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B&I Workshop: Manuel Wagner (University of Vienna)

Manuel Wagner (University of Vienna) Manuel will present ongoing research on working class representation (title and abstract below).

Who represents the working-class? Introducing and implementing a mobility-sensitive approach to the study of class representation

Social scientists and the public share a strong interest in the identity of political decision makers. Thus, studies of the descriptive representation of groups such as women, ethnic minorities, or workers are abundant. In contrast to the first two, however, research on the latter is beset by three key conceptual problems: First, by the very definition of higher political office, individuals therein are no longer part of the working class. Second, even before entering political office, people regularly move between social classes. Third, for politicians, these moves may depend on the trajectory of their political careers. We address these challenges by theorizing the implications of a dynamic understanding of class over the life course. Based on this, we introduce six operational definitions of a descriptive representative of the working class that encompass the timing of experiences of upward social mobility as well as its interaction with their political careers. We then collect highly granular data on the class origins and career trajectories of several thousand ministers in postwar European democracies in order to map the class structure of governments based on our definitions. Furthermore, we show that the choice of definition has important implications both for our understanding of the conditions under which politicians from the working class enter government and for the study of the link between the descriptive and substantive representation of the working class.