October 5, 1999
Multiple Sources of Power – Class, Status, and Party
Weber took quite a different approach to the study of social strata and social classes than did Marx. For Marx, there were two primary classes, bourgeoisie and proletariat, whose contradictory social relationship is the motive force in capitalism. These classes are defined and determined by whether they own the means of production (bourgeoisie) or whether they do not own the means of production (proletariat) and must sell labour power to those who do.
In contrast, social strata or classes for Weber are "phenomena having to do with the way in which power is distributed in communities" (Hadden, p. 147) and cannot be reduced to a single dimension or factor such as the relationship to the means of production. Rather, for Weber there is a pluralism associated with class structure and people attempt to achieve their ends through a variety of means that may create groupings such as classes or status groups. Weber's analysis is multidimensional with the three main sources of the distribution of power in communities being class, status, and party. It is possible "that people can rank high on one of these dimensions … and low on the other (or others)" (Ritzer, p. 127), so that social stratification is a complex set of social relationships.
For Weber, what we would call social stratification, social class, or social inequality is in the sphere of power, and can be analyzed by examining economic situation, status honour, or parties (organizations formed by people to achieve certain ends). In a section of Economy and Society concerned with the distribution of power, Weber begins his analysis of class status and party. By power Weber means
the chance of a man or of a number of men to realize their own will in a communal action even against the resistance of others who are participating in the same action. (Weber, 1946, quoted by Hadden, pp. 147-8).
Giddens notes that this definition of power is very broad, and "every sort of social relationship is, to some degree and in certain circumstances, a power relationship" (p. 156). When Weber does provide examples and focuses on specific societies though, he is quite concrete in his application of this definition.
Weber did not ignore economic sources of power, and considered these to be among the more important sources, especially in capitalism. But, unlike Marx, he claimed that power did not emerge only from economic sources, and he certainly does not restrict power relationships to ownership or non-ownership of the means of production. Power can also emerge from status or party (associations concerned with acquiring power) or can also be pursued for its own sake. Among these different forms of power, there are cross-cutting influences and effects, so that power obtained in one of these spheres may lead to power or a change in situation in another sphere. Power is multidimensional and pluralistic, in that there are several different, interconnecting sources and influences of power.
Weber is concerned not just with economic and social structures, but always considers how these are interpreted by individuals and collectivities, and how these individually or collectively result in social action – individual or group action that is social in nature and where the individual "attaches a subjective meaning to his behavior." (Knapp, p. 84, quoting Weber). While there is an objective definition for class, status, and party, there is also a strong subjective component for Weber. Of course, Marx also considers the subjective dimension in that class consciousness is an essential aspect of action taken by a class. But Weber more clearly outlines how difficult it is for objective factors that affect groupings of people (e.g. exploitation, poverty, lack of freedom) to turn into broad based social action (e.g. strikes, political parties, political power).
An outline of Weber’s analysis is contained in his essay "Class, Status, Party." This essay defines each of class, status, and party and provides a guide concerning how Weber considers it possible to analyse power within the social order. The following notes summarize and provide examples of these three main dimensions of Weber's analysis.
While Weber considers there to be several bases to the structure of social classes, class itself is rooted in the economic sphere. Weber considers classes to be economic entities in that the "market situation is primary in determining class" (Hadden, p. 148). This differs somewhat from Marx, who considers classes to emerge from production and relationship to the means of production. In contrast, Weber emphasizes relationship to markets, where markets in commodities other than capital and labour may form the basis for class.
a. Class Situation. Weber begins his analysis by defining class situation as the relationship of a person or number of people to a particular market that has an important effect on the lives of these people. Weber notes this "as the typical chance for a supply of goods, external living conditions, and personal life experiences" (Gerth and Mills, p. 181). Weber identifies three features of class situation.
