Assess the sociological explanations of relationship between occupation and social class.

Topics: Social class, Working class, Marxism Pages: 8 (2633 words) Published: February 10, 2004
Assess the sociological explanations of the relationship between occupation and social class.

The term "Social Class" is widely used in sociology to differentiate the population on grounds of economic considerations, such as inequality in terms of wealth or income. An occupation is an individual's established choice of employment which provides most of the time a steady source of income.

According to Karl Marx, the transition from feudalism to industrialization has produced a highly unequal capitalist society consisting of only two classes: the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The bourgeoisie are the property, capital owning class. They own the means of production and monopolize the profits and values of industrial production. The proletariat are the landless wage workers, the mass of working people who labour for the bourgeoisie as the mode of production. Their rewards are mainly to be exploited by the bourgeoisie and be made poorer, not richer, by the social and technical advances of industrial development. This process is called pauperization.

The bourgeoisie derive their class position from what Bilton et al. (1997) calls productive wealth. Productive wealth is wealth which generates additional income, such as capital invested in property or stocks and shares. However, Marx argues that it is not the bourgeoisie's high income which allows them to become capitalists, rather it is the fact that they own the means of production. This therefore also makes them the sole owners of the products and their surplus, that is, the difference between the value of the labour and the value of the product of that labour.

For example, Westergaard (1997), using statistics from government resources claimed that the power of the top class, which is only 1% of the population, has grown steadily from 1979 to the late 1990s. Denationalization of public enterprises (like British Airways and British Steel) has concentrated power in the hands of private businesses. The power of finance capitalists "comes from mass corporate assets whose strategic deployment they lead".

The globalist, Leslie Sklair (1995) takes this argument a step further. According to Sklair, the capitalist or ruling class is increasingly exercising power in transnational relationships, that is, relationships that cut across state boundaries. The capitalist economy has become the basis of the global system. Thus, wealthy corporatives like Sony or Ford can exercise as much power as many nation-states. Their products and ideology are increasingly penetrating places like the "Third World" market with advertising campaigns, brainwashing the masses there to accept these ideologies and products, even as they (the masses) complainingly join the ranks of the exploited.

These are the main reasons why Marxists view social class as divisive rather than integrative. They do not believe it is functional for society like the Functionalist, but they do agree it is inevitable within capitalist societies. However, they also argue that there is conflict of interest between the two classes. Hence one day the proletariat will gain true class consciousness, become a class for itself instead of a class by itself, and overthrow the bourgeoisie. Only when this happens, and the means of production are communally owned will classes disappear. Marx for his part, refused to acknowledge class in terms of such categories as occupation, but rather in terms of a deeper understanding of property relations, control and ownership vis-à-vis the proletariat.

There have been many criticisms made of Marx's theory of social class. Peter Saunders (1990) rejects the Marxist view that such a small group of people in society constitutes a capitalist ruling class. While he does not deny that the hundred largest companies produce more than half of Britain's manufacturing output, and therefore are 'responsible for taking the bulk of the key financial and administrative decisions' which influences...
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