Sociology – Class Essay

Major Essay Critically evaluate both Karl Marx’s and Max Weber’s theories of social class. How do these theories contribute, if at all, to an understanding of the class structure of Australian society? It is important for us to understand how our society became what it is today, thus understanding how we interact with each other and what affect an individual’s social class status has on their life chances, employment, social interaction and other key factors that will affect their life. There are currently a great number of theories that are available to explain social class and aspects relating to the interaction of these classes.

There are two main theories that most of the others have been built on, these two theories come from the work of Karl Marx and Max Weber. Both sociologists have agreed that economical factors were crucial in the shaping of social class and the inequalities of society. The key difference within these two theories is that Marx believes that two groups within society are important in understanding the workings of society, his groups are divided by the ownership of the means of production (property assets).

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Where Weber believes there are many more important groups and strata within those groups that need to be understood. Weber realised that there was other groups that needed to be recognised, as there is important conflict within Marx’s two classes, which needs to be understood to comprehend how the society operates. Within a society there can only be so many aspects that can be used to categorise classes and thus a limited number of classes to be apart of. An aspect that can be used to divide up class as that of market capacity, there are three that are important to the stratification of people.

These are: Ownership of property that is used for the means of production, possession of education or technical qualifications and the ability to use your manual labour power. [1] Another characteristic that people can be divided up by, which plays a major influence upon class structure is that of people’s characteristics to consume or produce goods. [2] Marx argued that there was a struggle for power, thus an inherent conflict between the two classes within contemporary society.

He defined the two classes by their relationship to the means of production. If you did not own the means of production, then you were in the bottom class and if you did own a means of production, then you are in the top class. “Once the economic dust had settled, English society was characterized by two main groups; a ruling bourgeois class of property-owning employers and a working proletariat class of employee wage earners”. [3] This makes the class division very clear cut, thus there is no question as to which class one is in.

Marx believed that although there was conflict between the different strata within the two classes, the main conflict is between the two classes “The ruling class gains at the expense of the subject class and therefore a conflict of interests between them”. [4] He claimed that due to the ruling class owning the means of production, it allows them to exploit and oppress the class below them. This system is seen as a capitalist society, as a small percentage of the population has vast control over the majority of the community.

The lower class is seen as workers and thus has to sell their labour to survive from this. Their labour becomes a commodity, which was purchased for the lowest price to increase the profit for the ruling class. Marx did not reject that there are other strata that do have an effect on society, only that its effect is not an important one that is required to be understood. He finds that the two classes that affect the way society operates and is structured, are the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.

This is due to the workers having their entire lives exposed to some part of the capitalist’s structures, if not with work directly, then through its other components like leisure activities [5]. Marx also believed that due to the ‘working class’ being under constant oppression and being exploited for their labour, that it would inevitably bring about the end of capitalism. Thus the inherent structure, which capitalism has created within the society, would ultimately result in it being overthrown by the ‘working class’.

He predicts, that when this occurs, there will be a change to a communist social structure where the means of production are no longer owned by a small percentage of the population, but the collective of the society owns it. Although in the past the only time that capitalist societies have broken down, was when the society was about to enter capitalism. It has not occurred regularly in a mature capitalist society as the structures of capitalism are working effectively to prevent this from occurring[6].

Weber defines the different classes though their economical relationships but unlike Marx, Weber believed that there are more then two important classes that need to be taken into account to understand the workings of society, some of these classes are broken down to other strata, which still have an important effect on social interaction. Within these class categories, class situations are further differentiated according to the type of property that is usable for production and what services it can provide for the market. [7]

Weber has identified three types of class that he believes is essential to the understandings of social phenomenon, these are: The property class- determined by their property ownership, The commercial class- allocated by peoples ability to market goods and services and the social class- which makes up the rest not allocated. Within these 3 classes he further categorises people inside the classes through class situation, which has three aspects of classification: ones ability to procure goods, gaining a good position in life and the capability to find inner satisfaction with your life [8].

Both of these two sociologists have contributed well to the collection of knowledge that is accumulated about the workings of our society. The information that they both put forward should not be disregarded in future sociological research and theory, as they both deliver a different way of understanding society. The two theories on class that have been explained, do not differ greatly from each other when you look at the foundation of their ideas in relation to a particular social group. Marx’s explanation of class structure in a capitalist society is very similar to Weber’s account.

