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The Approaches Of Marxist Stratification Sociology Essay

This essay aims to provide an analysis of Marx’s approach to stratification with a focus on interpretation of stratification in contemporary societies following a brief outline of Marxist class analysis with relevance to concepts of exploitation, surplus value, class consciousness, solidarity, inequality, and hierarchy. The concept of stratification will also be examined in historical development via a summary with its key terms. Other approaches to stratification will be excluded in the essay as the main concern for the essay is analysis of Marxist theory on stratification in post-modern era. The central questions of which the essay seeks to answer are whether the priorities of Marx are completely different from those of social scientists in the 21st century in class analysis or whether they had points different from those and in common together; to what extent the differences are and whether they cause a significant failure or gap in Marxist class analysis as mentioned by some social scientists or more importantly whether they empower the contributions of Marx into class relations theory. Answers may vary according to the literature on critique of Marxism.

“Social stratification” describes the systematic structures of inequality in societies. (Crompton, 1998: 1) Scott describes “social stratification” as “its internal division into a hierarchy of distinct social groups, each having specific life chances and a distinctive style of life.” (2007:1) Stratification analysis seeks how inequalities occur within and between generations. Here there is a difference between inequality and stratification as Bottero explains by referring to Duncan that “social stratification refers to the existence of positions in a hierarchy of inequality within a generation for a life time more importantly between generations towards a transmission” (2005: 3) In pre-modern hierarchies divisions were specified mainly based on religious values basically and then privileges and culture, later on status groups additional to the previous divisions. (Scott, 2007: 6-8) In post-modern era, it had a more complicated pattern of strata over time and such change was due to changes in the scope and use of term “class”. New patterns such as age, gender, race, ethnic origin, nationality…etc. carried through modern era as strata categories under modern stratification. As Crompton (1998:9) refers there are scientists such as Pahl, Holton and Turner, Pakulski and Waters; Clark and Lipset, arguing class is useless; dead or due to die in modern societies. However Crompton (1998) argues in favor of the argument that “class” is still a major concept in understanding contemporary stratification systems.

The developments of the last fifty years in social stratification people’s lives are influenced by class, gender, race, ethnic roots, sexual orientation, nationality…etc. they belong to or they are in relation with. An individual may have status of or be in relation with any of the new categories simultaneously. As a result of verified sub-divisions in socio-economic class status of people in modern societies, it is more complicated to address specific groups able to get organized under a class-conscious or at least self-conscious unity which are amongst the core issues of Classical Marxism. New non-class categories have in common that they generate burden and negative affects over those oppressed and propertyless workers of modern societies through unequal opportunity of access to scarce resources. This stratified structure is unlikely to be transformed to an equal society due to diversification preventing class-consciousness and revolution via organized movement which is the requirement of establishing an equal society in Marxist analysis.(???? OR OWN ???????)

As mentioned above Marx believed in the possibility of transformation in the capitalist system based on private property via common ownership. Through becoming aware of their shared identity the working class will act for their own interests, and the developments in economic relationships, according to Marx, will soon bring social change. Thus in Marxist formula class position leads to class action through class consciousness. (????) In other words, “Marx saw stratification in terms of a class society, founded upon economic relations of class conflict.” (Bottero, 2005: 34)

Although Marx has offered one of the earliest and most complete interpretations of modernization and included all the paradoxes and conflicts in detail in his analysis of capitalist modernization (Harvey, 2004: 99), Marxism is criticized by scientists studying on the new community movements incorporating new concepts of non-class structure of modern societies such as race, gender, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, nationality…etc. which were excluded or at least not considered important in Marxist class analysis. (?????? OR OWN ?????) The critiques of those scientists are mainly focused on the class-reductionism of Marxism in which people are realized only through their class identities and positions in economic production system. Therefore Marxism is also criticized for isolating people from their relationships over the contemporary non-class concepts. A critic on sex-blindness and race-blindness of Marxism also accompanies critiques on class-reductionism. “Post-Marxist approach therefore seeks a new understanding of class concept with the new structure of society placing class concept to a less central position as classism together with sexism, racism, homophobia, industrialism…etc.” (Dyer-Witheford, 1999: 11-4)

However, in response to critiques to Marxism, Roberts (1996: 185) indicates that “a Marxist analysis cannot be a theory of class stratification” as he approaches to the “class” concept not from its comparability in terms of differences such as wealth, status, language but rather from its penetrability by each. Parallel to this explanation, it is emphasized by Engels (1974: 885-86) in the third volume of capital that even in England as a country of which economic development was markedly high and classic for Marxist approach, the class stratification does not appear in its pure form. This exception is sampled with the elimination of the boundaries by middle strata especially in the cities. Nevertheless it is not considered as issue of concern in Marxist analysis. Johnston (1986: 17-8; 89) mentions the class position of managers under Marxist analysis of capitalist domination relations. In Marxist class analysis lower managers and supervisors are exposed to exploitation by their labor force on the one hand and are also in a dominant position over the working class, which place them into a middle class position in class divisions. Although this determination is still valid within modern working class positions, proletarianization varies significantly across sex-race categories as derived from a systematic investigation study on American class structure. Although Marxists reject the importance of occupational classification in the paper it is shown that occupational differences especially in relation with race and sex occur empirically. (Wright et.al., 1982: 709; 719; 724-5)

