I noticed an interesting link on the NPSC blog the other day. Danah Boyd has written an essay on ‘class divisions’ in America, as represented by the movement of kids between MySpace and Facebook.

As I read it, Danah indicates that with the opening of Facebook to teens (it had previously been for university students) there has been a generalised split in the types of youth using these social media sites. Apparently, kids who were likely to attend university had migrated to Facebook, while other kids had stayed with MySpace. What Danah sees is a split in what can only really be called “class”.

When you start using words like class you’re destined for trouble. Part of the problem being that class traditionally applies to placed like Victorian Great Britain, with the strong imposition of roles, social station and the like. You also run smack-bang into Marxists and their detractors, because class is such a fundamental premise of the great red ideology.

The way Danah wants to use the word is interesting though, because it is supposed to indicate a particular social division within American national society. And it does indicate the kind of natural split that occurs in our society too. Education is a very real social marker. Although education is available to anyone in New Zealand, like the USA it becomes an important piece of social capital a person can exploit for personal gain. Having a degree, or a higher degree, can automatically make you eligible for particular types of jobs. And presumably high-paying jobs.

So right there you have a type of social division, between those who qualify for some jobs, and those who don’t. Hardly controversial. After all, education is voluntary and reasonably priced, which means anyone can access it.

What is controversial is that idea that there exist strata without our small, egalitarian society who are predisposed to acquiring this type of social capital. What I mean is that some people are brought up with the expectation that they will go to university and get a education. Others are not. So what you have right there is a social split, one that reinforces itself through pay rates and, dare I say it, social status.

Now, back on Public Address I talked about the split I’d observed between ‘operational’ and ‘policy’ roles in the public service. While I received some odd reactions to the idea, I noticed that these tended to be from people on the policy side who did not consider themselves to hold themselves up as in any way superior to operational people.

Oh, for those of you who haven’t had the good fortune to work in the public service, ‘operational’ roles are the coal-face, systems and services-type roles. Things like manning the phones or dealing with the public face to face. Policy roles are generally focused on Parliament, public relations and communciations.

Now, while policy people don’t see themselves as superior, operational people tend to see policy people as thinking they’re superior. It’s probably just an issue of perception, and hardly unique to the public service. You see the same kind of attitude from chefs and kitchen staff towards “front bunnies”, the waiters/barista’s etc. Some roles within workplaces carry more apparent importance than others.

From what I gathered in Danah’s paper, the MySpace crowd view the FaceBook crowd the way operations does policy. Policy, with their “flashy degrees’, and consequent “flashy salaries”. It’s a really interesting dynamic, if not only because the jobs and education are also reflected in where people live, the kinds of recreation they enjoy, and the kinds of thinsg they consume.

So although it’s not a structured system, no-one is trapped in operations, and policy is not god-ordained, there does exist a self-reinforcing “class”-type division that echoes out to broader social structures. And what’s so fascinating about it is the way in which it operates naturally. Some people gravitate towards operations-type jobs, and others to policy.

In a way, the social division exists to make people more comfortable with who they are, and who they associate with. And I suppose that as long as it doesn’t become entrenched, then it’s not really an issue to go waving arms about. Fascinating all the same though.

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