i. Life Chances. "A number of people have in common a specific causal component of their life chances" (Gerth and Mills, p. 181). That is, a group of people in a similar situation so that they have their life chances determined more or less in common, by some factor that strongly affects this. The ownership or non-ownership of property is key in affecting life chances. For example, the wealth, income and property of two people may be similar, and this tends to imply a similar outcome to their actions. To each of the sets of causes is attached a probability of a set of possible outcomes, so that people with the same life chances may end up in different positions. The meaning each person attaches to these, and the manner these are used, may differ quite considerably. Weber notes how the power of those with property, compared to those without property, gives the former great advantages over the latter. Weber does not restrict this to property in the means of production though, and notes how it can emerge in distribution.
ii. Economic Interest. "This component is represented exclusively by economic interests in the possession of goods and opportunities for income" (Gerth and Mills, p. 181
iii. Markets. This component "is represented under conditions of the commodity or labor markets" (Gerth and Mills, p. 181).
Together, items ii. And iii. mean that class situation refers to a similar position with respect to the ownership of property or goods, or having (or lacking) opportunities to obtain specific types of income on the market (e.g. lawyers, entertainers). That is, those having similar economic interests with respect to particular markets are in a similar position. And note that these need not just be markets in labour or means of production, but could be an interest in any form of market, where that market has a strong effect on life chances. Examples of non-Marxian forms of class situations might be professionals or computer technicians, where economic factors are important but these Weberian classes are defined, not so much by their relationship to the means of production, but by their particular skills and market position.
b. Class. "The term 'class' refers to any group of people that is found in the same class situation" (Gerth and Mills, p. 181). Together these three aspects define the class situation, and those with a common class situation form a class. For example, the working class is a social class for Weber, since this is a grouping of people who each have the same relationship to labour markets, and their connection to this market determines their life chances. The petty bourgeoisie are another class, since they have in common the characteristic that they have ownership of means of production, but in such limited manner that they must also use their own labour as well.
While Weber considers classes to be important, especially for life chances, he does not think that the common class situation will necessarily form the basis for social action. He notes "'classes are not communities; they merely represent possible, and frequent, bases for communal action" (Gerth and Mills, p. 181). Hadden notes that common "action would depend on the perception that benefits would result from collective action" (p. 148). With respect to the working class, Weber notes that
the direction in which the invidividual worker, for instance, is likely to pursue his interests may vary widely, according to whether he is constitutionally qualified for the task at hand to a high, to an average, or to a low degree. … The rise of societal or even of communal action from a common class situation is by no means a universal phenomenon" (Gerth and Mills, p. 183).
This contrasts with Marx in that in capitalism Marx considered social class to be the primary organizing principle for class consciousness and class action.
c. Types of Classes. Classes may be distinguished in several ways and since there are many markets, interests, and class situations, there are potentially a multiplicity of classes in any society. Ownership or non-ownership of property is an important economic consideration for Weber since this constitutes such a basic aspect of relationship to markets and life in general in capitalism. For Weber classes are not only differentiated by property and type of property but also by the kind of service (opportunities for income) individuals or collectivities can offer. Within property classes, there are ownership classes and acquisition classes, and these can be considered to be further differentiated by distance from the market, and the extent of monopolies that exist or can be created, anything which alters the position of a set of people with respect to the market.
i. Ownership Classes. These are the positively privileged who own mines, cattle, slaves, capital goods, stocks, money, land and real estate, buildings, and in today's world new forms of property such as forests, water, technology (patents), communications (media sells audiences), franchises, and intellectual property. Capital becomes highly differentiated depending on how it is used in the market, and how the owner of capital employs it. One can lend money and merely collect interest or a return on this money (rentier), or the owner of capital can become actively involved as an entrepreneur. Weber does not consider capital as merely a technical aspect of production, but examines the meanings which the owners of this capital attach to its use. The consequences of each different type of use of capital can be quite different, in terms of societal effects.
ii. Commercial Classes. Among the possible forms taken by the commerical class are merchants, bankers and financiers, professionals, and industrial and agricultural entrepreneurs. Where there were different classes of this sort, there could be struggles if there was some difference in economic interests, e.g. between debtors and creditors.
