Compare and Contrast Marxist and Weberian Theories of Stratification

Q: Compare and Contrast Marxist and Weberian Theories of Stratification. The purpose of this essay is to compare, contrast and critically evaluate Marxist and Weberian theories of stratification. To do this effectively this essay must explain and consider the main features, claims and perspectives of both Karl Marx and Max Weber. O’Donnell (1992) defines social stratification as “the division of a society or group into hierarchically ordered layers.

Members of each layer are considered broadly equal but there is inequality between the layers. ” Functionalist Durkheim (1858-1917) argued that the reason for the existence of stratification was because it was functional or beneficial to the order of society. According to Browne et al (2009), Karl Marx (1818-83) theorised that class was determined by a number of factors including income and the relationship that a certain group had to the means of production. He saw society to be divided into two groups, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.

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The bourgeoisie employed the proletariat to work for them and used the workers labour to produce their surplus value, in turn only paying the workers the minimalist amount needed to survive, therefore making a greater profit whilst exploiting the proletariat. According to Moore et al (2009), Marx argued that the conflict between the powerless, poor majority and the rich, powerful minority was a strong driving force of most societies. According to Fulcher et el (2007), the early works of Marx were greatly influenced by his theory of ‘Alienation’.

Marx suggested that the means of production had the ability to alter economic relations therefore too altering people to change their labour from a creative act to a distorted and dehumanised activity. This change ended in people becoming dissatisfied with paid employment and rather looking as it as more of an essential means to ensure their survival. Marx argued that because of this, work and its products become ‘Alienated’ or detached, because of this people therefore became dominated or oppressed by the means of production.

Marx defined ‘Alienation’ as a relationship between property and division of labour and therefore viewed the existence and ownership of ‘private property’ as one of the substantial reasons for the division and existence of the social classes. According to Haralambos et al (2004), Marx’s theory began with the view that it was crucial for humans to produce food and materials in order to survive, and to do so it was necessary to enter into relationships with other people.

Fulcher et al (2007) suggested that Marx saw societies as social systems that were divided up into two specific parts, these were suggested by Marx to be the base and the superstructure. The base provided the mode of production and the superstructure provided stability through certain social institutions such as the legal and political systems. Marx also argued that the material conditions created contributed to the shape of society, he referred to such conditions as ideologies.

According to O’Donnell (1992) Marx suggested that such societies could have only ensured material survival through the exploitation of the propertyless and by using sophisticated means of organised production. Therefore people first must be able to eat and maintain adequate clothing and shelter before they engaged in influential sociological activities such as politics and literature. Individuals were not able to access essential elements such as shelter unless they were able to engage in paid employment through a particular mode of production.

According to Marx this meant that society could not sustain meaningful social activities without any sort of organised means of exploitation. According to Haralambos et al (2004), Marx suggested that as production increased and technology improved so too did the powers of production, therefore it created a change in property relations. These changes then resulted in more complex divisions of labour. Therefore the developments of economies brought forward the growth of social systems. Marx called this historical materialism.

The way that society was developing in Western Europe at the time of Marx writing was more than an industrial society, he referred to this as a capitalist society. According to Fulcher et al (2007) Marx suggested that since the turn of the sixteenth century capitalists had built factories, manufacturing plants and workshops that employed a high percentage of the proletariat. He suggested that the way in which capitalists grew profits for themselves was through market exchange and exploitation of paid labour.

These entrepreneurs of the capitalist era became better known as the ruling class according to Marx. They did not completely replace the more traditionally recognised feudalists, they merely displaced them, often through a violent revolution as in France. As in feudal times, it could be argued that they were responsible for the oppression, exploitation and alienation of the very workers that generated their wealth. Marx argued that because of this the superstructure no longer ncouraged the growth of the economy, therefore if there was going to be any expansion of production and it was continue to grow then the superstructure had to be taken away by a revolution of the workers, this would have to therefore displace the ruling class. Marx suggested that the workers would eventually structure radical political parties, reject the capitalist system and abolish oppression, exploitation and alienation, these events would therefore establish a new and more advanced for of ‘communist’ production. Moore et al (2009) suggested that the approach from Weber is very different to that of Marx.

Weber suggested that the social systems were driven by the actions of people rather than the structures that compliment the means of production. However according to Krieken et al (2000) Weber agreed with Marx’s theory of class distinction between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, he was just however more interested in the market value of the individual. Weber determined the class position of an individual by their current market value, this market value was measured by the individual’s level of education, natural talent, acquired knowledge and skills.

Weber saw classes as economic categories organised rather than property ownership. He argued that occupational skill should be included into the concept of class because it created life chances and opportunity relative to income. Therefor he suggested that it was possible to acquire an achieved level of status. In contrast to Marx’s theory, Weber suggested that a person who was in a higher occupational role would have a higher status of social class. He also argued against Marx’s theory on the grounds that status could be derived from many other sources such as race, gender and religion.

Weber suggested that status could be indirectly associated to styles of consumption, the way in which people spend money. Some people are perceived to have a high status based purely on their material items suck as designer clothes or objects of desire such as a sports car. According to Moore et al (2009) these ideas of Weber were supported by postmodernists who suggested that at the turn of the twenty first century it would be consumption and style which will determine someone’s identity, rather than social class. According to Weber class had four distinctive social identities.

He suggested these to be those with increased life chances and education, the petty bourgeoisie (managers or self employed), the middle class (white collar workers and technicians) and the working class (manual workers). According to Krieken et al (2000), Marx and Weber differed greatly on their thoughts of social mobility. Weber argued that there is a possibility of social mobility, he suggested that social mobility could be achieved through acquiring certain skills. He suggested that these skills could be achieved through education, life chances, and occupational choices.

However Marx theorised that the only way there would be any social mobility was if the proletariat were to overthrow the bourgeoisie. Weber argued that social mobility could occur by moving either up or down the ‘social ladder’. Whereas Marx did not recognise social mobility, anything other than the proletariat and the bourgeoisie was referred to by Marx as the petty bourgeoisie. Clearly the theories of Marx and Weber differentiate in many different ways, however they show similarities and have both been very influential to theorists and theories of today.

Weber’s ideas of stratification have very heavy influence in the way in which social class is determined today. The classification scale known as the NS-SEC scale (National Statistics- Social, Economic Scale) is what is used by the government today. This scale is based largely on the scale used by Weber. However unlike Weber’s for categories of classification, this scale has eight main categories and a further seventeen minor categories that define more detailed work.

According to Browne (2009) feminists criticise the work of both Marx and Weber on the grounds that their theories of stratification were based solely on males. Weber’s theory that capitalists cannot maximise profits without considering the well being of labour providers and that status groups can be governed by wealth and property alone, is supported by the introduction of the introduction of things such as the human rights act, health and safety laws, minimum wage and working time directive.

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