Currently, there’re many people feeling confused about the definition of social class. It’s widely accepted that social class is defined as the hierarchical divisions of a capitalist society, in which wealth, income and occupation form the defining characteristics of each group. In the U.K., working, middle and upper class were the classic formulation of social class. However, in fact, the situation of working class seems to change all the time as there are tradition and new working class and there are many people interested in it. Therefore, this essay is going to critically evaluate the concept of working class in modern Britain.
As a functionalist, Parsons considered social stratification as inevitable because it’s originated from shared value which is an indispensable part in societies and as functional as it can be used to integrate various social groups. Additionally, power and prestige differential is crucial for integration of division of labour. The inequalities actually benefits society as collective goals based on shared value can be achieved. Parsons also believe in meritocracy which is based on a situation where high positions are appropriated on ‘merits’ such as skill meaning prestige can be achieved if someone exemplify common values.
Weber defined a class as a group of people sharing similar position in the market economy and receiving similar economic rewards and argued that a person’s class situation is basically their market situation where people sharing a similar class situation also share similar life chances. For Weber, status is also important but things like ‘property’ are not always recognized as status qualification. Therefore, people in same class situation would be not necessary in the same status group. Importantly, the existence of different status group within a class can weaken class solidarity and potential for consciousness.
Marx predicted that working class would be increasingly homogenous, with strong identity and middle class would be depressed into working class. For the depression, Marx argued that the competitive nature in capitalism society suggests that only the strongest businesses can survive meaning the middle class (petty bourgeois) like the boss of small businesses which is between bourgeois and proletariat cannot survive and sink into proletariat.
Similar to Marx, the theory of proletarianization implied that routine white-collar workers like clerks became proletariat as they share similarities like being without means of production and not important for capitalists. Additionally, Westergard estimated that earning of clerks in 1971 similar with average manual wage is much less than in 1913. Braverman (1974) also supported the theory of proletarianization because when the clerical workforce became bigger, work was reorganized making workers just a production line for mental work which is big contrast against situation in 1870 where they are similar with craft workers and had wide responsibilities. Additionally, because of compulsory education, many people can take the job making the bargaining power of clerk worse and thus they would sink into proletariat gradually.
Contrary to Marx’s prediction, there were some sociologists between 1950 and 1960 arguing that embourgeoisement took place whereby more and more manual workers were becoming middle class. It was thought that the theory of economic determinism could explain this development. At that time, the advanced industrialism needed a highly advanced and skilled workforce which would lead to higher pay and status occupations. Jessie Bernard argued that wealth of working-class has relation with the needs of an industrial economy for a mass market of consumer goods and when new technology increase productivity, workers are paid higher and economic change resulted in a growing middle class. Therefore, the supporters of embourgeoisement argued that the middle-range income result in middle-class lifestyle as...
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