chapter  4
Class conflict and the problem of crime
Pages 30

In the field of conflict studies, as in many other disciplines, class struggle is the conflict ‘that dare not speak its name.’ Perusing the most comprehensive and popular introductions to the field, one finds repeated discussions of the categories of nationality, ethnicity, race, gender, and religion in conflict, but very little, in most cases, about social class. In part, this reflects a general taboo prevalent in many capitalist societies against ‘talking about class’ or admitting that social classes – workers and owners in particular – play a significant and contentious role in politics and culture. To cite one wellknown example, U.S. newspapers like The Washington Post and The New York Times seldom print the phrase ‘working class,’ much preferring to use the broader and vaguer term ‘middle class.’1 Interestingly, the taboo appears to be weakening among Americans at large, even while it remains potent among the news media, politicians, and many academics. In 2015, some 49 percent of Americans identified themselves as working class or ‘lower class,’ with 51 percent – a considerable drop from previous 60 percent-plus figures – calling themselves middle or ‘upper middle’ class. (Virtually no one admits to being wealthy.)2

In conflict studies, however, there is a more specific reason to avoid focusing on social classes: the assumption that most analysts interested in class conflict are Marxists and are therefore hostile to conflict resolution. Peter Wallensteen’s approach to this issue in his Understanding Conflict Resolution is fairly typical. In a subchapter on basic needs, he states:

This thinking is part of a materialist tradition and constitutes a significant element in class analysis. But Marxist theorists seldom have come to an understanding of conflict resolution. On the contrary, much Marxist thinking is based on the idea of continuous conflict, ending only with the defeat of the oppressive system – at this time, capitalism. Negotiation and compromise were not part of the political formula, or of the academic study. Only in the reformist, social democratic version . . . was conflict within capitalism manageable.3