Weberian Theory of Social Class

Weber's theory on social class

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Unlike Marx, Weber was not an economic determinist- the capitalist system was not the only reason for inequalities.

Weber set out a four tier class system based on occupation, life chances and opportunities for social mobility. This was:

  • The propertied upper class
  • The petty bourgeoisie (self employed, managers) (middle class)
  • White collar workers and technicians (lower middle class)
  • Manual workers (working class)

Because of differences in status, Weber was doubtful that there would ever be a revolution. There would be no class consciousness. 

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His theoretical approach was quite  different from that of Marxists and Functionalists, although, like Marxists, his was a conflict theory.

He was an action theorist and did tend to focus on the behaviour of individuals rather than structures. He did use Marx’s theory of class as a starting point.

Instead of focusing on people’s relationships with the means of productions (which he did think was important) he was important in people’s market situation and statusAs well as class, a person’s status was also important.

Class and status combined would have an effect on a person’s life chance. These are the opportunities and lifestyle a person has e.g. money, health, education, longevity.

Between class status and party, Weber saw class as most important. 

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He argued that as well as property ownership, we should consider occupational skills and how these led to different life chances, by being able to gain top salaried jobs without property ownership. This would mean that there are other social classes than the bourgeoisie and proletariat; middle class and working class. Within these classes there were differences. Professionals (lawyers, accountants)  have a higher status than, say, office workers; skilled manual workers (carpenters, builders) have a higher status than road sweepers, shop assistants.

He was interested in the fact that status could come from different sources of power like gender, religion.

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He noted that status was also linked to conspicuous consumption. This is linked to money and to some degree social class, although there are people who can spend this type of money without having status or being in a high social class e.g. Lottery winners.

Saw society as a large number of different layers (gender, class, ethnicity, age, disability) each competing with those around them for power and wealth.

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Weber Theory Terms

STATUS: Their social position in terms of respect and power. Of course, a person’s status can be related to their social class, but not always.

PARTY: This is the political influence a person might gain through membership a pressure groups and other organised interest groups. Also membership with clubs brings to mind the old boys’ network.

STATUS GROUPS: People stereotype a person according to the group in which they belong (gender, ethnicity, religion, intelligence). This can give people in a group a shared identity, which could mean that perhaps the working class could can class consciousness through their status

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Positive Points

More realistic than Marxism in that Weber considers other factors that affect a person’s position in society

High status and political power can be achieved without economic resources

Weber considers the effect of being part of different social groups on a person’s status and life chances- gender, ethnicity.

Weber points out the important of party on influencing status

Weber’s stratification theory is used today to form class scales (NS-SEC)

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Savage points out that status may not be so important in shaping a person’s identity. People are modest or do not want to openly demonstrate their ‘cultural superiority’.

Weber’s class system doesn’t include people who don’t work. This implies that status is based on occupation.

Although Weber acknowledges that each class has a wide boundary of jobs, which does not help with clearly understanding the status of each group.

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