27.1.11

Status, class and culture change

I've been thinking about status, class and culture change a lot recently. I know it either sounds like an academic paper or an 80s band but heck, I am/was an academic and I grew up in the 80s! And as beastly as status, class and culture change sounds, I think it is important.

Cultural change has been mentioned a few times on the blog and in the comments. I think many of us feel frustrated that there has been so little cultural change and yet perhaps optimistic that individuals make small changes might lead to a sea change in culture. But why so slow a culture change? As many of us have mentioned, there are entrenched political and economical actors preventing many changes. But what about at an individual level?

I've witnessed both in Canada and here in Denmark how status and class can play out in regards to individual sustainable actions. For example, one family I knew in New Brunswick refused to participate in the garbage collection system which required separating of compostables and recyclables. As he put it, "My wife is not washing garbage!" For him, someone who had come from a less well off background and who now made a middle-class-ish living, the idea of his wife being made to rinse out the food tins was unacceptable. It seemed to threaten that very middle class lifestyle he had aspired to and had achieved the appearance of.

And here in Denmark, although a country of high equity in income, status and class still play out. We rent the bottom floor of an up and down duplex in a brand new "luxury" development. Our neighbours are retired professors, bankers, generals, and supervisors. And we have a huge conflict over air drying of laundry. Three of these retired men believe strongly that the presence of laundry outside diminishes the "luxury" aspect of the development. One of the other neighbours has installed a laundry line rather than using a laundry rack and this has outraged the 3 grumpy old men. She was yelled at by one who claimed that, "It looks like a Gypsy camp" when she had her sheets on the line. They are now threatening her with the sheriff because she broke the condo association rule of not fastening anything to external walls.

It is absolute madness as far as I am concerned and I am puzzled by the strength of feeling this men have. Our town aspires to be carbon neutral in 2029 so it is not like there isn't awareness of the issue. I've can only think it is about status and class for these men. Somehow the sight of laundry on the line seems to evoke images of, well,  Gypsies, and I think poverty, ruralness and lower class. It again threatens their status as successful men.

Wait until they find out that I want a wormery and my terrace to look like this:


So, how can change happen at that level of status and class? I'm not sure. At the moment, I am leaning towards more top down initiatives and requirements since bottom-up cultural change is not happening. What do you think?

2 comments:

julochka said...

husband has a theory that change won't happen until gas is simply too expensive for us to think otherwise...we aren't going to do this out of the goodness of our hearts...at least not enough of us are.

i think the culture/class angle is a really interesting one and that you're definitely onto something there. the problem is that so many politicians today are catering to that "new" middle class, which means that nothing happens...

Elizabeth said...

Politicians make plans and the community has to say yes to them. These 3 grumpy men are not on board yet or they do not realize what it takes to be carbon neutral in 2029.