In Bourdieu’s Distinction, one way class inequality gets expressed is in the dominant classes’ distancing themselves from acknowledging the materiality of life. The judgement of distinction is a privileging of the abstract and the idealized and the rarefied and the immaterial; small portions over large portions; classical over jazz over pop. The more capital one possesses, the less one is affected by the quotidian concerns of the material world, and so one attempts to demonstrate one’s superior class position by enacting and performing that distance. The converse is also true: note the emphasis “vulgar” art — including musical forms like country, gangsta rap, and bluegrass — place on authenticity, on “keeping it real,” on the representation of the materiality of everyday lived experience. This trend, of course, is also highly visible in Raymond Williams’s Culture and Society, particularly in his analyses of Coleridge, Carlyle, and (very much) Matthew Arnold.
In the Industrial Revolution of Williams’s analysis, technological advance was one of the chief driving factors of economic advance, and I’m arguing that much the same is true today. Steam, railroads, telegraphs, electricity: the emergence of these technologies produced immense and immensely unequal economic growth, just as the emergence of newer technologies has done today, and while the twentieth century’s division of labor led to a staggering increase in the volume of class positions, the class positions at the top are moving further and further away from the class positions at the bottom. But the core of the argument Williams makes is that economic changes, in confluence with changes in such factors as art and democracy, produced radical change in our understandings of class and culture: this is no mere techno-economic determinism. I’m saying much the same thing, although some of the other changes in causal factors Williams might note today include things like globalization, the post-ironic aesthetic, ethnic nationalism, and the conflict between energy consumption and environmentalism. My scope is considerably more narrow: I’m simply looking at the way certain (rather than all) factors — technology, economy — are helping to drive change in our understanding of class and its relationship to a certain aspect of culture: namely, the practice and instruction of literacy.