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Classism is prejudice or discrimination on the basis of social class. It includes individual attitudes and behaviors, systems of policies and practices that are set up to benefit the upper classes at the expense of the lower classes.[1]


Class structures existed in a simplified form in pre-agricultural societies, but became much more complex and established following the establishment of permanent agriculture-based civilizations with a food surplus.[2] It has been proposed that one of the first recorded cases of classism involved the diminishment of the original role of Siduri in the Epic of Gilgamesh.[3]

Institutional versus personal classism

The term classism can refer to personal prejudice against 'lower' or 'upper' classes as well as to institutional classism, just as the term racism can refer either strictly to personal bigotry or to institutional racism. The former has been defined as "the ways in which conscious or unconscious classism is manifest in the various institutions of our society."[4]

The term "interpersonal" is sometimes used in place of "personal" as in, "institutional classism (versus) interpersonal classism.",[5] and terms such as "attitude" or "attitudinal" may replaced "interpersonal" as contrasting with institutional classism, as in the Association of Magazine Media's definition of classism as "any attitude or institutional practice which subordinates people due to income, occupation, education and/or their economic condition."[6]

Classism is also sometimes broken down into more than two categories, as in "personal, institutional and cultural" classism.[7]

Terms associated with personal or attitudinal classism include "white trash", "little men" or "little people," "trailer trash", "the unwashed masses", "moochers," and "bludgers". In earlier historical periods, classist terms and phrases as hoi polloi or plebs,[8] which are "derogatory of the lower classes," were more commonly used than they are today. Though Andrew Mitchell, former Chief whip of the UK conservative party was forced to resign after allegedly calling a police officer a pleb for refusing to open the gates to Downing St for him to ride his bike through. Mitchell announced he would sue The Sun for libel over the allegations in March 2013.[9]

Accusations of classism

There is disagreement[by whom?] over what degree modern industrialized societies are economically stratified into discernible classes.[citation needed] There is also often disagreement over matters of understanding, such as whether negative treatment is due to prejudice against members of certain classes, or whether the behavior is a rational reaction to actions of the person being so treated, or due to racial, ethnic, sexual, or other identity.[citation needed]

People who generally tend to find charges of classism against 'lower' classes to be unfounded or unreasonably harsh often characterize the perceived prejudice as expressive of classist class envy. Those who argue classism is especially pervasive or fundamental to the society that they live in often identify classism as the expression of systematic economic exploitation by the 'higher' classes, and may connect it with an explicit notion of class warfare.[citation needed] However, any particular accusation of classism does not, as such, presuppose any such claim, just as people may agree on examples of overt racism, while disagreeing intensely over how widespread or deep-seated racist attitudes are in their society.

Legislating against class discrimination

The European Convention on Human Rights contains protections against social class discrimination. Only a few signatory states have signed and ratified these protections. Those that have signed and ratified this have implemented domestic laws against discrimination because of social class (in the same way that race discrimination, sex discrimination or age discrimination have been legislated against. However, these laws are often ineffective.

See also

Further reading

  • A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn
  • Hill, Marcia, and Esther Rothblum. Classism and Feminist Therapy : Counting Costs. New York: Haworth Press, 1996.
  • Hooks, Bell. Where we stand : class matters. New York & London: Routledge, 2000.
  • Gans, Herbert. The War Against the Poor, 1996
  • Homan, Jacqueline S. Classism For Dimwits. Pennsylvania: Elf Books, 2007,2009
  • Packard, Vance. Status Seekers. 1959
  • Beegle, Donna M. See Poverty - Be the Difference. 2001
  • Carrier, Jerry The Making of the Slave Class Algora Publishing 2010
  • Leondar-Wright, Betsy. Class Matters: Cross-Class Alliance Building for Middle-Class Activists: New Society Publishers, 2005

External links


  1. Kadi, Joanna (1996). Thinking Class, U.S.: South End Press.
  2. Peter N. Stearns (Narrator). A Brief History of the World Course No. 8080 [Audio CD], The Teaching Company.
  3. Peter Dyr. The Epic of Gilgamesh, the teachings of Siduri and how Siduri's ancient advice can help guide us to a happier life, Third Edition, SW publishers, Los Gatos, California, USA.
  4. Classism Definitions
  5. Langhout, Regina Day; Rosselli, Francine; Feinstein, Jonathan (October 1835), "Assessing Classism in Academic Settings", The Review of Higher Education 30 (2): 145–184, 
  6. Glossary
  7. (2007) Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice, Second, Routledge.
  9. Andrew Mitchell to sue Sun newspaper over 'plebgate' BBC News, 28 March 2013.Retrieved 30 March 2013.
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General forms

Specific forms
Homophobia · Transphobia
Ableism · Sizeism · Adultism
Misogyny · Misandry · Lookism
Gerontophobia · Classism · Elitism

Slavery · Racial profiling · Lynching
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Genocide · Holocaust · Pogrom
Ethnocide · Ethnic cleansing · Race war
Religious persecution · Gay bashing
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Abolitionism · Civil rights · Gay rights
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Children's rights · Youth rights
Disability rights · Inclusion
Social model of disability · Autistic rights

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Emancipation · Civil rights · Desegregation
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Anti-miscegenation · Anti-immigration
Alien and Sedition Acts · Nuremberg Laws
Jim Crow laws · Black codes · Apartheid laws
List of anti-discrimination acts

Other forms
Nepotism · Cronyism
Colorism · Linguicism
Ethnocentrism · Triumphalism
Adultcentrism · Isolationism
Economic discrimination

Related topics
Prejudice · Supremacism · Intolerance
Tolerance · Diversity · Multiculturalism
Political correctness · Reverse discrimination
Eugenics · Racialism

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