Social class can be defined as a hierarchy in which individuals and groups are classified on the basis of esteem and prestige acquired mainly through economic success and accumulation of wealth. In today’s society, amid the clamour for equal rights and opportunities for all, social class continues to present division throughout the globe.
In an effort to realize the concept of social class, there have been many theories and explanations promulgated on social class and its effect on society. This paper will examine two of the more prominent theories contributed by Karl Marx and Max Weber. While both Marx and Weber recognized the importance of private property in the difference between classes, they differ over the causes which create the different classes. Marx and Weber also differ in their thoughts on social mobility. Weber argues that social mobility can either move us upwards or downwards depending on our choices and opportunities. While Marx does recognise social mobility, he relates this mainly to the petty bourgeoisie principle, and its likelihood of being absorbed by the other two classes due to its transitional nature. For Marx, class is a clearly defined and rigid structure with little in the way of social mobility being possible or likely.
It is evident that Marx was more focused on the economic aspects of social stratification, particularly ownership of wealth and control of material possessions creating conflict and alienation within society where two main classes exist, that is, the ‘Bourgeoisies’ and the ‘Proletariat’.
On the other hand, Weber’s conception of what he calls ‘life chances, that is, an individual’s class position as a direct determinant of how his life will turn out, was critical in his comprehension of social class. Weber identified four different constellations of class, namely, the dominant property-owning and commercial class, white collar intelligentsia, petty bourgeoisie, and the manual working class. He says that within each class, there are major social divisions based around status and what he calls ‘party’.
Marx’s concept of social class is based on economic conflict, where one group in society is oppressed and taken advantage of by another. He was convinced that in industrialized societies, different classes were created as a result of the economic conditions at the time, in particular, the position of the classes in relation to the means of production. Therefore, the class that owns or controls the means of production is the class that extracts the surplus value at the expense of the other class. It is this difference in the ownership and control of the productive process that creates class conflict. Marx’s theory therefore, showed that in any society based on class, there will generally be two main classes, the class that produces the surplus value and the class that significantly benefits from that surplus value. Marx was convinced that classes were separated by their ‘economic conditions of survival’. This difference of conditions actually places the classes in hostile opposition. Marx believed that the workers would revolt against the capitalist, take control of the means of production and usher in a classless society. Weber found that this is a very simple view that does not take into account all the other forms of class inequality that people experience in society.
Marx argued that there were two main social classes, the ruling class and the subject class. He defined these as the Bourgeoisie or capitalist and the Proletariat or landless wage workers. Marx believed that the bourgeoisie use the mode of production in the form of capitalism to oppress the proletariat. The owners of production, the bourgeoisies, use the landless workers’ or the proletariats’ labour to produce their surplus value. In turn, they paid their workers the smallest wage possible in...