Can we speak of a ‘classless society’?
Stratification is a concept we are faced with on a daily basis, whether it is a conscious or subconscious element of our lives. Class has been a dominant form of stratification in traditional views of society, but man’s evolution in thought, behaviour, outlook, organization and culture has led to critical criticism questioning the very existence of class itself: Does class still exist? Can we speak of a ‘classless society’? Analysing the role that class does or doesn’t play in modern society is interesting because we are our very own sources. Through first hand experiences of class we can determine the role it plays in our everyday lives. Class can be viewed both subjectively depending on how we think of ourselves, or objectively dealing with how we are structurally located in society. (Milner, 1999) Therefore, combining our subjective, micro-level understanding of class with a macro-level, objective analysis of class, we can determine the degree to which class persists in modern society.
The idea of stratification and class will continuously persist as it provides a foundation for organization and identity in society. Although the word ‘class’ will never die, the traditional role class plays in society has certainly died. ‘Social Class’ is the class of today; it has followed the death of the rigid, traditional and intolerant class of yesterday. Today people are more empowered and can take control of their social standing, an idea supported with the current social mobility and emergence of the middle class. ‘Social class’ classifies people in terms of gender, ethnicity, race, age, culture etc. Naturally, economic class continues to play its role in society, but it does so in harmony with other aspects of ‘social class.’ Class is disintegrating because people are becoming more individualistic. What matters today is how people see themselves, as opposed to how they are viewed by society. (Pakulski, et al., 1996). Traditionally, society consisted of inherited classifications between masters and slaves, and lords and peasants etc., which constituted the ‘natural’ way of association. There are certain parts of the world where people still live by their inherited class. In India for example there is a Caste System, in which every individual is categorized into divisions (colour, ancestors, rank). There are four main castes with various sub-castes and each have a large amount sub castes within them, furthermore outside the caste system are the ‘Untouchables’ who are oppressed and viewed as impure all the time. The four main castes:
A significant classical view of class is that of Marx. His traditional view of class contained two distinct classes: Bourgeoisie or the capitalist class, who own their own means of production, and the Proletariat or working class, who own their own labour. (Marx, et al., 1848) Exploitation between these two social groupings in the capitalist production process defined Marxist class (Pakulski, et al., 1996). The Marxist view is ‘real’ and ‘objective, furthermore its concerned with the different strata as a whole rather than the individuals within them (Saunders, P.1990). For Marx, social power was achieved purely through economic class. He viewed class as a rigid and positional aspect of society. Hence, his interpretations of class failed to account for the fluidity of modern class.
Conversely, Weber’s view of class is much more synonymous with the role class plays in modern society. He looks at class in terms of the cultural and social roles it plays in society and focuses more on stratification through consumption rather than production. (Pakulski, et al., 1996) He juxtaposes class as an economic relation with class as a social relation, unlike Marx who predominantly focused on economic class. Weber analysed class in terms of status and stratification in the light of:...
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Pakulski J and Malcolm W. (1996) The Death of Class. London: Sage.
Milner, A. (1999) Class. London: Sage.
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Giddens, A. (1994) Beyond Left and Right. Cambridge: Polity. Pp. 139-48
Marx, K. and Engels, F.  ‘Bourgeois and proletarians’, section 1 of The Communist Manifesto, in D. McLellan [ed.] (1977) Karl Marx: Selected Writings. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Pp. 222-231.
Prandy, K. 2002. Ideal Types, Stereotypes and Class. The British Journal of Sociology, Volume 53 number 4, page14.
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