Smith N, 2000, "What happened to class?" Environment and Planning A 32(6) 1011 – 1032
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What happened to class?
Received 2 April 1999; in revised form 27 November 1999
Abstract. While the question of social class contributed centrally to the emergence of social theory in geography in the 1970s and 1980s, it has recently fallen out of favour as a lens for viewing the social construction of space, place, and nature. The causes for this loss of class vision can be found partly in the rise of alternative political perspectives focusing on identity and emphasizing a cultural rather than economically rooted politics, but they also stem from weaknesses within late 20th-century Marxism itself. The vaguely classless politics that emerged from some strands of the 1960s movements, as well as very powerful reactions against the 1960s, have also contributed. But this reaction has now run its course, and we find ourselves without a sophisticated language of class precisely at the time when, globally, class is being reasserted with a vengeance. From the economic boom, then crisis (1997 - 99), then boom again in Asia to the reassertion of class in Mexico and Eastern Europe, or the dramatic class formation in postcolonial South Africa not to mention Blair's Britain or Clinton's United States, class represents a crucial political dimension of social difference. Multiculturalism comes to look like an apology for capitalist `diversity' while politics in academic circles is increasingly equated with the liberal common denominator of morality. This is not a narrow back-to-class appeal, but rather an argument that we need to find a way of reintegrating class into the issues of identity and cultural politics that for very good reasons have occupied the political foreground in recent years.
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