‘It all depends on the individual’ implies that we make our own lives without any strong influence of the part of the society into which we are born and/or in which we live our daily lives. From your viewing of Seven Up and Twenty Eight Up, reflect on the extent to which the background of the children was a major influence on the adults that they became, and the extent to which the individual circumstances or choices were crucial. Choose participants in the series who help you argue you case, and show what is significant about their experiences for your argument. Make connections, as appropriate, with themes studied in the unit.
As adults we make choices in our lives to control and determine our existence in society, but how many of the choices we make have already been determined as children? ‘Give me a child until he is seven, and I will show you the man’ is the theme of a 1964 children’s documentary, Seven Up. This showed us the children’s values, backgrounds and personalities at seven, and then again at fourteen, twenty-one and twenty-eight to see the adult they had become (Apted, 1964. 1971, 1978, 1985, 1998) This essay will show how the class into which you are born into, has a significant influence on determining the individual that you will become.
It will define both historic and contemporary class structures and relate it to individual scenarios observed and discussed in the video series Seven Up. More specifically the occupational status is discussed in terms of social class and compared to the occupations of that of some of the participants of the series. According to the historical Marxist theory (Sargent, 1997; Abercrombie, 1984; Krieken, 2000), the main difference in class division under capitalism was between the owners of production (bourgeoisie or capitalist class), and those who sold their labour (proletariat or working class).
The capitalist class relied on income that was derived from investments and profits that their businesses made. The proletariats or working class however, relied on income that was derived from selling their labour. Marx stated that “capital was one source of market capacity, but skill and education formed another”. He emphasized that people who held skills that “were scarce on the market, commanded high salaries and also constituted a separate class” (Abercrombie, Hill, and Turner, 2000, p. 50). Modern society defines class of that which is unrelated to an economical society.
It is defined through “occupation, religion, education and ethnicity”. More specifically class is set through the type of job you have, and the means to gain higher employment. “The initial distinction is between employers, who purchase and control the labour of others, employees, who sell their labour to an employer or employing organisation and place themselves under the control of others, and the self-employed, who do neither” (Abercrombie, Hill, and Turner, 2000, p. 51). Social status and prestige is now defined by the job you have and the formal qualifications you have.
So how is it that the class you are born into determine the occupational status that you may achieve? In the Seven Up series documentary, Michael Apted explores the development of 14 children coming from different class structures, starting from the age of seven, and then following up on how their lives have progressed at the age of fourteen, twenty-one and again as adults at the age of twenty-eight (Apted, 1964, 1971, 1978, 1985, 1998). Of these fourteen children, three have been chosen as examples to demonstrate how the class that they were all born into as children, have influenced the occupational status they achieved as adults.
John, Paul and Tony are three participants from the Seven Up Series who came from different class structures. Tony attended an East End school in Britain and through his school system was being conditioned for the workplace . A ‘sociological imagination’ would predict that he would most likely drop out of school by the age of 15 and commence some kind of labour work. Paul who lived in a boy’s orphanage was also being conditioned for the workplace, as soon as possible. John however, who attended an exclusive boys prep school, where the school system was conditioning him for college. Krieken, 2000) ; (Apted 1964, 1971, 1978, 1985, 1998) John’s background was certainly that of high status and prestige.
At the age of seven, John was attending an exclusive prep school and was discussing his future at Oxford (Apted 1964, 1998). He, as expected, attended Oxford in law and became a Barrister (Apted 1971, 1998). What was conditioned in him from birth was achieved and therefore his class was maintained. “Some set up occupational immobility as an ideal and treated any change of occupation from father to son as a form of deviance” (Caplow, 1975, p. 119).
This was evident in the situation with John. It was not mentioned to what career John’s father did but he was certainly from a bourgeoisie class. At the age of 21 John had little social conscience, stating that he earned his place at Oxford through Meritocracy (Apted 1978, 1998). “It appears that in all contemporary countries, the sons of men in higher ranking occupations have, on average, better school records then others and a better chance of being admitted to high-ranking occupations” (Caplow, 1975, p. 120). John is very much a product of his class in which he was born into.
