social class, also called class , a group of people within a society who possess the same socioeconomic status. Besides being important in social theory, the concept of class as a collection of individuals sharing similar economic circumstances has been widely used in censuses and in studies of social mobility. •
Early theories of class
Theories of social class were fully elaborated only in the 19th century as the modern social sciences, especially sociology, developed. Political philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau discussed the issues of social inequality and stratification, and French and English writers in the late 18th and early 19th centuries put forth the idea that the nonpolitical elements in society, such as the economic system and the family, largely determined a society’s form of political life. This idea was taken farther by the French social theorist Henri de Saint-Simon, who argued that a state’s form of government corresponded to the character of the underlying system of economic production. Saint-Simon’s successors introduced the theory of the proletariat, or urban working class, as a major political force in modern society, directly influencing the development of Karl Marx’s theory of class, which has dominated later discussion of the topic. Karl Marx’s social theory of class
For Marx, what distinguishes one type of society from another is its mode of production (i.e., the nature of its technology and division of labour), and each mode of production engenders a distinctive class system in which one class controls and directs the process of production while another class is, or other classes are, the direct producers and providers of services to the dominant class. The relations between the classes are antagonistic because they are in conflict over the appropriation of what is produced, and in certain periods, when the mode of production itself is changing as a result of developments in technology and in the...
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