Class Struggle: Education and Social Class in the New York Times, USA Today and Los Angeles Times

Class Struggle: Education and Social Class in the New York Times, USA Today and Los Angeles Times

Group 4: Chelsea Alfano, Vinly Phetsoumphou, Bunsong Phe, Sarah Chhoukdean, Stella Koh


While studying the Occupy Movement, our group focused on both social class and education to determine how belonging to different social classes change the way in which a person is feels about the Occupy Movement. We knew that there is a correlation between social class and education, so we knew that by looking at the highest level of education attained and comparing it to how active of a participant a person was within the Occupy Movement, we could be confident that this reflected the way in which each social class felt about the Occupy Movement.

This is important information to have when studying the Occupy Movement because it is a good starting point for figuring out who is or is not involved in the Occupy Movement. When we are able to figure out demographics, we are then able to move into more specifics about who is being heard within the movement and who is not being heard from at all. We wanted to figure out if people with different education levels were being represented differently within the texts. We analyzed texts to see who was being heard from and who was only being represented through the journalists. If there is a difference in involvement levels in the Occupy Movement between more educated and less educated people, then there will be a difference in who is speaking for themselves and who is being spoken about within the texts as well.


Our group collected data based on Newspaper reports from New York Times, USA Today and Los Angeles Times by looking at different regions of America. Specifically, We focused on the East and West coast. The date ranges we are gathering our articles from are between January 2012 and the present. We drew a sub- sample from all the newspaper coverage on different levels of social class. We feel that this is an important set of public texts to look at because we are interested in looking at how the language was used based on the words: Education, poor, wealthy, social class, and power struggle. Not to mention, these three news sources are well established and can be viewed almost anywhere in both print and online.

Discourse analysis is a method used to analyze written, spoken, or signed language. This form of analysis was helpful in looking at news articles pertaining to the Occupy Movement because articles surrounding the movement run the gamut from violence to changes people hope to see in the near future. The two main methods for such analysis are corpus linguistics and qualitative coding; under these methods are tools for more in-depth research. Corpus linguistics includes examining word frequencies, collocation tables, concordance lines, and being able to compare corpora to the entire corpus. Qualitative coding is more general, looking into key themes and language usage relating to a specific topic, in this case, Occupy Wall Street. Discourse analysis allows people to see a hierarchy of language and people.


Mentioned before, our corpus consists of three major news sources, New York Times, USA Today and the Los Angeles Times. At first, we started out with five news sources, but we realized we had compiled too many texts to analyze. From there, we decided to pick three news sources from different regions of the United States giving a better representation of opinions in all of the US. In order to make sure our information was up to date, we decided to analyze articles published from January 2012 and on. Approximately 20 to 60 articles came up for each news source after entering “education” and “occupy movement” into the search engine. The New York Times had the most articles written surrounding these two terms. In the end, these choices left us with a thought-out corpus ready to be analyzed more closely.


First Pattern: Power Struggle

“There is a lot of power struggle going on within the texts”

One big aspect of power struggle happened between the police and the protesters, with examples of the police arresting hundreds of protesters. Most of the time when journalists would talk about the arrests, they would not mention why a protester was being arrested. Rather, they would state the amount of people who were arrested by police officers. This in itself is taking power away from the protestors and giving it to the police because the journalists are criminalizing the protestors by simply stating that they were arrested and not giving an explanation as to why. With the type of linguistics used, it makes the reader feel as if the protesters who are being arrested are guilty since the text fails to explain why they are being arrested (Cameron 124). This goes along with the article Working with Spoken Discourse because Cameron talks about how wording can change the way in which an issue is framed, which can then shape the reality that is being formed (125).

Power struggle came about between the different social classes and whether or not they were able to represent themselves within the text. By choosing to include interviews from some people, mainly those who had graduated college and were now concerned about paying off student loans, and excluding others, those who do not have student loans or never went to college, journalists are creating a power struggle between people. This happens because those people who get to speak are the ones who can give an accurate representation of themselves and how they feel about the Occupy Movement. When people are not able to speak for themselves, they are stripped of that chance to be able to define themselves and how they feel about the Occupy Movement.