Perhaps he needs to thank a few more people besides himself. ‘Downward Mobility is a thing of the past, in today’s world affluence, the message is ‘you got it, flaunt it” (Hooks, 2000, p 3). Tony went to an East End school at seven (Apted 1964, 1998). He dropped out of school before the age of fifteen and became a jockey apprentice (Apted 1971, 1998). After failing as a Jockey, Tony became a Taxi Driver which is where he remained at Twenty-eight (Apted 1985, 1998). Tony was from a working class family, and as a husband and father produced a continuance of that.
The census classification of occupations is more then a set of equal categories. It is a kind of socioeconomic scale running from the highest occupations (professionals) to the lowest (farm-hand)’ (Caplow, 1975, p. 117). As an unskilled personal labourer he would be considered at the bottom end of the socioeconomic scale. However, in series 28 Tony was content with his position in life, stating that he was happy to be a father and enjoyed his job (Apted 1985, 1998). Paul like Tony was from a lower class in terms of status and prestige.
At seven he was in an orphanage and at 28 was working as a bricklayer (Apted 1964, 1985, 1998). Growing up in Britain as a child then moving to Melbourne, Australia as an adult, he seems to have the most social conscience out of the three participants discussed. He stated that living in Australia as a labourer still entitled him to own his home. This he might not have been achieved if still living in Britain. However like the others, Paul is content in the class his is in. ‘It is important to note that status obtains prestige only within a cultural context’ (Sargent, Nilan, and Winter, 1997, p. 8).
Perhaps early Australia was less class orientated then early Britain. Certain characteristics are ascribed statuses like skin colour, sex, eye colour, and other factors. Society implies that everyone has the chance of earning high status through occupation, education, income, family background and other given advantages, however this is not so for life chances (Sargent, Nilan, and Winter, 1997, p 38). John had means to exclusive education, which lead to a place at Oxford, which lead to becoming a Barrister.
Tony and Paul had no such luxury. John, from the age of seven, had conceived no other possibility for his future; the ideal of anything less never entered his conscience Apted (1964, 1978, 1985, 1998). This was a preconceived stereotype that had been passed on through his class. Certain stereotypes passed down through classes would make it difficult for both upward and downward mobility. For example the stereotypes for upper class would put pressure on John to conform to that, and vice versa for the others from the lower class.
Often the two have stereotypes about each other and discriminate based in those stereotypes. Merton ; Snyder (cited in Jussim, 1990, p. 1) states that stereotypes are often viewed as a major source of injustice because they lead to unfavourable expectations regarding individuals from the stereotyped group – expectations that at least sometimes may be self-fulfilling prophecies. As well as family background, John, Paul and Tony would have developed social groups throughout their diverse development.
For example, John from an exclusive prep school would have grown up with friends whom have similar backgrounds and interest and thus share similar status and prestige (Apted 1964, 171, 1978, 1985, 1998). This is known as Stratification. Stratification theorist, identify the ranking of social groups. These are ranked in terms of power, prestige and wealth within a basically integrated social structure (Krieken, et al. , 2000 p. 49). The stratification this describes is a closed meaning and there is little opportunity for social mobility.
In a closed system the position of individuals is largely ascribed: it is often fixed at birth and there little they can do to change status”. An example of the closed stratification system is the caste system. The caste of the parent determines the caste of the individual; they spend the rest of their lives in that status (Krieken, et al. , 2000, p 50). By reflecting on the three different participants John, Tony and Paul of the Seven Up and Twenty-eight Up series reflects that the social class into which we are born into has a huge influence upon the adult that we become.
Specifically the class system of our family background with relation to power, prestige and wealth, not only influences but also determines the occupation that the individual becomes. Moreover it shows that prevailing social factors and interactions that are predominant along our life path, mean there is not a great deal of choice on whom we will become as adults. “Choice” is an illusion that aids in acceptance of the any given situation, and a willingness to conform.