Outline and Assess the Usefulness of Conflict Theories in Explaining Social Class Inequalities in the Contemporary UK

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Outline and Assess the Usefulness of Conflict Theories in Explaining Social Class Inequalities in the Contemporary UK

Class inequality is the concept that the class positions of people within society are not just. A conflict theory of class inequality is a theory which states that this is the result of the dominant group controlling and exploiting others within society. A commonly known conflict theory of class inequality is Marxism. This theory argues that society is divided into two classes; the ruling class and the working class. The ruling class exploits the working class but the working class fails to revolt. Another conflict theory is Weberian theory that disagrees with Marxist Theory. Weberian theory argues that inequality is not solely due to economics as Marxist theory does. Weberian theory states that inequality is the result of class, status and party.  

One conflict theory of society is Marxism. Marxist theory states that there are two classes within society, the Bourgeoisie (ruling class) and the Proletariat (working class). Marxism suggests that society is a Capitalist system and that all inequality stems from economic inequality. The Bourgeoisie owns the means of production, and as a result of this they exploit their Proletariat workers. Althusser (1971) argues that the Proletariat does not question their situation as institutions (ideological state apparatuses) such as the media transmit the ruling class ideology that implies that society is meritocratic and that those who work hard will succeed when this is not the case. The ideology makes class positions appear just and fair. This leads to class inequality as the working class are unable to changes their class positions.


The Marxist concept that the ruling class exploits their workers is present today. Examples such as Western rich company owners using sweatshops abroad where that can pay their workers next to nothing reflect this aspect of Marxist theory. It can be argued that Capitalism is now present on a global scale.

        The education system is one that can define the roles of people in later life. Sociologists such as Bowles and Gintis stress the importance of this. They argue that the education system prepares working class students working class jobs. They are taught to be docile, submissive workers, ideal for the Capitalist system.  Althusser agreed with this as he stated that one of the ways in which education reproduces the labour force is by reproduction the ruling class ideology using Ideological control. This ensures that accept their position as workers before they even begin work.

Marxist theory is based solely on economics, Marxism fails to take into account factors such as age, gender and ethnicity; factors that may have an effect on ones position within society. Marxist theory is also deterministic; it assumes that all react to their position in society the same way when this may not be the case.

        Many sociologists such as Marshall et al dispute the presence of ‘false class consciousness’. In their 1988 study they found that over 70% of their sample thought that class was an inevitable part of British society. Over 50% of their sample believed that there was class conflict between that ruling class and the powerless lower class. The study also suggested that most people were aware of the unequal distribution of wealth in the UK and the lower class could do nothing to change this. This study directly disputes Marxist theory, as a fundamental aspect of Marxism is the concept that the Proletariat are unaware of their exploitation due to their false class-consciousness. As the study by Marshal et al suggests that this is incorrect, it is possible that Marxism is not useful in explaining social class inequalities in the contemporary UK.

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        It is possible that the education system does always successfully produce docile and submissive workers, this is the view taken by Willis (1977). Willis conducted a study on working class boys as they ended school and began work. Willis found that the boys were aware that society is not meritocratic and that their chances of upward social mobility were low. The boys did as little work as possible at school and work finding as much time as possible to “have a laff”. This means that the education system does not always produce the workers that are required by the Capitalist ...

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