Stratification Theory- Weber

Topics: Sociology, Social class, Max Weber Pages: 20 (5447 words) Published: May 15, 2010
A-Level Sociology
Teaching Notes

Social Inequality:
Theories: Weber

In most sociology textbooks that discuss the work of Marx and Weber you will, eventually, come across the phrase that Weber's work on social stratification represents a,

"Dialogue with the ghost of Marx".

Since this is a textbook of sorts, there seems little reason to break with tradition and not give the cliché yet another airing...

So, while the above quotation may be a rather hackneyed phrase (to me and countless long-suffering sociology examiners, if not to you, since you're probably encountering it for the first time), it does sensitise us to a couple of major ideas (my advice here is to remember these ideas and forget about trying to sneak the quotation into your exam).

1. That Weber addressed many of the same concerns addressed by Marx. 2. That Weber came to substantially different conclusions to those interpreted by Marx.

While this should come as no great surprise if you've been studying sociology for some time (and I would suggest that it's probably a good idea to have gained some experience in handling sociological ideas and concepts before you attempt to tackle the concept of social stratification in any depth) - sociologists frequently interpret evidence in radically different ways - it should alert you to the fact that there are a number of clear differences between the ideas, arguments and conclusions put forward by Weber and Marx in relation to social stratification. The task of these Notes, therefore, is to help you understand and evaluate both Weber's ideas and their relationship to Marxist ideas.

Before we continue any further however, it might be useful to note that, for theoretical purposes, I've classified Weber as a "Conflict Theorist", for three good reasons:

a. Firstly, because that is my interpretation of his general sociology.

b. Secondly, because he talks in terms of the way in which social structures condition human behaviour. Weber recognizes the way in which structural relations theorized at the level of social class, status and power affect human behaviour and consciousness and his interpretation of this relationship makes him, I would suggest, rather different to Interactionist sociologists.

c. Although Weber puts more emphasis than most structuralist sociologists on the importance of human consciousness and subjectivity, he does not make this the focus of his research. On the contrary, like most Conflict theorists, Weber analyses the nature of human consciousness within a structural context - he may have come to different conclusions to Marxist Conflict theorists, but he appears to have more in common with the latter (in terms of his central sociological concerns) than with Interactionist perspectives.

However, since the whole "perspective question" is such a significant one in relation to A-level sociology, this might be a good place to note a number of points raised by Mary Maynard ("Sociological Theory") in relation to the whole idea of "sociological perspectives"...

A. How Social Stratification Is Defined.

Unlike Marx, Weber's analysis of social stratification was not rooted in or linked to any attempt to formulate a general "historical analysis" of social development. While, in common with Marx, Weber argued that "class stratification" had a clear and important economic dimension, he believed that two other related dimensions of stratification, namely:

a. Status and
b. Party (or political power)

needed to be included if a full analysis and understanding of the rich social variety of different forms of social stratification was to be obtained.

Thus, as has been suggested above, in order to understand the relative significance of Weber's "three dimensions of stratification":

a. Class
b. Status and
c. Party

we need initially to know how they are both defined and inter-related and, in order to do this we need to...
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