The positively privileged portions of this class have great wealth. At the opposite end of the spectrum are those who are negatively privileged – those without property. These are not necessarily an undifferentiated group. Just as there are several types of property ownership, there are also many ways in which individuals or groups may lack property. Debtors represent a class situation where net assets may be positive, but where the benefit of the asset is taken by others (farmers and small businesses). This is different than those with no property at all. Some of those without any property may be slaves (unfree), the poor, paupers, or homeless. These latter groups differ from proletarians, in that they have reached a condition where they are unable to sell even their labour power. Further, some with no property, may have something else which can improve their market situation, the acquisition classes. Even the proletarians of Marx must have something to sell -- their labour power or their ability to work. The lumpenproletariat may lack even this.
iii. Acquisition Classes. These are individuals who have no (or very little) tangible, marketable property but have certain skills or abilities which can be offered on the market, and which are likely to receive a return over and above that received by those who have only labour power to offer on the market. There are many different types of marketable skills, both in terms of specific type, and the value of this type. Specialists, or those with unusual or rare talents, may be able to be well situated with respect to some market. Those who are able to exercise a monopoly over their skills by keeping others from acquiring these skills (monopoly or some closure to the group) are able to be well situated. Those who have higher levels of education, qualifications and credentials may be similarly well situated. (Note the basis for the middle classes and the upper middle class here).
iv. Major Classes. While there could be such a pluralism of classes that it would be difficult to analyze class structure, Weber also argued that at a particular time and place there were a number of major classes that are most important. In "Status Groups and Classes" (Giddens and Held, pp. 69-73), Weber identifies the major social classes as
For the latter two groups, Weber notes that members of the propertyless intelligentsia may have a chance to move become members of the classes privileged through property or eduction, and Weber notes that "money increasingly buys everything." (Giddens and Held, p. 72).
Weber’s methodology could be applied to Saskatchewan or Canada today and, with some additions and modifications, the major classes might be farmers, petty bourgeoisie, lower level white collar (clerical and sales), industrial working class and trades, upper level white collar and professional, and propertied. The latter differs in this province from that of large centres with very wealthy capitalists having greater amounts of control over capital and the economy. There are also different sections of the propertied – real estate, industrial, financial, oil, or mining.
d. Classes as Sources of Social Action
As noted earlier, Weber argues that similar (objective) market situations will not necessarily lead to the organization of a group on the basis of this similar situation. If class is to constitute a source of social action, the class situation must be meaningful to the individuals or collectivities involved. Weber is generally skeptical that this will occur so class consciousness in the Marxian sense is unlikely to develop. Weber lists a number of factors that are likely to block the development of class consciousness (see pp. 62-64 of Giddens and Held):
i. Individual vs. General Interest. The class or collectivity as a whole may have common (or average) interests, but there may be a great variation in the interests of the individuals within this collectivity. For example, individuals may pursue what they perceive to be their own best interests, without considering the common interest of all those in this same situation. Where there is considerable competition among members of a class, or where there is significant chance of upward social mobility, this may dissipate class action.
ii. Organizations. The presence or absence of institutions such as trade unions or organized political groups representing a class may strongly affect the outcome. A strong trade union may be a means by which working class consciousness is developed and encouraged, so that the organizational abilities of the class are concentrated.
iii. Dissipation and Grumbling. Many of those with a common class situation may express similar reactions but these may not be continued or general and may dissipate. The grumbling of farmers, students, or faculty, tends to be of this sort. That is, it is not generally strong enough to produce any significant action which would change outcomes. In contast, the most recent Saskatchewan election (September, 1999) shows that the common action of a disaffected group (farmers) can have an important political effect.
iv. Cross-class social action. Social action based on class situation may occur, but it may not derive from members of a single social class. Rather, those with different class situations may together produce action. Tax revolts tend to be of this sort and it is not clear exactly clear what the relationship of these revolts to class is.
v. Struggles are not necessarily class struggles. The nature of struggles and revolts differ in different historical periods, and not all these may express a similar type of class struggle. Early class struggles tended to be against debt bondage, against shortages of food or other necessities of life, or slave or peasant revolts. These were protests against the withholding of goods from the market by those with wealth, in an attempt by the latter to increase prices. According to Weber, these have nothing in common with modern struggles between capital and labour. Even capital-labour struggles may be primarily concerned with the price of labour (wages or standard of living) and may be primarily economic and not political struggles. That is, a dispute over wages could be primarily an attempt by workers to protect lifestyle and status. If workers' concern is primarily that of maintaining a standard of living, this struggle may restrain itself within quite limited boundaries, and not produce any challenge to property, or to the social relationships, as Marx claimed.
