Are issues of Social Class still relevant in modern society?

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Are issues of Social Class still relevant in modern society? Explore the issues involved, with reference to the original ideas of Karl Marx and more recent concepts such as the notions of a 'middle class' and an 'underclass'.

According to the writings of Karl Marx in the 1860s and 1870s, 'class' conflict, rooted in the economic realities of differential relations to the means of production, flowed into every aspect of social life, including work, education, politics, family and religion. Marx considered that all societies, apart from the most simple, were made up of two major social 'classes' - the bourgeoisie; being the most powerful 'class', owning the 'means of production' (land, factories

etc.) and the proletariat; the least powerful 'class', being forced to sell their labour in order to make a living. In a capitalist society, the capitalist 'class' or bourgeoisie, is the ruling 'class', owning more property and wealth, therefore enabling them to defend and retain what they hold; and the working 'class' or proletariat, which Marx considered as the subordinate 'class', exercising much less power and control in every aspect. Marx considered that each 'class' pursued their own interests, and that throughout history, the two major 'classes' would be fundamentally opposed.

'The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of 'class' struggles….The modern bourgeois society, that has sprouted from the ruins of feudal society has not done away with 'class' antagonisms. It has but established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggles in place of old ones.'

Marx and Engels, (1981)

Modern Marxists continue to define the basic 'class' divisions as that between those who own and those who do not own the means of production however, a problem has arisen in their analysis of the 'class' structure as occupations have been further developed (See appendix 1, Standard Occupational Classifications 2000). There is no longer a clear definition of what is considered a 'proletarian' occupation (manual employment), as these types of employment can range from

managerial and professional jobs to clerical or administerial occupations.

With reference to the original ideas of Marx, this essay will explore whether 'class' can still be considered as the predominant determinant of power and influence in the UK society; whether breeding and economic status do contribute to determining life opportunities. The contentious issue of an emerging 'underclass' will be investigated as will the idea of an expanding 'middle class' - largely unrecognised in Marx's' era.

Whilst there is no generally agreed definition of social 'class', most people would agree that social differentiation exists. This phenomenon is candidly acknowledged in the current UK climate, as major political parties voice a generalised commitment to individual progress, a faith in the capacity of human beings to 'improve' and a belief in the role of the state as an instrument of social reform. These thoughts tend to, in principle, echo those of John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), whose central preoccupation rested on the interplay between the 'social' and the 'individual'. Alternative to the thoughts of Marx, Mill argued that 'class' was not a permanent feature of life under capitalism, but that people could be liberated from 'class' by reason, particularly if

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educated to do so. It could be argued therefore, that Mills' considered education as an essential tool in maximising individual potential.

Education, over a period of years, has been subject to a number of Acts and policies designed to provide children and young adults with the best opportunities to maximise their potential. Since the Second World War it has been recognised that, in general, middle and upper 'class' children (classification based on their fathers occupation), tend to achieve more than their working 'class' counterparts, both in terms of the length of their education and the level of qualifications

they ...

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