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People might be equal in the sight of God but they are far from equal in society (Haralambos, pg 69, 1986)

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Introduction

Compare and contrast how differing sociological theories approach the problem of inequality in western society. It is common belief that those within society who have the necessary skills and attributes to perform and produce will succeed. But this assumes that everyone within society is given the same opportunities. As Haralambos points out people might be equal in the sight of God but they are far from equal in society (Haralambos, pg 69, 1986). To describe inequalities sociologists speak of social stratification, the study of any systematic inequalities between groups of people, which arise as the unintended consequence of social processes and relationships (Marshall, pg 643, 1994) Karl Marx (1818 - 1883) and Max Weber (1864 - 1920) were two of the most influential sociologists and they each developed their own theories about why inequalities exist. This essay will compare and contrast the differences and similarities between the theories of Marx and Weber and examine each of their theories in detail. Inequalities exist in all types of human society. It is necessary to make a distinction between social inequality, which is the existence of socially created inequalities and social stratification, which is a particular form of social inequality (Haralambos & Holborn, pg 21, 1995) Marx developed the idea of class into the class struggle. This class struggle, argues Marx, constrains and shapes the lives of all individuals in a society. ...read more.

Middle

Weber, unlike Marx, explains other dimensions of stratification besides class. One based on life styles that may be quite different from class systems (e.g. particular occupations might have traditional status regardless of their levels of income or wealth). Status groups for Weber, may have sources outside class, people who work in the same place feel that they have much in common, for example, even if they belong to different classes (Haralambos and Holburn, pg 37, 1995,) However, Weber did regard capitalism as a class society with economic relations forming the basis of inequality. Weber believed that the primary cause of inequality in capitalism was market capacity, the skills brought to the labour market by the employee (Bilton, pg 53, 1987). A lot of emphasis is placed on life chances when evaluating the work of Weber, especially the large division in life chances between manual and non manual workers. Bilton argues that there a number of problems with Weber's theories. Weberian theory concentrates on occupations and neglects wealth as a crucial element in the class structure. (Bilton, pg 54, 1987) Weber defines class as a group of people who share a similar position in a market economy, they receive similar financial rewards and therefore have similar life chances in common. Individuals with sought after skills, or a good education would have a higher class position. ...read more.

Conclusion

Weber sees class, as did Marx, as being based in power and the distribution of power. To conclude, this essay shows that Marx and Weber's theory agree that the ownership of property and the value of labour are fundamental sources of stratification. Marx puts his emphasis on the ownership of property while Weber focuses on labour value, but while Marx reduces everything down to one fundamental model based on his own analysis of capitalism as exploitation, Weber's theories on class and stratification show that other dimensions of stratification strongly influence people's lives. Marx looked upon inequality as evil and something that should be replaced, whereas Weber took a more neutral view, taking into account the existence of inequality and attempting to understand what inequality is and the consequences of it. We can conclude that Marx and Weber can be considered to "agree to disagree" over the relative importance of the concepts of class, status and power. Whereas Weber defined social class as any group of people who share a similar position in an economic market, Marx concentrated on the ownership of production and property. Bilton asks if Marx's analysis can be applicable today (Bilton et.al, pg 46, 1987), but as he points out the working class in capitalist societies has seen a rise in the standard of living and working conditions, and the growth of the new middle class of managerial, professional and clerical workers appears to contradict Marx's view that divisions among those without wealth would disappear. Marx's ideas seem therefore to have been disproved by twentieth century developments. (Bilton.et. ...read more.

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