vi. Wrong enemy. Contemporary struggles between capital and labour tend to be between workers and their immediate bosses – managers or business executives. To challenge social relationships, the real struggle should be between workers and property owners, perhaps shareholders and other owners distant from the workplace. The complexity of the market, the many layers to markets, and the manner in which they mask the true nature of a dispute all make the question of class struggle more problematic than implied by Marx. Contemporary analyses of class structure by writers such as Poulantzas, Wright, and Clement examine some of these complexities.
e. A Note on Groups
Sociologists since Weber have distinguished groups from aggregates or a collectivities. An aggregate of individuals may have a common class situation, they may be considered a class, but this class may not be a group. This collectivity could even have a common set of values, ideas and norms, but do not interact in a sustained or patterned fashion.
A group carries with it the notion of interaction among group members. Two examples of sociological definitions of groups are as follows. "Social groups are collectivities of individuals who interact and form social relationships. ... They have their own norms of conduct and are solidaristic. Within this category may be included the family, groups of friends and many work groups." (Theodorson, pp. 97-98). Groups could be considered (a) to have an ongoing and independent reality, with individuals coming and going but the group remaining active, (b) to have an effect on the attitude of members, and vice versa, socializing new members, and (c) there will be some difference of opinion among group members. (Burkey, pp. 9-12). The group may be a community, and it may cut across class lines, or at least across class situations.
Weber notes the possibility that classes may form groups, but considers this to be unlikely. The common class situation does not usually lead to social action on the basis of the common class situation. In order for such social action to take place, there have to be proper cultural and intellectual conditions, and the nature of the contradictory market situation would have to be relatively transparent to all. These struggles are likely to be most clearly expressed when other aspects, such as status differences, are removed. Weber notes (Giddens and Held, p. 72) that there is class conscious organization where (a) there are no groups between the real adversaries, (b) large numbers of persons are in the same class situation, (c) it is technically easy to organize those in the common class situation, and (d) where the goals of the class are well understood, and this understanding is led by those outside the class (intelligentsia).
Note how different this is from Marx's view of class. For Marx, class involved not only a common market situation or position (and one restricted primarily to the capital-labour relation), but also the recognition of this common position by members of the class, the ability to act as a class, and the opposition of the class to the interests of another class. Marx's expectation was that this class consciousness would develop. Weber is much more skeptical of consciousness developing on the basis of class and argues that there are many different bases for common class situation.
4. Status and Status Groups
a. Definition. Weber argues that groups are more likely to be formed on the basis of status or status honour. He notes "in contrast to classes, status groups are normally communities. They are, however, often of an amorphous kind" (Gerth and Mills, p. 186). A status situation is one where "every typical component of the life fate of men … is determined by a specific, positive or negative, social estimation of honor" (Gerth and Mills, pp. 186-7). Honour refers to any distinction, respect, or esteem that is accorded to an individual by others. Such social recognition may be a formal process (titles, awards) or it may be in ordinary forms of social interaction whereby we respect or disrespect others (forms of greeting, inclusion or exclusion in a formal or informal group, nature of friendships). Social honour is expressed in social relationships, in how we interact with each other. Social esteem may be either positive or negative, so that an individual may be given a high level of social esteem or honour, or at the other ending, a low level of such esteem. Status groups can thus be considered positive or negative, those who are favoured and those who are less favoured or excluded.
For Weber, social honour is social in nature, in that it does not automatically result from some market or property relationship in the economic sphere, but is an expression of social relationships. It can be associated with any quality that is socially valued (positive) or is not desirable (negative). We accord each other honour on all sorts of characteristics, and where these affect some component of life, then this can be considered to be an element of status honour. For example, we may accord status and recognition for outstanding achievements (scholarships and student awards), or respect for abilities and accomplishments of others. It may be negative where someone does not live up to ordinary standards, where behaviour is socially disapproved (associated with ethnicity, outcast groups, criminals, etc.).
