Compare and contrast the Marxist and Weberian theories of social class. Why do you think Marx emphasises relations of production in the formation of classes whilst Weber suggests the market and consumption are the important factors?
All human societies have been class based in some way, shape or form and, interpreting this in the most basic way, it can be said that in every known human society there has been a fundamental division between two broad social groups, the buorgeoisie that own and control the means of production, and the proletariat who own nothing but their ability to sell their labour power (that is, their ability to work) in return for wages. The anger and dissent over the differences in social classes has never wavered over countless centuries, and has aroused many upheavals of society throughout history and has been the subject of a myriad of debates. Two theories that stand out are those of Karl Marx and Max Weber, both with the same fundamental core of the underlying connection between social relations to resources and material interests, but contrasting in different ideologies.
Marx's theory of class focuses on the relations of production, involving exploitation and domination, between a class of owners of the means of production and a class of non owner workers. For Marx, classes are defined and structured by the relations concerning work, labour and ownership or possession of property and the means of production. Although Marx did not complete the manuscript that would have presented his overall view of social class, many of his writings concern the class structures of capitalism, the relationship among classes, the dynamics of class struggle, political power and classes, and the development of a classless society.
While Marx saw class divisions as the most important source of social conflict Weber discusses class in the context of social stratification much more generally. Weber believed there to be four major social classes- the working Class: (automation of work) the petty bourgeoisie (a term used by Marx), propertyless intelligentsia and specialists (e.g. technicians; white-collar employees; civil servants) and classes privileged through property and education. Weber identified that the possession of material resources, accumulated by advantage in the marketplace, results in distinctive qualities in terms of the standard of living-ownership of property defined the main class difference.
Property ownership in the sense of social classes is an area where Marx and Weber seem to resonate; both see it as the most fundamental source of class division in capitalism. Classes are defined by Marx as the relation to the means of production, the relation being ownership and control over resources used in production. Similarly, Weber (p927)3 writes,“‘Property’ and ‘lack of property’ are, therefore, the basic categories of all class situations.” Both see propertylessness as an essentially coercive condition, as Weber states that those who are propertyless “have nothing to offer but their labor or the resulting products and....are compelled to get rid of these products in order to subsist at all.” (p927). Although the issue of class occupies such a different place within the general theories of Marx and Weber – for Marx class is a foundational concept for his theoretical structure, for Weber it is relatively minor concept that only features in limited parts of his work – the concepts of class in the work of Weber and Marx have a great deal in common. Both Marx and Weber present relational concepts of class- classes are derived from an account of systematic interactions of social actors situated in relation to each other. This can be seen in both Weber’s and Marx’s writings as classes are not primarily identified by quantitative names like upper, upper middle, middle, lower middle, and lower, but by qualitative names like capitalists and workers, debtors and creditors. Weber gave emphasis to the...
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