Evaluation of marxist theory of social class

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'Marx believed that our society was in a state of continual conflict between the working class and upper class, evaluate the Marxist theory of social class using Functionalism, Weberian, and postmodern theories of class'.

Social Stratification is the way society puts people into certain categories based upon a system of hierarchy. This system has continued over generations, those who are born into a more wealthy family are believed to have more of a chance of receiving better health and education, having a head start, over society, that remains in the lower part of wealth. Inequality follows generation to generation.

Class system allocates a person by sex, colour, or by social background. Stratification is a form of meritocracy, how well one does relates to how one is rewarded. Do we necessarily need this form of division into day's society, as today's society provides equal opportunities? Some sociologist insists even in today's society we need this division.

According to Marx believe that all of our history has always been a history of class struggle, this struggle they say came about at the end of the hunting and gathering society as industry began to evolve. Marxist theory is that that class struggle has shown through ancient stavey Feudalism and capitlism. Class is the product of the mode of production of a society. The mode of production is made up from the relationship between the means of production and that of social production. The means of production is that of landowners and machinery, [bourgeoisie] and that raw materials and labour belong to the poor the [proletariats].

The social relationship of Marxism refers to this as that of economics between rich and poor. This theory is based purely upon economics of wealth. The driving force in nearly all of society is the conflict between the rich and the poor. [Marx &Angles 1970]

Marx has been accused of being a determinist and a reductionist. Many things are not related purely on economics, his perception of the class system neglects to include the petty - bourgeoisie, those who own small businesses and only employ themselves. He did not foresee the improvements of living standards for all of society or the impact of the middle class. He did not include countries such as Russia and China who might revolt and denounce communism. He did not foresee the fact that our society is a democratic one and that all have the right to equality and farness. Nor did he predict nor could he have done that western society would become a very wealthy one.

Marx's perception on Marxism was not what he wanted; he suggests that capitalism is the newest type of class and that it will also be the last. Eventually he says it will be replaced by a communist society in which the means of production will be communally owned. As the bourgeoisie use the superstructure of advertising and along with politics and education to suppress. The proletariats by creating false class consciousness the transmission to communism will not evolve until class consciousness develops.

Weberianisms [Weber 1947] Max Weber's theory on class status sees this as separate but related source of power which in turn has separate but related affects on people's life chances. He defines class in terms of market positions, in their positions and of their skills and qualifications he also recognises that the working class have a range of chances to better themselves. Webber's theory indicates that a person's inequality comes from class inequality.

This theory is based upon a person's occupation and how high they are, in general a higher occupation gains a higher social standing. He also recognises that it is possible to achieve a higher status via other routes such as, race, gender, religion or through politics. He also indicates that some status was linked to consumption style in as much as designer clothes posh cars bigger houses. Unlike Marx, Webber recognises a three tier class structure

[1] class-economic relationship

[2] status-perceived status

[3] party-third dimension political power.

Webber defined social class into four clusters of occupation.

[1] privileged [property & education]

[2] Petty bourgeoisies [self-employed & managers]

[3] White collar workers &technicians [lwc]

[4] Manual workers [wc]

Webber did influence the way in which class is operationalised [Goldthorpe scale and the NS-SEC scale] He states that the differences in status prevents the different classes banding together for a revolution as they have no common identity. In Webbers theory he puts status above class.

Marx's theory on the inevitability of class conflict determinant of inequality has some input into Weber's theory as he states that class are economic categories organised around things such as homes and businesses. He does indicate that it should recognise occupations skills as there is a chance to make life chances among the working and middle classes. Weber however did influence the way in which class is operationalised in as much as the Goldthorpe scales and the NS.SEC scales, he states that the differences in status prevent different classes banding together for a revolution as they have no common identity. Weber puts status of groups above that of class status.

This is a census theory based upon each part is interrelated learning, leading to equilibrium. Individuals can fulfil their rightful occupations according to their education and skills. Functionalism believes that we live in a shared culture. Functionalism believes that this is a fair and just way. Their theory argues that stratification and inequality equal a positive function for society, and that stratification is a big contributor to our social order. All of society needs to ensure that the most senior positions are filled by those who have the education and skills knowledge and efficiency to perform these rolls

Davis & Moore: some principles of stratification [1945]

This theory started with observations that stratification exists in all human societies; therefore it is a universal picture of human society, just as much as religion and of crime. This they infer it must be functional.

"A device in which society ensures that the most important positions are conscientiously filled by the most qualified persons"

Functionalist's theory is based on meritocracy and that its function is:

[1] Income based.

[2] Occupation.

[3] High and low achievements.

[4] Education.

Functionalist says that we all have the opportunity to climb the ladder, based upon our achievements. As this theory is based on rewards higher jobs equal higher rewards, but it has been shown that not all jobs are based upon knowledge and labour intensive and the rewards are not just. Some would argue that gaining the extra education to fulfil many job criteria is an achievement and reward in its self. Employment can be inherited or bought, education and skill is not questioned.