Status honour is linked to social evaluations, whereas class is related to the economic or market situation. Weber considers status honour to be a more important basis for people forming themselves into groups or communities. Or communities may be formed, and this community and its mode of behaviour and norms become the basis for status honour in this community. This may be more subjective (social esteem) than objective (common market situation). It can also be considered to be a difference between consumption (standards and levels of living associated with particular status) as opposed to production (position within this is the basis for class).
b. Forms of Status Groups. A status group could be formed on the basis of any characteristic that is socially recognized by others, and which becomes the object of social honour. For example, social honour could recognize ethnic or religious characteristics, male-female characteristics, or lifestyle characteristics such as bikers, musical tastes, sports, etc. There is a multiplicity of status groups, but in terms of the major types of social honour that can form the basis for power, affecting the life chances of individuals and groups, Weber identifies three. Note that the status situations and groups that interest Weber are those in the sphere of power, where life chances are related to the status groups. Thus peer groups or groups based on musical tastes or some lifestyles factors may be important in terms of status honour, but are not really status groups in the Weberian sense.
(i) Property is an important basis for a status group, especially where markets prevail. Those with considerable property or wealth have the means to develop a certain style of life, and those without property are not able to exercise this style. Because of this, or on the basis of property alone, social honour may also be accorded these same people.
Hadden notes that status "may get in the way of communal action on a class basis" (p. 148). Markets concern gains and losses through exchange and do not have honour associated with them. If markets were allowed to operate fully, this would destroy status differences and only market considerations would influence life chances. While property can form an important basis for status, property alone is not the key to status, and status "normally stands in sharp opposition to the pretensions of sheer property" (Weber, p. 187). Those who acquire property may not be accorded the same status privileges are those who originally held property. One example of this is the distinction between established society and the nouveau riche. Status groups may thus attempt to hinder some market activities, or may give market privileges only to those with the proper status levels (old boys network).
Note how this might be developed into a model of gender stratification, with male status denied to females. Male status privileges may extend across property or income lines, denying women the same levels of status. The factors associated with male status may even be denied to those women who have property or have acquired a prominent or high income position. While Weber develops this approach for ethnic groups, an analysis of sex or gender stratification comes from recent feminist writers.
ii. Styles of life based on consumption differences commonly form status groups in the Weberian sense. Property and income are the source of funds required for consumption. It not so much the source of the income that forms the status group as the set of objects and services consumed which leads to the social honour associated with group interaction. Groups may form around residential neighbourhoods, professions, and educational levels (community associations, professional associations, restrictions based on educational qualifications).
iii. Groups unrelated to property could also be formed. These could be ethnic groups, religious groups, groups around sexual orientation, and the various urban communities and groups which form around common sets of interests. In each, there is likely to be some social honour accorded members, there is likely to be some closure of the group, and membership may carry with it certain duties and privileges. Some of these groups may have effect on life chances, especially where religion and ethnicity is an important feature of social organization.
c. Features of Status Groups. Status groups may cut across class lines. This is especially the case with ethnic groups, where social honour is accorded those with the same ancestry, and disrespect or dishonour may be associated with those who do not have this ancestry. This honour or dishonour can form the basis for awarding jobs, opportunities for promotion, and privileges in the political sphere. Characteristics of this type that affect life chances may be more meaningful to people than is relationship to markets (class situation), so that social status is the basis on which groups are formed. Another example is where groupings of men create "old boy networks" which control hiring, promotion, and rewards within institutions. When these men act together as a group, they exercise control over life chances to almost the same degree, or even more so, than do labour markets.
Since honour and dishonour are socially formed, those who are members of a status group associate meaning with the characteristics honoured. While this may be income and a particular style of life, it is not so much the relationship of the individual to the means of production as the meaning associated with the income and style of life. In this sense, relationship to the market and class situation may be an underlying factor, but it is the status honour or dishonour associated with lifestyle which Weber regards as more crucial to group formation.