There is reference to involvement of women in labour force with children as a result of capitalist enforcement over man in incorporating his family into wage-earning in for “maintaining his family”. According to Marx and Engels (1974: Volume 1: 372-3), this involvement places man into a “slave-dealer” position as a “free agent” on the one hand and capitalists into a more powerful position in expoiting surplus-value on the other hand. Here, woman is a new commodity for the market as supplement to man for family but also as an alternative to man for capitalism. Similarly, in “Division of Labour” section of Capital, the concepts of tribe and family are used in terms of relationships; sex and age are used as the forms of division. Marx remarks that “the relationships between those are based on the exchange of products amongst different groups. Such exchange does not generate the different forms of production but rather it forms differentiated scales of inter-dependency of the “collective production” ” (1974, Volume 1: 331-2), which means another emphasis on production relations rather than the characteristic relationships of each group in itself and between each other for age, sex and tribe. Although it is emphasized that there was a considerable inequality between women and men, a theoretical frame was not drawn by Marx and Engels in their class analysis. At this point Loomba (1998: 35-43????) reminds that not only they, also other social scientists did not succeed to produce a theory on women exploitation with either its economic or ideological dimensions till feminist theorists do this. Although there are some critiques of disparities in feminist theory as in Marxist theory; due to having one-sided approach to class and non-class divisions among women and exclusion of patriarchy, these will be excluded in the scope of the essay.

It is obviously much more discernable that capitalists, through capitalist division of labor, take advantage of the societal sexual, racial or ethnic identity distinction in large extent to establish their control hierarchies in the 21st century than in Marx’s era. (Dyer-Witheford, 1999: 14) Harvey (2004) argues that, as change under post-modernism is not new or undefined for historical materialism, the new version of the known period can be explained by it, and moreover it can be theorationalized through Marxist analysis of capitalist development. Roberts points at the domination concept as a central issue over class relations and states that domination, either supported by class (central to Marxist analysis) or ethnic/racial or gender divisions (central to current labor market analysis), does not change in use at all. Thus unlike Harvey, he asserts that Marxist class theory can overcome the failure in covering explanations for “multiple oppression” of contemporary societies. (1997: 187) Munck, Harvey and Fenton find out significant similarities of modern society and society of Marx’s period in the context of financial flow of money, trade (even conducted on electronic environment in 21st century), surplus-value on a large-scale economy called “global” (Munck, 2002: 85) as well as revenge of capital for compromises such as increase on wages, reduction in work hours, early pension schemes through intensification and accelerated work to be done; for instance telecommiting (Harvey, 2004: 231-4) or call centres under the pressure of an unemployed labor army consisting mainly of ethnic minorities, women and migrants (Fenton, 1999). Wright (Roemer, 1986: 138) summarizes this similarity over the availability of empirical evidence states that “in contemporary capitalism…the data are systematically consistent with the proposed conceptualization of class in terms of relations of exploitation” Sennett (1998: ? ) makes an emphasis on “false consciousness” occurring dramatically amongst the working classes of contemporary societies compatible with that of Marx’s class analysis and Loomba (??????) points at the importance of “misrepresentation” process addition to “false consciousness” especially observed between different races or migrant groups as the probable causes for their unemployment by referring to explanations of Marx and Engels on these misleading types.

Although it is not a central concern of Marxist theory international migration is assumed as the inequalities on international level between the developed and undeveloped countries (Hammar et.al., 1997) which means the international division of labor consisting of oppressed countries as periphery or oppressor countries as core and Marxist analysis provides invaluable explanations for such large-scale economy as a period in the historical development of capitalism. Castles and Miller identify the position of ethnic minorities inferior to ruling groups under the label of inherited characteristics such as race, ethnic origin or culture. Self-consciousness of these groups is based on shared values differentiated from those of ruling. (2003: 33)

As a response to the question of whether Marxist analysis is valid in contemporary society, Wright (2005; 191) points at the necessity of class theory for explaining the conflicts based on non-class identifications, Dyer-Witheford (1999: 96) mentions the wage hierarchy of which the women, unemployed ethnic minorities take place at the bottom and serve as surplus value for capital and the importance of interpreting Marx’s analysis by bearing in mind its heterogeneity and differentiation in itself over time however in consistency entirely; in other words in a continual historical development of ideas. Harvey’s emphasis that “diverseness or otherness are not the concepts to be added on class and production relations in basic Marxist categories, rather they should be an attempt to comprehend the evolutional dialectics of society” (2004: 355) provides a support for Dyer-Witheford.

In summary, Marx did use the historical perspective in analyzing the division of labor and class; therefore he did not approach to these concepts as social scientists of modern era. The important fact he emphasized in his period was the influence of the scarcity of resources which was a motivation for division of labor. This interpretation of division shed light on and provided basis to explanations of contemporary social scientists. Although there’s an obvious gap of reference to the concepts of contemporary class identity such as race, gender or ethnicity in Marxist literature; Marxism offers an invaluable and valid analysis of hierarchical structure of capitalist mode of production guiding social scientists in understanding new concepts of identities in stratification within the continual process of capitalist social relations. Marxist theory, needs comprehension of new non-class structure of contemporary capitalist societies with a focus on the relations of sub-groups to each other as well as to production, property, the entire hierarchical structure in order to provide explanations of nontraditional patterns and attitudes of new work and labor which will enable Marxists understanding new trends over sympathy to united and organized workforce of each of those categories.

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