Peering upwards: researching ruling-class men
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We begin this chapter by reflecting on the ‘why’ of researching ruling-class men, before turning in the body of the chapter to the ‘how’. We will then summarize some findings that we have arrived at by the methods discussed, and conclude the chapter with some lessons and limitations of our efforts to date in researching ruling-class men and some pointers towards future research on ruling-class masculinity.
It is almost a truism that much of the ownership and control of the world’s wealth, resources and human capacity, and the power that is attached to this, belongs to men (Connell, 1987).1 In fact, this wealth and power is concentrated in the hands of a small fraction of men, whom we can identify, in a manner that had until recently become unfashionable in sociological circles, as the leading echelon of the ruling class (though of course some ruling-class women have a share as well). In focusing our study on the very wealthiest and most powerful of men (perhaps the richest 2–5 per cent) who are unambiguously and incontestably ruling class, we aimed to avoid tedious ‘boundary’ questions of who belongs to which class, in which so much sociology of stratification and mobility had bogged itself down. The fact that there are shades of grey in the social world does not mean that everything is grey (Donaldson, 1991, p. 3). Rather than seeing classes merely as analytical categories, we wish to deepen the historical materialist understanding of classes as social relationships. This, furthermore, allows us to grasp how gender relations are actually constitutive of class relations; they are not separate spheres of people’s lives. By examining the lives of those men in whose interest the class system operates, we are looking for insights into how – and how consciously – they exercise control over the system and its maintenance. It is a fair bet that the way they live their manhood has a lot to do with this – and with the fact that the vast majority of the 2–5 per cent are men.
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