Social Class Matters

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Social Class Matters
Diane Shutt
SOC 120
Lawrence Randolph

Social class, although somewhat illusive in meaning, is one of the most important conceptual discussions among sociologists. Developed in the mid-eighteenth century, originally class was a process to categorize animals, plants, and any natural event not promoted by humans, such as rain, or volcanic action (Nesbit, 2005). However, a French group of intellects called Encylopédistes developed a similar classification system in which they categorized people according to their social and economic positions (Nesbit, 2005). Even though social class can be ambiguous in definition and often demonstrate inequality and discrimination, it is an important subject for every individual because at some point he or she will hold a position in a socially stratified class in society.

Approximately 100 years after the development of the class system, around the mid-nineteenth century, Karl Marx used class to support his explanation of the social organizational process. According to Marx’s theory, at that time, there were only two categories of social class, the owners who controlled the money, means, and industries, and the workers who labored for modest wages (Nesbit, 2005). In contrast to Marx’s theory, many other sociologists, including Max Weber, believe there were more than two distinct categories in the socially stratified system. Weber’s sociological perspective was that classes were not based solely on materialism, processes, or performances, but also on values, lifestyle, and culture. French philosopher, sociologist, and anthropologist, Pierre Bourdieu agreed with Weber in his more humanistic view, adding a few other stratifying factors such as age, race, gender, and ethnicity to the external class structure. Other supporters of the Weber and Bourdieu theory that social class is more than mere monetary classification of people are sociologists and authors, William Thompson and Joseph Hickey. Thompson and Hickey believe that it is impossible to fully realize a person’s behavior without understanding the social stratification concept (Thompson & Hickey, 2005). Social class influences every action, word, or behavior of a person. Thompson and Hickey also believe that each person’s position in the social hierarchy affects his or her entire well-being, and possibly even his or her longevity (Thompson & Hickey, 2005).

Also as illustrated in figure 1 taken from Thompson and Hickey’s book, Society in Focus 2005, educational accomplishments can tremendously affect the average earnings and social position in each social class. A brief examination of the four major social classes will show monetary growth is obvious with the advancing degrees of education.

Starting at the top of the hierarchal structure will be the upper-class or elite. The upper class is a diverse professional group including politicians, multinational CEOs, and people who possess extreme wealth. Downwards, the second and probably the largest of the four, is the upper middle-class, a well-educated intellectual group consisting of lawyers, directors, accountants, and engineers. This class, similar to the upper class, not only possesses wealth; it carries a certain degree of prestige. The third class is the lower middle-class, which are administrators, paralegals, and blue-collar workers supporting the upper middle-class professionals. The fourth class or the working class consists of general laborers, factory workers, caregivers, and small business employees (Thompson & Hickey, 2005). Many individuals, during the course of their lifetime may move between classes. According to some there exists yet another class who are the working poor underclass. People in this class work full-time jobs...
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