The other day, I found two very intriguing articles. The first was a livejournal article wherein the blogger teased out the sociological differences between social class and economic class (and the ways in which American understanding of social class is confused by its conflation with economic class.) The second was a hypothesized typology for splitting America into three broad social classes (with 4 sub-classes each, or a total of 12). I thought these articles were quite good (definitely worth a read), but I also noted that these articles seemed very lengthy, and also very theoretically dense, so I will summarize the key points of these articles that I’ve been chewing on recently:
- In America, social class is very rarely discussed. As a shortcut, we often conflate social class with economic class (e.g., how much money you earn/what type of job you have)
- The conflation of economic class hides differences in social classes, and as a result, disrupts our discourse. We generally understand that there is a difference between a well-paid plumber and a poorly paid grad student, but by focusing on income, we miss the differences of those social classes, and consequently misunderstand these two people’s focuses, desires, or preoccupations.
- For example, we often take economic class concepts like “earning more money” (which many people do desire) and conflate them with social class concepts like performing middle class-ness…say, “earning more money by getting an office desk job, learning how to speak proper business English, and dressing in a white shirt and tie” (which are not necessarily universally desired by are desired by certain classes.)
- We can begin to speak frankly about social class by recognizing it as cultures. Different social classes are acculturated to appreciate or value different things, and different social classes “perform” their class in different ways. As a result, movement between social classes doesn’t simply mean making more or less money, but in learning to appreciate or value the things that our targeted culture appreciates. In other words, we learn to perform the different culture.
- These points allow us to reconceptualize the value of certain other things. For example, we can reconceptualize education as being more than knowledge of facts or even a process of earning credentials on paper. Rather, choice of education represents the choice to be cast in a play in your aspired social class and culture. The cost of more elite schools is not justified solely for more knowledge or even necessarily better credentials on paper, but by whether someone can be properly exposed to higher social classes. In fact, to the extent we speak about “prestige” or “professional orientation” or “workplace readiness” or “leadership” or “character”, we are getting at the ability for a college to acculturate its members to perform a certain social class.
- Also, if you bristle at the idea of going into debt or paying more money primarily for the opportunity to be exposed to a different social class, then that probably says something about your current social class’s values. I know that for me, I majored in accounting, and I viewed my college experience as being more about learning facts than about networking. As will be discussed below, this fits my social class as a “gentry” rather than “elite” (although some of my peers may have been striving for an elite class, and so their focus was on developing the ability to network for exclusive connections.)
- As a working model, we can generally view of American social classes as revolving around three “infrastructures”:
- “Labor” classes have primarily physical infrastructure, and the relevant connection is learning how to use physical devices or spaces, and then getting other people to trust that they have that competence to properly use that physical infrastructure.
- “Gentry” classes have primarily “intellectual” infrastructure, where they navigate knowledge, education, and “interestingness”.
- “Elite” classes have an infrastructure of social connections (particular exclusive social connections) and the maintenance of those networks.
- Although that model might seem to fit along our existing economic class terms (like working class, blue-collar, white-collar, etc.,), there are differences and overlaps. For example, labor leadership may earn quite a high amount of salary, and may even have non-salary sources of income (such as passive income from franchise ownership), but ultimately they are still labor class socially because their outlook is based more on their relationship to physical infrastructure. That is, a small business owner or landlord will likely still be very active in the day-to-day operations, whereas a corporate manager will likely not have personal experience with manufacturing processes, because they are hired for their expertise in management, financial planning, etc., A grad student may be very low earning, but because they invest in knowledge, education, or “interestingness” and not in physical infrastructure, they maintain different social class.
If you’re still with me, thanks for keeping up so far.
What does this have to do with Mormonism, though?
To be honest, when I first read this, I didn’t relate it to Mormonism immediately. However, when fellow Wheat & Tares blogger Stephen Marsh shared one of the articles to a private Facebook group, I thought about what sort of connections could be made — and something very interesting happened: I realized that we can view differing focuses of faith in transition and crisis as representing different social classes in Mormonism.
Faith Stages as Social Classes
Mormon Faith as Physical Infrastructure
If we look at a basic model of faith in transition with Mormonism, we can view a certain segment of the Mormon population as being focused on “physical” concerns. Mormonism is about doing. It’s about following physical commandments regarding things like the Word of Wisdom and the Law of Chastity. It’s about physical acts of loyalty through obedience. Even a concept like mourning with those who mourn is viewed through a physical lens: helping others comes in the form of physical projects like providing dinner or assisting in moving.
In this model, whether past or present, faith has been assessed based on physical criteria. As Mormons moved to Utah, one’s faithfulness to Mormonism was not necessarily predicated in what one believed (and in fact, theological speculation was wild in those old days)…it was about one’s commitment to building Zion. Those willing to work were considered legitimate Mormons regardless of belief. Even today, this model can be assessed by evaluating worthiness via performance of physical tasks — does one follow the Word of Wisdom? Does one follow the Law of Chastity? Has one done his home teaching? Has one assisted with the ward cleanup?