Functionalists seemed to have misplaced those who gain a higher position without necessarily having the qualifications or skills need to perform efficiently, as they have either inherited the position from a family member, or they have bought into that position. There are dysfunctions of stratification that have been overlooked; these includes the elderly, the poor [unemployed] and those who have disability and health problems. All of whom have a right to be recognised and included in society. This theory seems to be in line with that of Marx's and Weber's theory and it benefits those who are already on the top of the ladder and puts obstacles in the way of others.

Post - Modernists sociologists take the view that with the decline of our manufacturing and engineering building it is the media and culture that is now our main economic consideration. As the media's coverage is worldwide so they shape our relationship with society. [Baudrillard 1993] states that for him the world is incapable of truth, unable to see reality from fiction.

Towler [1996] identifies two issues that can be associated with postmodernism. He states that it's a society that follows after modern societies, which he says is now information rich globally and we now have many sub=groups and cultures. His second issue is that it's a way of knowing the world which questions the Nature of truth.

Strinatr [1992] Postmodernism works to come to terms with a media -saturated society

Kaplan [1987] identifies pop and rock videos as examples of post-modernist culture as they have no notion of narrative structure.

Paluski & Walters [1996] have argued that the class structure no longer exist as social change has evolved, such as globalisation. This they say means that class divisions have now become status divisions.

Post-modernist theory believes in a social order in which the importance and the strength of media and of culture govern and shape forms of social relationships. They suggest that media plays such an important role in our society that we are controlled by what we see and hear; we clothe ourselves accordingly and buy homes suggested by media interpretation.

This theory bases its ideas on the principle that society can no long be truthful, and that are unable to tell the difference of reality from fiction. We as societies are now conditioned to the point of doing what the media say are the norm. They say that capitalist or industrial societies have reached a new stage in our development that we have moved from being a modernist society to a post-modernist society. [Featherstone1991]. As this is a reasonably new theory there is not much information to really come to a formed conclusion.

This theory is relatively unfair and bias towards the rich, but because of false class consciousness taught at an early age and the media it is not looked upon as unfair. The lower end of society is taught that capitalism is a fair and natural cause to follow. This theory is based on a two tier system and capitalist so it's know as a conflict theory, as it causes conflicts between master and slave relationship. This theory produces unequal social relations and that makes it also an exploited motion. This theory does not differentiate between gender, ethnicity, sexuality and age. The one good thing that did come from Marx was his theory was the communist revolution of countries like Russia and China, it's been said that Carl Marx had a bigger impact on people than that of Christ or Mohammed.

Was Marx's theory of per petulant conflict between the proletariats and of the bourgeoisies realistic? Was he as accused, a determinist and a reductionist? Is class stratification worked out purely by economics? This Assignment has looked at four different opinions of class stratification and their theories. Studies have shown that not all class is based upon wealth, and yes conflict does occur but not to the extent of Marx's theory. Whether he was a reductionist or a determinist is not really this writers place to comment. However feels that Marx was only looking through tunnelled vision, as he did not recognise that even the poor have rights, have a place in society. The poor's input into society is little agreed but they have to be considered as they need to live, need to eat, need to be cared for.

Max Weber does not include the unemployed or the elderly; he did however help considerably towards the new scales of class allowing for the working class to better themselves. Weber believes that as lower class has no identity with the middle class they will not come together for revolt, he was blinded to the fact that society is human and our first instinct is to survive, and if that means a coming together of different classes for a common cause, they would.

Functionalism recognises that the working class are as valuable as the middle class allowing for furthering and developing their skills. Their theory omits the people who inherit or buy or use politics to gain wealthy jobs, and again the old and infirm are missed out.

Post-modernist view is that we are mere machines and act dress and consume what the media determines is right for this society. That we have become so overwhelmed by music, TV and media that we are unable to think for ourselves. Have we really become so besotted with artificial items we can no longer tell what is truth or lies? Can we no longer tell the difference between make believe and reality. There is no solid evidence to show that all households have a television computer or radio.

Into days society where we have humanity and respect for others does class stratification come into it. Yes we need a tiered structure to enforce peace and law otherwise the world would polarise and collapse. Does economic wealth make you better person? Are the elderly and infirm the dregs of society?

However Post modernist might just be right in today's society of no class stratification, as people tend to place wealth on branded items, the poorest of society could perceive to be wealthier that their class standing by wearing a pair of branded trainers. Marx maybe right in saying society needs to be a capitalist one. Functionalists seem bias towards the wealth along with Marx and Weber.Whoever may be right or wrong, to be able to improve on life chances in general it is necessary to have a class structure.

Sharon Finch Sociology 22nd10 2010


[Anon](2010)Wikipedia [online].Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/Religious_stratification[Accessed:23rdjanuary2010]


Allen, C. (2010) lecturers notes post modernist [Accessed on 21october 2010]

Allen, C. (2010) lecturers notes Weberian [Accessed on 13th October 2010]

Allen, C. (2010) lecturers notes Marxism: structural conflict theory [Accessed on 13th October 2010]

Allen, C. (2010) lecturers notes Functionalism [Accessed on 19th October 2010]

Moore, S. Et, al.2002sociology for A2. London: Harper Collins.