Status groups are usually associated with some restrictions on social intercourse or interaction. That is, there is some degree of closure to outsiders, and the status group exercises some degree of management of relationships of those within the group. In ethnic or religious groups, marriage may be endogamous within the group. Those who are members are likely to belong to a circle or community. Various religious groups may operate in this manner, with fairly close guidelines concerning who one can associate with, and with whom marriage is to be arranged.
In contemporary society, with great geographic and social mobility, it may be difficult to maintain this closed nature. In contrast, where there is little social or geographic mobility, Weber notes that social status groups may solidify into castes.
d. Relationship between Classes and Status Groups. In modern societies where markets are so extensive, incomes derive from property and skills so that standards of consumption and lifestyle link class and status situation. Professions, education, and occupation all tend to be highly connected, so that status groups formed by professions closely connect status and market situation. Giddens notes that Weber is not arguing that "class and status constitute two 'dimensions of stratification', but that classes and status communities represent two possible, and competing, modes of group formation in relation to the distribution of power in society." (Giddens, p. 44).
As capitalism develops as an economic and social system, Weber's view is that there is no overriding tendency toward polarization of society into two classes, as Marx had argued. Rather,
the tendency is towards a diversified system of class relationships. The complexity of market relationships generated by the capitalist division of labour creates a variety of different, but overlapping, economic interests ... A social class ... is formed of a cluster of class situations which are linked together by virtue of the fact that they involve common mobility chances, either within the career of individuals or across the generations. (Giddens, pp. 47-8).
As noted earlier, for Weber there are four major social classes in modern society: (i) the working class, (ii) the petty bourgeoisie, (iii) the propertyless intelligentsia and specialists, and (iv) the classes privileged through property and education. The petty bourgeoisie is likely to decline over time, as argued by Marx. However, Weber considers the propertyless intelligentsia and specialists to be a group which becomes more important over time. In both these evaluations, Weber appears correct. This means that the polarization predicted by Marx has not occurred. Further, social classes do not have the cohesiveness and combativeness forecast by Marx. Weber notes that there are struggles around the labour market, but these are unlikely to become generalized class struggles that change the whole society to create socialism.
Parties are organizations, rather than communities or groups, and they involve striving for a goal in a planned manner. They are voluntary associations of people which try to influence social action. In that sense, they can be considered to be in the sphere of power in that they are concerned with achieving some goal. In Weber’s words, parties are "oriented toward the acquisition of social ‘power,’ that is to say, toward influencing a communal action no matter what its content may be" (Gerth and Mills, p. 194).
Weber notes that classes are in the economic order, status groups in the social order, and parties in the sphere of power. In some senses, power is not a separate order, in that classes and status groups are concerned with power. The difference between parties on the one hand, and status groups and class on the other, is in the level of analysis. Parties are organizations, whereas classes and status groups are groupings of people. If status groups or classes become well organized, they may form parties, or their parties may become the organizational wing of the class or status group. Trade unions, professional associations, ethnic organizations, and religious institutions are examples.
Parties also differ from classes or status groups in that they attempt to achieve goals in a planned manner, and thus are rational. There are various aims, goals, or purposes that the party attempts to achieve. It considers various possible ways of achieving these, and selects a course of action that it considers the most likely to achieve that goal. The structure of the party is also rational in that these actions are not a byproduct of social interaction, but are carefully considered and selected. The party is likely to have a constitution, a set of officers, and means of filling these positions with people most suited for them.
Parties may be political parties, or they may be other organizations aimed at achieving other goals. As such, they can cut across both status and class lines, expressing interests that may be common to those from many different sectors of society. Examples could be groups organized around helping to solve the problems of specific diseases (Cancer Society, Arthritis Society), groups such as the Wildlife society, or even sporting and recreation organizations. Some may have political ends, others may merely attempt to pursue a particular aim of those in the organization. Hadden notes how each of these "are typically involved in the attempt to change or maintain particular orders" (Hadden, p. 148).
For political parties to gain political power, they must attempt to represent a fairly broad range of interests. Putting together a political program involves identifying issues which are key, and other issues which will pull in various groups. Some parties, such as the British Labour Party, may primarily represent a specific class. Other parties, such as the Canadian Liberal Party or the Saskatchewan NDP attempt to put together programs which appeal to a wide variety of interests.
