Weber and class

Weber and class


Lets look Max Weber’s understanding of class. In his unfinished text, Economy and Society,
published in 1922, Weber wrote about twenty pages on power and inequality, where he
distinguished three routes to power in modern
society: class, status, and organized power, or the term he used, “party”. Despite the brief, fragmentary and unfinished
nature of this work at the time of Webers death, it had a major impact on the development of
theories of inequality in sociology. Its often said that Weber agreed with Marx about
the importance of class in society, but went beyond Marx in developing a more complex and
multi-dimensional framework. This framework included status and party, as
well as class. In his view class, status and party are all aspects
of the distribution of power in society. He defined power as, the ability of one or more
people to ‘realize their own will in a social action
even against the resistance of others.’ He pointed out that people may pursue power as
a means to an end, such as gaining wealth, or as
an end in itself. He seems to have believed, like the philosopher
Friedrich Nietzsche, that the struggle for power is at the centre of human social life. It is the unequal distribution of power, and the
differential ability of people to achieve their objectives which produces social inequality. Weber says that a class is made up of people
who share the same or similar economic
interests. They have a similar level of control over skills and
goods, and the income they can make from them. This, in turn, gives them a typical probability of
‘gaining a position in life,’ ‘procuring goods’ and
‘finding inner satisfactions.’ While there are various controls that exist over
different types of assets, goods and skills, each one, in principle, creates a particular class
situation. This means that there are potentially an enormous
number of different classes in society, since control and assets vary widely between people
and exist in different combinations. Weber, however, telescopes the potentially large
number of classes into just three: A property class, a commercial class and a
social class. A property class is based on the differences in
people’s property including wealth, capital,
shares, and so on. Weber describes those with property as typically
being rentiers who receive income from their
different assets. A commercial class is based on differences in
the marketability of the goods and services people control, such as entrepreneurial
management skills, political lobbying skills and
specialist expertise or qualifications. Weber describes the privileged members of this
class as typically being entrepreneurs. Weber also divides each of these classes in two,
between the positively privileged who control valuable property or highly marketable goods and
services, and the negatively privileged
who lack these things to varying degrees. He goes beyond that to specify various middle
classes which fall in between the positively and
negatively privileged groups in each class. The third type of class that Weber identifies is
social class. A social class includes all those in similar
positions with regard to ‘individual and
generational mobility.’ That is, the ability to move up within a
stratified economic system in relation to one’s
starting point or that of one’s parents’. Here Weber identifies four main social classes:
those ‘privileged through property and education;’ ‘the propertyless intelligentsia,’ technical
specialists and civil servants; ‘the petty bourgeoisie’ (typically independent
artisans, farmers, traders, and professional
people); and the working class, particularly as the work
process is increasingly automated. Weber thought that power is also distributed in
society through status differences. He defines status as ‘an effective claim to social
esteem’ which can be positive or negative in its
evaluation and consequences for people. That is, people can be accorded high, middle or
low levels of status and be judged by others as
their superiors, equals or inferiors in terms of social esteem. For example, a doctor, a teacher
or a minister of religion will usually be ranked
relatively high in terms of social esteem, while accountants and real-estate agents will usually
be ranked a bit lower in terms of social status. Judgements based on status can then affect
how others relate to those people and how they
behave. Although Weber did not discuss this himself, the
concept of status is important in understanding
any social distinctions that don’t have an economic or financial foundation. Gender, race,
ethnicity, and age are all examples of differences in social status, in Weber’s sense of the term,
referring to forms of social categorisation that
have significant social effects. Status differences are not based on class
position, and will often cut across and intersect
with class distinctions. Weber also identified a third form of inequality
which he called “party”. He was referring not just to political parties, but to
any organised associations of individuals which try to gain social power in a planned and goal-
driven way. That is, they aim to influence the very nature and
direction of social life. He maintains that parties can only arise within
groups which have a rational order to them, and
members who enforce that order. While the concept of a ‘party’ can refer to political
parties, its meaning is actually broader than that. It could also refer to business councils, trade
unions, professional associations, non-government organisations, peak bodies or
factions within any of these organisations. In principle, parties can exist in a variety of larger
social communities, ranging from social clubs to
the state itself. They may be driven by a cause they believe in, a
desire to obtain the spoils of office for their leaders and followers, or some combination of
the two. Class, status and party are, argues Weber,
analytically distinct dimensions of social
inequality. In real life, however, these different
elements are less distinct, they can interact with
each other to reinforce, undercut or complicate the standing and prospects of particular people
or groups For example, a person could rank highly on one
dimension, such as class, but rank in the middle or low on other dimensions, such as status and
party. A casino owner, for example, could rank highly in
terms of class and party, but have low social
status. A minister of religion might be of low class but
have high social status. This multidimensional way of understanding
social inequality enables a more sophisticated analysis, than one confined to just a single
dimension, such as class or status.

5 thoughts on “Weber and class

  1. Hi goodevening can u help me answer this question :
    Discuss the extent to which it can be argued that race and not class determines the position on an individual in the stratification system in the Caribbean.

  2. thank you sir, kindly make more videos on sociology's topics. i would love if you do a simulation and simuclra! 💪

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