Mormon Faith as Intellectual Infrastructure
A quick glance at many stories of faith crises will reveal that for many, crisis is about beliefs. It is about an incongruence with the narrative one has been told. The CES Letter is a perfect example — it is about claims we are expected to mentally assent to regarding history, etc., In this model of faith crisis, one rapidly researches issues searching for evidence through texts, data, and history.
To people in this mode of thinking, the idea that they left to sin (in terms of breaking Word of Wisdom or Law of Chastity) seems insulting or trivializing. Even if a disaffected Mormon might eventually reconsider the Word of Wisdom and determine to try certain things prohibited by it, per this mode of thinking, the proverbial “last straw” was intellectual. If they made any sin, it was in failing to believe what the church wants them to believe.
…but this analysis is not complete. It’s not correct to say that faithful Mormons believe under a physical model and disaffected Mormons disbelieve under an intellectual one. We must recognize that there is Mormon faithfulness as intellectual infrastructure as well. In Mormon Studies or in apologetics (whether you like these things or not), we see an expression of Mormon faith in terms of one’s ability to develop and sustain intellectual models that support the church, or we see an expression of Mormon faith in terms of one’s journey to commit their lives to researching Mormon topics thoughtfully. The very name of something like A Thoughtful Faith implies that a virtuous and well-considered faith is a faith consciously thought through and examined.
In this model, questions of belief are elevated — so one may not prioritize things like the Word of Wisdom, but rather questions about Joseph Smith being a prophet in terms of the historical record of what Joseph did, and so forth.
Mormon Faith as Cultivation of Relationship
If you pay attention to certain folks, such as Patrick Mason, Dan Wotherspoon, Terryl and Fiona Givens, Adam Miller, and so forth, then you will come to see a pronunciation of faith that does not merely discuss intellectual concerns (although they may trade in the “interestingness” of the Intellectual Infrastructure). (In fact, those folks who are undergoing faith trial or crisis from the perspective of intellectual infrastructure might often criticize these writers as not treating concerns regarding facts with the gravitas they perceive is due.) In this sort of “pastoral apologetics” approach, faith is contextualized in terms of one’s ability to “live into” Mormon community. As Dan Wotherspoon often describes, the fundamental transition that must occur over time is a move away from “head concerns” to an addressing of “heart concerns”.
In this mode, faith is seen in terms of preservation of relationships and interconnetedness. Belief in facts of the intellectual infrastructure are seen only as instrumental to maintaining valued relationships. Even physical infrastructure is seen as incidental or instrumental to building relationships — so physical ordinances are valued not because of their physical face value, but for their ability to bind us into relational communities.
In this mode, faithlessness is seen in terms of unwillingness to engage in that preservation of relationships and interconnectedness. (So, communities like StayLDS are about how one can stay engaged, regardless of what one’s beliefs or even physical activity ultimately looks like.) The disaffected member in a relational/interconnected mode would note that the way people treat others (e.g., gays, feminists, intellectuals) is stifling and relationships are difficult. (To a physical infrastructure member, this disaffection might be described as “leaving because one was offended.” Again, people undergoing transition due to intellectual infrastructure are insulted by this implication, because to them, whether they stay or leave does not depend on how they are accepted socially at all, but in whether the truth claims are accurate or not.)
Thoughts on Interaction between classes
In the original article linked above discussing the typology of labor, gentry, and elite classes, the author describes the interaction and relationship between classes. Different classes may have adversarial or distrustful or mixed relationships. This strikes me as true of these faith classes. Someone in a intellectual mode may see the physical mode as being thoughtless and may see the relational mode as being involved in the religion for the wrong reason. Someone in a physical mode may see the intellectual as unwilling to put his shoulder to the wheel, but may see the relational individual as misunderstanding the importance and value of the physical commandments. (I am reminded of a former coblogger here, Bonnie. At some point in a conversation, she discussed how she felt that so many of the conversations here and elsewhere in the bloggernacle seemed pointless when compared to digging down and doing the work of the Gospel. With the framing provided in this post, I can appreciate that this statement discusses Mormonism is a physical and lived religion. All of this intellectualizing can be nice, but it’s a distraction from the bread and butter of service and striving to our neighbors and family.) Finally, someone in a relational mode may see intellectuals as thinking with too much head and not enough heart, and may see physical individuals as not quite grasping the spirit of the law to go with the letter of the law.
In the article linked above to LiveJournal, what struck me was that the author struggled with classism (they felt fairly hostile to the values of the class in which they were raised, and viewed their middle class aspirations/achievements as being a “better way of living”) while at the same to time recognizing that theoretically, understanding of classes could allow us to move past our classism by being able to talk about it.
Similarly, it seems to me that when we discuss faith crisis, we miss that these are transitions between classes that do not necessarily imply that one is “better” or “worse” than the other (although from the vantage point of our class, we might think certain classes are worse or better than ours). When we say someone has “lost” their faith, we may instead be discussing that from a class perspective, they are migrating classes. They may no longer value the infrastructure of one class, and instead seek the infrastructure of another.
Does this seem reasonable to you? How do you see yourself in terms of these typologies? I imagine many readers of LDS blogs fit within the intellectual sphere (whether they believe or do not), but can you see how other ward members or even you may engage in a different way? Do you think it will help to build compassion for different people in different walks of faith by recognizing that they may have different cultural or class values?