It might also be noted that these parties may acquire a life of their own and pursue ends that are not part of their original purposes. Weber noted how social actions can have unintended consequences which may be no part of the original intentions of the class, status group, or party (Hadden, p. 127). The most famous example is the Protestant ethic, which was established for purely religious or spiritual reasons. Weber argued that the establishment and power of this ethic had the unintended consequences of assisting the development of capitalism. Particular political parties are established with certain ends in mind, but as organizations, especially ones with some power, become subject to a variety of social influences which may change their purposes. Some long-time NDP supporters claim that the NDP has become more interested in maintaining power than in pursuing principles of social democracy.
Parties tend to be a feature of modern societies, where power is exercised in a more formal, rational, and planned manner than in traditional societies. They do not operate in traditional societies, where personal relations or patronage may dominate. Parties are means of organization to achieve specific ends in capitalism, where there is a "tendency for social action to become increasingly rationalized" (Grabb, p. 64). Once organizations are developed as parties, they become more rational, that is systematic and permanent.
Weber's discussion of class, status and party give an idea of how markets affect people, and how people form themselves into groups, partly as a result of markets and partly on the basis of other factors that are socially important. To some extent, Weber's status groups would appear to be ways in which people in capitalism protect themselves from the effects of markets, but at the same time using the market as they can, and using the means of power they have at their disposal.
In spite of the myriad factors that must be taken into consideration when looking at these social structures and institutions, Weber concludes that there are relatively few dominant features of social structure. In terms of classes, the major classes are the working class, the capitalist class, and the middle professional group. For Weber there are also a number of major status groups and parties, not necessarily identical to or determined by the same factors as are classes. That is, one may consider some of the major styles of life as those of upper class, middle class, and lower class. Within this system of stratification, the working class does not fit, although the working class has been and continues to be an important social class in capitalism. Finally, people in societies create some major parties, political parties and other organizations, each aiming to achieve some end. Again, it is likely that only a few of these organizations will acquire major importance for people at any one time.
Weber's writings can thus be used as a guide, but one should not get lost in the mass of details to be considered. Rather, one must attempt to reconstruct the major groups and classes in society, determine how people related to these, and how these interact.
7. Weber and Marx on Class
Some ways in which Weber's analysis differs from that of Marx. (The following points come from Giddens).
a. Workers are not reduced to being paupers, but are generally better off than agricultural labourers.
b. There is a diversified system of class relationships, with a growing rather than a smaller middle class. The polarization of society into capitalist and worker does not result, but there are more middle groupings, with more non-manual workers in bureaucratic organizations.
c. The working class becomes divided in various ways, due to trade unions, developments noted above.
d. Social classes are clusters of class situations with common mobility chances for individuals or across generations. People in these class situations have a common set of social interchanges, but these class situations do not necessarily create communities.
e. Capitalism makes classes more important compared with earlier societies, due to expanded market relations and operations, and the expansion of the capital-labour relationship. But the most distinctive feature of the development of capitalism is the rationalized character of this economic and social system.
Burkey, Richard M., Ethnic and Racial Groups: the Dynamics of Dominance, Menlo Park, Cummings, 1978. HT1521 B82
Gerth, Hans Heinrich and C. Wright Mills, From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, New York, Oxford University Press, 1958. H33 W3613 1958
Giddens, Anthony and David Held, Classes, Power, and Conflict: Classical and Contemporary Debates, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1982). HT675 C55 1982
Grabb, Edward G., Theories of Social Inequality: Classical and Contemporary Perspectives, second edition, Toronto, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1990. HT609 G72
Peter Knapp, One World – Many Worlds: Contemporary Sociological Theory, New York, Harper-Collins, 1994.
Ritzer, George, Sociological Theory, third edition (New York, McGraw-Hill, 1992). HM24 R4938.
Theodorson, George A., A Modern Dictionary of Sociology, New York, Crowell, 1969. HM17 T5
Last edited on October 7, 1999.
Return to Sociology 250.