Class – A Graphic Guide by Laura Harvey, Sarah Leaney and Danny Noble – a fascinating introduction to social class and its issues in today’s society

Class – A Graphic Guide by Laura Harvey, Sarah Leaney and Danny Noble

This is an unusual but potentially very useful book for anyone seeking a general introduction to the concept of social class, its origins, present day state and its probable implications for the future. Its original publication in the UK and USA gives a clue to its standpoint, but having said that, it is also to be published in many other countries. Its main question is “What do we mean by social CLASS in the twenty-first century?” and it is answered by two sociologists Laura Harvey and Sarah Leaney. What makes this book so different from other Introduction books available is the thoughtful and impressive drawings by Danny Noble, which provide a commentary and expansion on the short texts on every page. Many sociologists and other academics are mentioned and indeed provide much of the content of the book, with some of their observations paraphrased or directly quoted into speech bubbles. This is not the sort of academic book which could be quoted in essays but forms a valuable first source for those seeking an overview of the topic in an up-to-date format. It is an interesting read for anyone who seeks to understand the effects of class and how it functions in daily life as well as students and those working in communities where opportunities and lives can be affected.

I found this book fascinating as it reminded me of long-ago studies in sociology as well as more recent working with groups and individuals in various communities. While I was aware of older writers (Marx et al) one of this book’s many attractions is how contemporary it is. So, while this is a good section on the emergence of class alongside industrialism and the results of colonialism among other historic developments, it is also strong on twenty first century events and issues, such as the social effects of the Covid pandemic and the housing inequalities shown in the Grenfell Tower disaster. It looks on the on “Everyday” effects of class on work opportunities, cultural life, community and cuts to provision for community buildings, identity for individuals, the concept of “multiculturalism” and social mobility among many other things. The pictures are particularly acute in pointing out the assumptions people make about others, as a few deft drawings look at people condemning others for their choices or observing that it is possible to make choices about education and the environment, for example, if you enjoy a higher income. It also looks how the effects of inherited wealth and private education guarantee contacts and security for life in contrast to those struggling without either.

This is a book which is mainly based on British examples, but also considers American issues, especially in relation to the matter of race. While it uses general terms like capitalism, it also looks at the outworking of the welfare state in Britain, and the preconceptions about those whose depend on benefits and how not all work is equally rewarded. With the decline of traditional industries, men have been forced to take jobs that have been seen as feminine in the service sector. It looks at the difference between academic inquiry and lived experience in relation to contemporary life, which echoes the book’s main achievement of looking at the big themes and their effect on actual people.

This is a valuable and fascinating book which I recommend to all those who are seeking an introduction to an undoubtedly important issue in today’s society, as well as a background to current events. I was very pleased to have had the opportunity to read and review this book and would like to explore others in the series.