Sociology: Did Class Die?

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Some commentators claim that Britain is becoming a classless society, one where the stamp of class leaves only a faint impression on people’s lives. Before checking whether this statement is true or not, the definition of “class” should be fathomed first. In a broad sense, social class is a collection of similarly placed individuals from a certain social group, who not only share common interests, but also similar lifestyle and cultural identities (Giddens, 2009: 458). Another key phrase supposed to be clear is the “faint impression”, which indicates that the class system now only has little influence on people’s lives. This essay will first introduce three basic theories of social class-Functionalism, Marxism and Weberianism. After examining the class changes in UK, it will discuss the significance of social classes from two opposite views. Finally, an evaluation of class will be conveyed, and question deriving from the first sentence will be answered.

Functionalists held a positive attitude towards social classes (also called social stratification). Talcott Parson, one of the famous functionalists, argued that the emergence of different social classes is both inevitable and functional. The social stratification is thought to stem from the common values. Once common values exist, dissimilar individuals will be evaluated by shared values and thereby forming their own value consensus, which is the agreement of their group identity, resulting in the ranked social classes (Haralambos, Holborn, 2004:4). Durkheim, recognised as the funder of Functionalism, claims that the relationship among diverse social classes is cooperated and interdependence. Integrating together, these social groups perform different functions to prevent society from breaking down, which makes stratification functional to promote social stability (Parsons, 2009:7).

Though in functionalists’ opinion, social classes show the harmony of a society, Marxists’ attitude towards social stratification is relatively more cautious and realistic. As Marx used economic factors to define classes, whose members share the same relationship to the means of production, there appear two major social classes in a capitalism society-bourgeoisie (ruling class) and proletariat (working class), which proves to be assertive later. It’s believed that the conflicts between these two classes won’t stop once capitalism exists in the society, because proletariats, who sell their labour force in order to gain more money, are constantly exploited by bourgeoisie (Haralambos, Holborn, 2004: 11). Moreover, Marx used the idea “class in itself” to describe a group of people who only share the same means of production, while “class for itself” describes those classes which have class consciousness and class solidarity with a higher level. Marx stated that because of the wider utilisation of machinery, proletariats will gradually aware their exploited by bourgeoisie, being “class for it” and overthrow the bourgeoisie (Kirby, 1999:81). However, with finally the winner going for bourgeoisie as they become wealthier quicker than proletariat, the disparity between these two classes will be larger, which is called “the polarisation”.

Similar to Marx, Max Weber admitted the importance of economic factors in dividing social classes. Nevertheless, he also saw the significance of non-economic factors including status, ethnics, religions, occupations, and lifestyles. Thus, the criteria used to evaluate classes should include both economic production as well as cultural issues from a wider concept. Additionally, Weber denied the Marx’s prediction about polarisation. Holding the view that the majority of petty bourgeoisie will be white-collars or skilled manual workers instead of being non-skilled thereby being ruled out by the society, Weber believed the “middle class” will surely expand although new technology and machinery spreads (Fulcher, Scott, 2007:793).

In the past few decades, there...
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