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Social Class. Marx in the 19 th Century and Weber in the early 20 th Century made important claims about social class. For Marx, class was grounded in.

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Presentation on theme: "Social Class. Marx in the 19 th Century and Weber in the early 20 th Century made important claims about social class. For Marx, class was grounded in."— Presentation transcript:

1 Social Class

2 Marx in the 19 th Century and Weber in the early 20 th Century made important claims about social class. For Marx, class was grounded in the production of commodities (things that are produced by human labor and can be exchanged for money). Under capitalism, unlike slavery, workers are not commodities, but their labor power is. Workers’ ability to work has a price (wage). The fundamental class distinction in a capitalist society is between those who must sell their labor and those who buy it. Therefore the two basic classes are capitalists and workers. There are of course many other people: professionals, managers, intellectuals, artists, and so on who live in capitalist society without being clearly a capitalist or a worker. Even these “classes” must often sell their labor.

3 For Weber, power is divided into three different categories. – Class – unequal distribution of economic power and life chances. – Status – prestige or honor based on noneconomic characteristics (race, ethnicity, education, being an “old” family, etc.) – Party – access to larger forms of institutional power such as corporations or the state

4 Class Stratification based on economic and status characteristics In the 20 th century sociologists studying the U.S. class structure have tended to focus on socioeconomic status based on wealth, income, occupation, education, race, gender and some other factors. In some studies these are reduced to income, occupation, and education. The Upper Class (the wealthy, large employers, industrialists, financiers, plus top executives) – roughly the top 1% in wealth Upper Middle Class (second tier executives, professionals) Middle Class (most white-collar workers and professionals) – Old middle class (small business, shop owners, farmers, some professionals) – Lower middle class (office staff, sales representatives, teachers, nurses, fire & police officers, etc.) Working Class (blue-collar and service workers) Lower Class (poor, unskilled, weak attachment to the labor market) This typology is common in everyday life, but is somewhat limited in social scientific utility. The categories are not entirely mutually exclusive.

5 What, if anything, is the middle class? The concept "middle class" is one of the most enigmatic yet frequent in the social sciences.' Historians, in this case no more vague, toss the term about with gay abandon. Think of what the word can connote: The triumphant industrialist, with his satellite professionals as allies, ultimately forming a new ruling class, revolutionary when needed but prone to a quick return to the policies of order and not revolutionary at all when aristocratic or Tory foes had been disposed of. Relatedly, a class imbued with strong cultural values which conveyed a personalized amalgam of Enlightenment-cum-Calvinist ideals and changed the mentality of society, through "social control," well beyond the class itself. But also the Nazis and anti-Semites, the fighters against modernity, and not only in Germany. Property owners but also nonowners who picked up a perhaps "false" but durable class consciousness. Finally, the pervasive bourgeois, a term applicable to both modernizers and anti-modernizers. The cultural philistine, the husband who slept, and may still sleep, at concerts he was dragged to by his wife. The avaricious early capitalist, the gaudy social climber, but also the reader of serialized romantic stories or, more recently, the housewife glued to soap operas. Images could be multiplied, but the point is clear. We're dealing with a peculiar beast and quite possibly with several beasts. I would urge that social class be viewed, more precisely that middle class be viewed, as a heuristic device. At the data level such recognition is vital lest we bury individual diversity into false uniformities. Family-to-family consumption patterns or political behavior simply do not follow formulas. Peter N. Stearns “The Middle Class: Towards a Precise Definition.” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 21(3):

6 Erik Olin Wright’s Conception Ways of conceiving class – Subjective location – Objective position within distributions – Relational explanation of economic life chance – Historical variation in systems of inequality – Foundation of economic oppression and exploitation Three main classes – Bourgeoisie (control over capital and labor – Proletariate (no control over capital or labor) – Petite Bourgeoisie (control over capital but not over labor) Contradictory class positions of managers – Top managers (control over capital and labor) – Middle managers (some control over capital and labor) – Technocrats (minimal control over capital and labor) – Foremen/supervisors (minimal control over capital and labor)





11 Class Matters: NY Times Special Series A team of reporters spent more than a year exploring ways that class - defined as a combination of income, education, wealth and occupation - influences destiny in a society that likes to think of itself as a land of unbounded opportunity. ndex.html

12 Gini Index of Inequality Measures the extent to which the distribution of income (or consumption) among individuals or households within a country deviates from a perfectly equal distribution. A Lorenz curve plots the cumulative percentages of total income received against the cumulative number of recipients, starting with the poorest individual or household. The Gini index measures the area between the Lorenz curve and a hypothetical line of absolute equality, expressed as a percentage of the maximum area under the line. A value of 0 represents absolute equality, a value of 100 absolute inequality. Human Development Report Gini Index Gini-Coefficient at

13 Gini Ratios for Families in the United States 1947 to 2008 from Table F4: Historical Income Inequality Tables

14 International Distribution of Gini Coefficients The histogram shows the Gini coefficient for 141 countries around the world between 1992 and The United States is marked in black on the histogram. The 20 th percentile is 33.0, the median is 39.5, and the 80 th percentile is 48.2

15 The 5 most equal countries – Denmark 24.7 – Japan 24.9 – Sweden 25 – Norway 25.8 – Czech Republic 25.8 The 5 least equal countries – Angola 58.6 – Haiti 59.5 – Botswana 61 – Comoros 64.3 – Namibia 74.3

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