.

explanatory context

Working class was contrasted, by Marx, to the bourgeoisie, the owners of the means of production.


Modern views tend to create layers of class: upper, upper middle, lower middle, skilled working and unskilled working, for example.


In the case of the UK, a new classification has been devised (BBC, 2013):

Elite: This is the most privileged class in Great Britain who have high levels of all three capitals. Their high amount of economic capital sets them apart from everyone else.
Established Middle Class: Members of this class have high levels of all three capitals although not as high as the Elite. They are a gregarious and culturally engaged class.
Technical Middle Class: This is a new, small class with high economic capital but seem less culturally engaged. They have relatively few social contacts and so are less socially engaged.
New Affluent Workers: This class has medium levels of economic capital and higher levels of cultural and social capital. They are a young and active group.
Emergent Service Workers: This new class has low economic capital but has high levels of 'emerging' cultural capital and high social capital. This group are young and often found in urban areas.
Traditional Working Class: This class scores low on all forms of the three capitals although they are not the poorest group. The average age of this class is older than the others.
Precariat: This is the most deprived class of all with low levels of economic, cultural and social capital. The everyday lives of members of this class are precarious.

analytical review (undated) discussing the Communist Manifesto states :

"Working class," in Marxist terms, does not mean only factory or industrial workers, as is commonly supposed. Nor does it merely refer to anyone who is impoverished, another common misconception. On the other hand, it certainly does not exclude those who cannot work – the unemployed, the disabled, and people who care for children or relatives for example, or school students and those in further or higher education – who would be working for a living, if circumstances were different.

From the point of view of the Communist Manifesto, workers are those who "must sell themselves piecemeal" for a wage or salary, as the Communist Manifesto says. This applies equally today to the car worker, the office clerk, the teacher, and the junior doctor – and in the UK, at the time of writing, the junior doctor works the longest hours! The modern 'strip-lit satanic mills' of the twenty-four hour Call Centre, situated in the north of England where the sons and daughters of redundant miners work, are today using factory methods, imposing zero hour contracts, smashing unions – in a word – teaching the class struggle anew.

Some sections of workers on good incomes may consider themselves middle class. But from a Marxist perspective, taken in the broadest sense, those who work for a salary or wage, are almost all part of the working class. Teachers, lecturers, civil servants, for instance are more and more becoming an integral part of the working class, from the point of view of the class struggle. The civil servants, for instance, once popularly considered a section of the lower middle class in their entirety, have developed a strong trade union, which, at the time of writing, is playing a leading role in trade union struggles.

In addition the old 'lower' middle class of Marx's day and since who were once proud self-employed "tradespeople" - that is, those who do not work directly for a boss, and are not waged or salaried employees - are daily finding themselves forced into the ranks of the working class....


Elwell's Glossary of Sociology (undated) defines working class as:

A social class of industrial societies broadly composed of people involved in manual occupation. The bulk of these jobs are unskilled, poorly paid and provide few benefits or job security.

associated issues


related areas

See also

relations of production

Critical Social Research Section 2


BBC, 2013, 'The Great British Class Survey – Results', 3 April 2013, last updated at 12:42, available at, accessed 13 May 2013, still available 15 June 2019.

Elwell's Glossary of Sociology, undated, available at, ©Frank Elwell, last updated January 1998, page not available 20 December 2016., undated, 'The Working Class' available at, accessed 13 May 2013, still available 15 June 2019.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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