Social Stratification and Class

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Today in the United States, we read in the newspapers constantly about the state of "classes" in our country. For instance, it is often said at tax time that the Federal budget is balanced on the backs of the "middle class." To people in the "lower class," the promise is held that in a capitalist society, by working hard you can lift yourself out of the lower income bracket to join the "middle class." Entrepreneurs who can "find a need and fill it" can make it into the "upper class." The point is that this kind of thinking, a product of "social stratification theory," is ingrained upon our minds. As a society, we accept it as a fact that we live in a multi-tiered "class" system, and that this is the way it should be because it is central to our nature as human beings. As a society we should ask ourselves why we think this way, and whether there is another possible way of explaining our current situation. In contrast to this social stratification theory, we can examine the class theory of Karl Marx, who defines "class" in a completely different way. Marx proposed that there are only two classes in capitalist society, owners of capital (elite), and producers of capital (popular masses). Marx believed these are by nature involved in a basic and historical conflict. The proponents of each theory are attempting to make a model of society in an attempt to understand the inequalities between individuals in that society; however, they differ in approach. The proponents of social stratification theory hold that inequality derives from the differing abilities of the members of society, and that societies need to put their most qualified individuals into the most vital positions, which earn them greater rewards. The proponents of Marx's class theory state that the relationship between the two basic classes is historical and based on exploitation of one class by another, and that the current capitalist system, having grown out the feudal system by means of the...
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