Sociology - Class

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Major Essay
Critically evaluate both Karl Marx’s and Max Weber’s theories of social class. How do these theories contribute, if at all, to an understanding of the class structure of Australian society?

It is important for us to understand how our society became what it is today, thus understanding how we interact with each other and what affect an individual’s social class status has on their life chances, employment, social interaction and other key factors that will affect their life. There are currently a great number of theories that are available to explain social class and aspects relating to the interaction of these classes. There are two main theories that most of the others have been built on, these two theories come from the work of Karl Marx and Max Weber.

Both sociologists have agreed that economical factors were crucial in the shaping of social class and the inequalities of society. The key difference within these two theories is that Marx believes that two groups within society are important in understanding the workings of society, his groups are divided by the ownership of the means of production (property assets). Where Weber believes there are many more important groups and strata within those groups that need to be understood. Weber realised that there was other groups that needed to be recognised, as there is important conflict within Marx’s two classes, which needs to be understood to comprehend how the society operates.

Within a society there can only be so many aspects that can be used to categorise classes and thus a limited number of classes to be apart of. An aspect that can be used to divide up class as that of market capacity, there are three that are important to the stratification of people. These are: Ownership of property that is used for the means of production, possession of education or technical qualifications and the ability to use your manual labour power. [1] Another characteristic that people can be divided up by, which plays a major influence upon class structure is that of people’s characteristics to consume or produce goods. [2]

Marx argued that there was a struggle for power, thus an inherent conflict between the two classes within contemporary society. He defined the two classes by their relationship to the means of production. If you did not own the means of production, then you were in the bottom class and if you did own a means of production, then you are in the top class. “Once the economic dust had settled, English society was characterized by two main groups; a ruling bourgeois class of property-owning employers and a working proletariat class of employee wage earners”. [3] This makes the class division very clear cut, thus there is no question as to which class one is in.

Marx believed that although there was conflict between the different strata within the two classes, the main conflict is between the two classes “The ruling class gains at the expense of the subject class and therefore a conflict of interests between them”. [4] He claimed that due to the ruling class owning the means of production, it allows them to exploit and oppress the class below them. This system is seen as a capitalist society, as a small percentage of the population has vast control over the majority of the community. The lower class is seen as workers and thus has to sell their labour to survive from this. Their labour becomes a commodity, which was purchased for the lowest price to increase the profit for the ruling class.

Marx did not reject that there are other strata that do have an effect on society, only that its effect is not an important one that is required to be understood. He finds that the two classes that affect the way society operates and is structured, are the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. This is due to the workers having their entire lives exposed to some part of the capitalist’s structures, if not with work directly,...
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