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Outline and assess sociological explanations for class inequality.

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Introduction

Outline and assess sociological explanations for class inequality. There is much debate in sociology about whether class is still important. Many argue that class is no longer important as an individual's identity and life chances are based more status and cultural factors such as lifestyle, values, intelligence, education and the like, the post-modernists state that class has ceased to be the prime determinant of identity and suggest that societies are now organised around consumption rather than production, consequently people now identify themselves in terms of what they consume rather than in terms of social-class position. Class identity has therefore fragmented into numerous separate and individualised identities. Others argue that class is still a central influence on people's lives, that it affects their life chances (health, education, voting, social mobility etc.), they argue that class inequality exists and that such inequalities are widening rather than narrowing. Early theories such as Functionalist theory argue that inequality is functional for society since it makes sure that those who show the most potential talent are encouraged to develop this talent through higher education and training, with the promise of higher incomes when they qualify (deferred gratification). ...read more.

Middle

Marx believed that the working class would develop class consciousness when they changed form. He said that there would be a "class in itself" where the members would objectively share a similar relation to the means of production and that there would be a "class for itself" where the members would subjectively become conscious of their own power and act together. Marx argued that inequality is a result of capitalism and that there are only two classes that are defined by ownership of the means of production. He stated that the gap between them would increase and that they will become increasingly polarised. The Marxists argue that inequality has arisen as a result of the exploitation of one class by another. However, Marxist theory has many weaknesses, it does not explain the rise of the middle class and the term "production" only applies to paid work and thus feminists say it ignores unpaid, domestic work done by women. They argue that it cannot explain inequality in relations not centred on the wage relationship (for example, husband and wife). The social, political and cultural factors and ideas can cause change, Marx's attempt to explain the whole of society from an economic base, therefore is impossible. ...read more.

Conclusion

Thus, it can be seen that there are many sociological explanations for class inequality. Both the functionalist and Weberian theories seem to apply to the contemporary society in which we live. They explain that class is not a rigid structure, that social mobility is achievable and that you are not born into a class, where you must remain for the remainder of your life. The functionalists explain that qualifications and higher education can enable you to obtain a better position in society, however it is interesting to note that there are still less working class children entering university than those from a middle class background. The Weberian theory argues that class and status are interlinked, that it is possible to have wealth without status which seems to apply to the society in which we live in today. The Marxist view of class inequality does not seem to apply to today's society, with many people today being part of the middle class, there is no explanation for this in Marx's theory, and he does not account for the growth of the service sector, an industry which is expanding in the contemporary UK. There are many explanations for class inequality which show that although class is not as important as it has been in previous times, it still plays an important part in the lives of individuals today. ...read more.

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