“Power struggle came between the upper class and the rest of society”

Throughout the texts, there are numerous examples of people being interviewed that believe we should tax the rich more and that the rich are receiving too much money in the form of bonuses. What people want to do is to put blame onto Wall Street for the economic crises that the United States is facing, so they feel that the solutions presented are ones that will solve the crises that we are currently facing. Both of these examples again go along with what Cameron says about how the wording of text can shape the reality of people (125).

Second Pattern: Social Class

“Those who are in higher social class voice their opinions more than those who are in a lower social class”

Most prevalent was that when there was someone who spoke, he or she was from a higher social class rather than a lower class. For example, in the LA Times Katehi is a chancellor at UC Davis, “As she spoke Monday, Katehi, a Greek-born electrical engineer who became chancellor at UC Davis in August 2009, ignored calls from the crowd for her resignation. But her actions and those of the police are sure to be scrutinized in the weeks ahead; UC leaders, state politicians, the American Civil Liberties Union and national education organizations have decried the incident.” Because she is of a higher social class, she has more power and is able to voice her opinions more.

In the LA Times, there are also no voices of the poor. Rather a person of a higher class is speaking on the lower classes half. For instance, “Daniel Hurley, an official at the American Assn. of State Colleges and Universities, said Monday that many schools nationwide see the pepper-spray incident at UC Davis as a ‘terrible overreaction on the part of campus police.’ Public colleges ‘have a remarkably proud tradition in this country of being venues of free speech and peaceful demonstrations,’ Hurley said.” This shows that they had an official speaking for the student body.

“Wealth” was used far more frequently than “Poor”

The term wealthy was used in a wide variety of ways, but mainly in use for describing people or regarding those of higher social standing. The words within the corpus most frequently used around wealthy were filler terms such as “the, a, in, to, for”, however, following these words more important words such as “people, Americans, economic, higher, rich” were being used. This demonstrates its popular usage to describe people, specifically Americans. Not to mention, when analyzing the KWIC results we noticed a correlation between wealthy and the best schools/students. Therefore, it re-confirms our assumptions that those with a higher quality education generally are richer; due to this they have a lower interest in the Occupy Movement.

We can see that a person’s education can affect their whole outlook on life; but it also our elicits our flaw as a nation of keeping the poor, poor because they are limited with options of a better life with their less-equipped schools. All of this information gives me a better insight into our topical focus regarding people’s social status and their involvement with Wall Street.

“Those that differ in social class and education level have different opinions of the Occupy Movement”

One way that we can see the distinguishable differences in opinions of the upper class and the middle class can be seen in the discourse provided within the text itself. The wealthy argue that they are job creators and Occupy Wall Street argues that having tax cuts for the wealthy only heightens the inequality gap. We can pragmatically witness this in their discourse. For example, a January 25th 2012 New York Times article about income inequality and the Occupy Movement included the following excerpts:

Others say that this self-flagellation is misguided. Raising taxes on high earners or restricting their pay will do nothing to increase economic growth or to create jobs, said Ben Verwaayen, chief executive of Alcatel-Lucent, the French telecom company.

“If you are standing outside the job market today and you think inequality is the problem, you have an ugly surprise coming,” Mr. Verwaayen said. “If you want to kick the cat, kick the cat. If it makes you feel better, fine. But if the pie is not growing, we’re not, we’re not going to create jobs.”

Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase: “I just think this constant refrain, ‘bankers, bankers, bankers’ – it’s just a really unproductive and unfair way of treating people,” he said. “People should just stop doing that.”

You can see that Mr. Verwaayen and Mr. Dimon are representing the upper echelon of wealth and can be what many consider the “1 percent.” Mr. Verwaayen’s discourse is especially evident of this opposition of the movement with his in-group and out-group dialogue. He constantly refers to the supporters of the movement and the movement itself as “you”; a total of five times. He is clearly not in favor of the movement and believes it is a false cause. This reinforces his social status by referring to the Occupy Movement as the pronoun ‘you’ and experiencing himself ‘Activated’ as job creators (Fairclough, 2003). Mr. Dimon also thinks that the movement is unproductive and unfair to blame the wealthy for The United States’ inequality problem. This is opposed to those who are middle class where there is a different opinion of the movement:

Yet even as Mr. Dimon was speaking, a new wave of anger was welling up, one that, over the last year, would shake up old assumption about the ultrarich, the middle class and the growing gulf that separates them.

