According to Best, "… doing social theory is about discovering how 'the social' operates." Compare and contrast any two social theorists' accounts of the operation of 'the social'. Whose account do you find more convincing, and why?

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According to Best, "… doing social theory is about discovering how 'the social' operates." Compare and contrast any two social theorists' accounts of the operation of 'the social'. Whose account do you find more convincing, and why?

During the nineteenth century, Karl Marx and Max Weber were two of the most influential sociologists, but they concentrated on different themes and constructed differing theories relating to 'the social'. I will go on to introduce both theorists' and their main accounts of how 'the social' operates, highlighting the key areas the two theorists disagree on, as well as the common ideas.

Karl Marx was born on May 5, 1818. Marx's work mostly concerned with the idea of history as a social process involving change and contradictions, basing most of his ideas around capitalism. He argued that history develops due to the economic activity of societies, emphasising the importance of economy in all his works, believing that all the other parts of a society, politics, culture and social life, are seen as the result of economic relationships.

Max Weber was born in 1864 in Erfurt, Germany. Weber believed that Marx focussed too much on economics, and believed in fact that capitalism was the product of a new way of thinking. As Giddens (1993) wrote, Max Weber was "deeply influenced" by the tradition to differentiate between the problems of the social and the natural sciences. Clearly the theorists employed different ways of thinking; where Marx was concerned to explain social phenomena in primarily economic terms, Weber sought to illustrate social phenomena in cultural terms. I will firstly look at both interpretations of 'social class', and this was key in both theorists' work.

Both theorists were in agreement about the actual existence of the various classes in society, and both in fact believed that class conflict "portrays society as a battleground, as an arena of conflict between different groups" (Brown, 1979; p76). However disagreement did arise as to how this occurred. This is where the essential difference between Weber and Marx comes.

 

For Weber modern bureaucracy was crucial in understanding Industrial Society. According to  Weber, the specialisation of labour under Industrial Society did not lead into the splitting into two distinct opposed classes in which the seeds of development and change where sown. Rather a number of classes, related to life style and chances, developed. Weber felt that Marx's stress on class, or economic factors, had led him to underestimate the importance of status factors.

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Marx investigates just two of the economic classes; the bourgeoisie, whom own the means of production, and the proletariat, who do not. As Best (2003; p50) writes, "these two groups have a structural conflict of interest: to make profits the bourgeoisie must exploit the proletariat, while to improve their own living standards the proletariat must reduce the profits of the bourgeoisie by transferring more profit to the workers as wages". Marx views this relationship between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat as an exploitative one, saying that the bourgeoisie in fact exploit the proletariat.

Weber agrees with Marx that ...

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