Editor’s Note: This paper talks about the meaning of social class and discusses the arguments put forth by Karl Marx and Max Weber.
A social class may be defined as a stratum of people of similar position in the social status. The social status of a janitor is not the same as that of the college president; a student will not greet them in exactly the same manner. People afford differential treatment owing to different classes. The members of a social class view each other as equals, while holding themselves to be socially superior to some and socially inferior to others. They are classified as similar in terms of values, norms and worldviews in life and also their economic status in term of their position in market economy.
Social classes arise out of consequences of ‘division of labour’. Each class defines social and economic position in community, including wealth and income, occupation, education, self-identification, hereditary prestige, groups’ participation and recognition by others.
A form of social stratification which is defined in purely economic terms. The relationships are analysed in terms of ownership and non ownership of means of production. The owners are the haves and the non owners are the have nots. Marx looked at classes as tangible collectives, as real social forces capable of changing the society. In a capitalist society Marx identified two classes of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.
Originally used by Marx to describe a situation when the proletariat becomes aware of its ‘objective class position’ vis a vis the bourgeoisie. The proletariat will develop from a ‘class in itself’ (simple collection of workers sharing a common class position but with no collective awareness) to a ‘class for itself’ (workers with collective awareness).
Class and status groups
Unlike Marx, Weber believed that classes in society could be divided into more than just two. He argued that classes were divided on the basis of two similarities among people
- Their market situation: where is a person located in the economy of a society
- Their life chances: chances of a person to achieve certain materialistic and non materialistic goals which are highly valued in society.
Instead of getting polarised into two extreme opposites of the have and the have nots, Weber argues that the rise of the middle class takes place as a result of dissatisfaction with the economic structure. According to him classes in society can be roughly classified into:
- The propertied upper class
- The property-less white collar workers
- The petty bourgeoisie
- The manual worker class
He says that these classes are distributed based on their market situation in a particular economy. This stratification does not necessarily entail their identification with each other leading to class consciousness and eventually a revolution.
Edited by Hariharan Kumar