Third Pattern: Education

“Participants who have higher education such as a college degree or graduates are likely to participate in the occupy movement”

During the Month from January to Present, New York Times interviewed and covered stories centered on people who are most likely college students or college graduates participating in the Occupy movement. For example, “Having complete college at the University of Illinois and graduated school, decided to devote herself to the moment” or “Occupy groups see a movement struggling… Jesse Klein, a graduate student in sociology at Florida State University”. These students that were interviewed were college or college graduates  who voiced out their opinions on the movement which can be an example of collocation that is used in quantitative analysis because the words next student had the word “graduate”  which a trend of proximity of “co-occurrence of words” are next to each other.

“College students who are in the top 1% have no opinion on the Occupy movement”

Those who are the top 1% are the ones that can pay for expensive college tuition and “majority of the students who attend best schools are likely to be wealthy”. According to the New York Times, in 2010 undergraduate students who graduated from a University or college graduates with $250,000 in student loans and students that were involved in the movement were activist that feel pressured financially. College students and Graduate students want ‘equality in higher education’. The occupy movement is composed of students who are low-income and middle-class individuals that are protesting to denounce corporate greed. Students who have higher education are likely to participate in the movement feeling upset due to the inequities in our economic system and that the American Dream of middle-class living is slowly falling away from them. That means equality through students with lower and middle-class economic standing should share the same footing and opportunities as those who are in 1 percent upper class.

“Majority of students support the Occupy Movement”

By the end of our research we concluded that one of the influential discourse came from students. Students are the future and lifeblood of America. Examining and analyzing the data we see that a majority of students either support the Occupy Movement and some even seem to acknowledge being apart of it. Excerpts in a January 22nd, 2012 New York Times article is an example:

Guido Girgenti, 19, Sophomore, urban and environmental policy Occidental College:

HOPING TO ACCOMPLISH A constitutional amendment banning corporate funding in politics. The most important goal, however, is transforming our society so that our deep commitment to justice becomes our nation’s first priority. Occupy Wall Street is the movement we were waiting for. In a very deep way, young people like me longed for something larger and more transformative.

This excerpt gives insight on student support of the Occupy Movement. It preaches justice in transforming our society and states that Occupy Wall Street is the movement we were waiting for. These are strong opinions concerning our current political and economic landscape. In the same interview we can see that students not only support the movement but some also feel apart of it:

BEST OCCUPY MOMENT When we had our first mass student meeting. It was, like, 45 students and 30 adults. Nobody knew each other, and we had a meeting for an hour and a half about how students can play a role in revitalizing American democracy.

Guido Girgenti is interviewed about his “best occupy moment” which associates him as a member of the Occupy Movement and its goals. The article consists of interviews just as the one given to Mr. Girgenti and all of them have students as activists with similar goals as Occupy. The fact that student interviews about the Occupy Movement have an article all on its own shows how important the student population is in discourse. We can also see the importance the lexical term “student” has in our corpus as it has a word frequency of 340 times. Legitimation is done through words such as ‘justice’ and ‘Occupy Wall Street is the movement we’ve been waiting for’ showing strategies of moral evaluation and mythopoesis (Fairclough, 2003).


In conclusion, the patterns we discovered through our research showed that the people who are a part of the middle class receive the most extensive coverage within the corpus for the Occupy Movement. As education levels increase in the middle class, the more important these people become to the Occupy Movement since they have to take out student loans in order to pay for their schooling. The upper and lower classes are only referenced to in the corpus, but they do not get to speak for themselves very often meaning that they are not able to construct their own reality of what it means to belong to their social classes.

This analysis helps us understand how education affects the way people think about the Occupy Movement. It also helps us to understand the power struggle that goes on within the movement itself, showing us that the movement itself is not unified together; rather it is divided up into education and class levels.


Cameron, D. (2001). Working with spoken discourse. London: Sage Publications.

Sinclair, John. “The Lexical Item.” In Contrastive Lexical Semantics. Ed. Edda Weigand. Amsterdam ; Philadelphia : J. Benjamins, 1998. 1-24.

Fairclough, N. (2003). Representation of social events (134-155). In Analyzing discourse: Textual analysis for social research. London: Routledge.

Adolphs, Svenja. “Electronic Text Analysis, Language and Ideology.” Chapter 6 in Introducing Electronic Text Analysis. London ; New York : Routledge, 2006. 80-96.


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