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Is class a useful concept in explaining social action? It has been argued that social classes are dying - how can this be?

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Is class a useful concept in explaining social action? It has been argued that social classes are dying - how can this be? Herbert Blumer (1962) stated that "the organisation of human society is the framework inside of which social action takes place". In this essay I will look at sociological theories presented by Marx and Weber defining and explaining the concept of class and a brief evaluation of functionalism before considering the degree to which it can be used to explain the actions of individuals and groups within a society. I will then explain why there is now the belief that social classes are "dying", yet emphasise that class differences remain highly evident. Working with Engels, Marx (1962) asserts that the course of human history is greatly focussed around the struggle between classes. Examples range from the patrician and plebeian in biblical times to the lord and serf in 17th century feudal societies - this shows that throughout time, the oppressor and the oppressed have stood in constant opposition to each other. Although not ever precisely defining the 'class concept', for Marx class relationships are integral production relationships, i.e. the patterns of ownership and control. So for a capitalist society the two key classes are 'bourgeoisie' (the owners and controllers) and the 'proletariat' (the labour force), though he did recognise that actual society was composed of a multiplicity of classes. Crompton (1998) gives the example of him identifying numerous classes such as the industrial and petty bourgeoisie, financiers and 'lumpenproletariat' in his account of 'The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte' (1962). ...read more.


believes is the "best known and most widely used way until 2000" into categorising social classes. Here five classes are used based solely upon the job of the head of household's associated skill group, ranging from doctors and solicitors in Class I (Professional) down to road-sweepers and refuse collectors in Class V (Unskilled Manual). A number of problems with this model have been highlighted, such as it excludes the wealthy upper class living off stocks and shares and groups outside paid employment, and that it assumes the unemployed continue to enjoy the same status and lifestyle as when they had a job. However, it can still be considered as quite a useful model for highlighting differences in social action depending on the class of the individual: One could fairly assume that income and skills category are directly proportional - excluding anomalies such as unemployment, an individual with better skills can obtain a better paid job. For example those with a university degree such as teachers and managers (Class II - Intermediate) are likely to be earning more than those without in the class below (Class III - Skilled Non Manual / Manual), such as shop assistants and factory workers. Social action of an individual can be considered as quite directly related to wealth, since the degree of affluence influences lifestyle choices and attitudes. For example, whilst those at the bottom of the class hierarchy may, as Davis & Moore suggest, prioritise on trying to work themselves out of poverty (for example a family trying to show their child the importance of gaining 5 Grade C qualifications at GCSE), the more affluent who do not suffer such hardship may act to ensure their offspring receive the best possible education, for example paying for public school. ...read more.


Note that the key Marxist theory is based on industrial capitalism, and thus could be seen as somewhat outdated today. However, there is the important assertion made that the death of class does not mean the end of social division and conflict, with post-class societies possibly being even more crippling and destabilising than class societies, and certainly not necessarily meaning social harmony. So once again there is the problem of defining class, and like Weber these authors have recognised that social conflict is not solely a result of different classes. In conclusion, whilst Marx & Weber may have presented very interesting sociological theories regarding class, their significance may be somewhat diluted today since the focus upon industrial capitalism and production relations was arguably a more dominant concept in their time of writing. Whilst there does indeed appear to be 'blurring' between class boundaries, and often less significance of class contrasts, diverse behaviour and social action depending on class does remain evident - one cannot deny the massive contrasts in behaviour and social attitudes of the working and upper classes of 21st Century UK. As a final matter of interest, it may be useful to analyse the class structure and concepts of other societies, since many of the academic theories here appear to relate only to Britain or western Europe. For example, India's strict caste system remains in place, greatly influencing social action and restricting mobility (eg marriage between different castes is still widely disapproved), and class is salient in some African and Latin American societies which have not reached an advanced economic level. ...read more.

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