The only key distinction is the source of the class structure, where one uses production relationships and the other draws on market relationships to stratify people[9]. Australia is currently functioning in a capitalist structure, as there is a small percentage of people in Australia, who not only own the majority of the means of production, but that also have a disproportionate amount of wealth, in comparison with the other people in the society “In Australia just 1 per cent of the population owns almost one-quarter of the county’s wealth”. 10] This vast separation of the wealth amongst a country’s population creates not only great inequalities within our society, but creates a conflict between the classes, as the lower classes become exploited through the competitive selling of their labour. This creates a large gap of power between the classes ”The upper class, though small wields a degree of power that is disproportionate to its size, largely through property relations” [11] owning the means of production gives you power through your ability to purchase labour.

The people who work for them are reliant on their income from the owner of the means of production. This power over ones income can be used to further the inequalities between the workers and other higher classes. The current social structure in Australia is similar to that of England, as this is from where the majority of people immigrated from, so we can expect there to be evident similarities in concern to social structure.

The upper class have a tendency to only socialize with others of the same class, thus making it difficult for others to marry into a higher class or to interact with a higher class “Most Australians, like most English people, stay in the class in which they grow up”[12] Although through the capitalist structure we are led to believe that class mobility can be achieved, you just have to work really hard and follow the structures put in place by the ruling class.

This is extremely evident in the media, as whenever a person does achieve to move up from their social class, it is celebrated by many and known to all, through the structures of capitalism present within Australia’s current structure. In conclusion both theories have merit within them and could be used to understand a multitude of different social events and trends. The understanding of class within a society is a valuable achievement as it is the basis of many other areas of sociological theories.

The work that they have both done in relation to the stratification of class, this can and should be used to at least some degree not only to understand Australia’s class structure but other countries as well. They have more value to a capitalist society, as this is what both their work is based on. References ? Bilton, T. , Bonnet, K. , Jones, P. , Lawson, T. , Skinner, D. , Stanworth, M. , Stephens, P. , Webster, A. , (2002) Introductory sociology, 4th edition, Macmillan, London. ? Crompton, R. (1998) Class and Stratification- An introduction to current debates, 2nd Edition, Polity Press. ? Giddens, A. , Held, D. , (1982) Classes, power and conflict- Classical and contemporary debates, Macmillan education LTD, Hong Kong. ? Joyce, P. , (eds) (1995) Class, Oxford University Press, New York ? Jureidini, R. , Poole, M. , (2003) Sociology-Australian Connections, 3rd edition, Allen and Unwin, Sydney. ? Van Krieken, R. , Smith, P. , Habibis, D. , McDonald, K. , Haralambod, M. & Holborn, M. (2000) Sociology: Themes and perspectives, 2nd edition.

Longman, Melbourne. ? Weber, M. , (1978) Economy and Society, University of California Press- Berkeley. ———————– [1] Giddens, A. , Held, D. , (1982) Classes, power and conflict- Classical and contemporary debates. Page:159 [2] Giddens, A. , Held, D (1982) Page: 160 [3] Bilton, T. , Bonnet, K. , Jones, P. , Lawson, T. , Skinner, D. , Stanworth, M. , Stephens, P. , Webster, A. , (2002) Introductory sociology, 4th edition. Page: 100 [4] Van Krieken, R. , Smith, P. , Habibis, D. , McDonald, K. , Haralambod, M. & Holborn, M. 2000) Sociology: Themes and perspectives, 2nd edition. Page:55 [5] Crompton, R. , (1998) Class and Stratification- An introduction to current debates, 2nd Edition. Page: 27 [6] Bilton, T. ,et all. (2002) Page: 100 [7] Joyce, P. , (eds) (1995) Class. Page 32 [8] Weber, M. , (1978) Economy and Society. Page: 302 [9] Crompton, R. , (1998) Page: 33 [10] Jureidini, R. , Poole, M. , (2003) Sociology-Australian Connections, 3rd edition. Page: 145 [11] Bilton, T. , et all (2002) Page: 99 [12] Jureidini, R. , Poole, M. , (2003) Page: 124

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