Sociology 319

March 28, 2000



1. Structure

Sociologists have often used the idea of structure in social theory, as a means of describing the social relationships that they observe and hypothesize in the social world. Among the structures referred to by sociologists are social classes, economic structures, roles, ideologies, social facts, and social forces. Particular structures that social scientists have identified are family structures, structural theories of the conscious and unconscious, patriarchal structures, and racial and ethnic structures.

Regardless of how one considers these to have emerged, how important these are, and how they relate to individual or group agency, it is difficult to do sociological analysis without referring to structures. Goffman recognizes norms and patterns that individuals relate to, and while Blumer attempts to deny these, even he notes various patterns that are common in different situations. Certainly Marx’s description of capitalism – commodities, exploitation, social class, mode of production – has many structures associated with with. Similarly, Durkheim’s social facts identify powerful structures which exist outside the individual and coerce the individual. Even Simmel was concerned with "discovering the underlying forms of association among individuals and groups … [and] the underlying pattern of these permanent interactions" (Turner, p. 473). Among the examples of these noted by Simmel were division of labour, exchange, money, schools, and family, where the diverse types may show similar forms. Turner notes that for Simmel, the multiple groups and associations of which one is part "sets the person free and increases individuality because each person can, to a degree, choose and select configurations of group affiliation" (Turner, p. 474). But individuality and groups also become structural in form.

Waters (p. 92) argues that structures imply the following for sociologists:

Note the features emphasized last day by Professor Diaz – relationships, totality, and the dependence of the observed on these underlying features of the social structure.

Waters (pp. 92-93) also notes that there are several approaches to structure, with only one of these being what sociologists would call structuralism or structuralist sociology.

a. Constructionist. One view is that structures exist in the social world, and they are created both consciously and unconsciously by human individual and group social activity. Weber’s social action results in structures in this manner, partly as a result of the unintended consequences of social action. The structuration theory of Giddens, resulting from human agents and agency is another example. Further, the parts of Marx that argues that humans create their own history is an example of this. However, Marx also noted that while

men make their own history, they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living. (Marx, quote in Ritzer, pp. 46-7).

That is, while humans create their own history, it is not always in circumstances or in the manner that they choose – it is in the latter Marx comes closer to the structuralism of Althusser.

b. Model. Sociologists develop ways of thinking about the world, consisting of categories, concepts, formal schemes, and models. These are analytical tools and they help the sociologist organize data concerning human social action, interaction, and relationships. In doing this, the sociologist generalizes common patterns and uses these to describe the normal forms of relationships, and the less usual – the deviant, the abnormal, the unusual. Some sociologists argue that these models are representations of the underlying reality of the social world, but most sociologists are more likely to regard these structural models as analytic devices which are useful, but do not necessarily represent social reality.


2. Structuralist Sociology

Structuralism as a theoretical approach argues that structures are the important feature of sociological analysis, and while structuralists may differ concerning how these emerge, they argue that structures underly and affect what we experience and observe in the social world. This approach is sometimes described as a realist or essentialist approach (although there may be other realist approaches), in that

Everyday social experience and the beliefs which sustain it are held to be a gloss which masks a genuine but hidden reality which lies beneath the level of consciousness. This hidden relatity is described as a structure and the task of the sociologist is to theorize that essence, both its enduring form and the way it mutates, according to its own internal logic. In this view, action is contingent. A further task of the theorist is to elucidate the connection between action and structure in such a way as to render action as the transparent product of structure. (Waters, p. 93).

The main examples of theorists of this type are Althusser and Poulantzas. These were discussed last day.

Louis Althusser. 1918-1990. French, born in Algeria, died in France. Professor of Philosophy and a leading ideologue of the Communist Party of France. His most famous works are Reading Capital, 1970, coauthored with Etienne Balibar, and For Marx, 1977. Althusser strangled his wife in 1980 and spent four years in a mental hospital.

Nicos Poulantzas. 1936-1979. Greek, born in Athens, moved to France in 1960. His most famous works were Political Power and Social Classes, 1973 and Classes in Contemporary Capitalism, 1975. Poulantzas died by suicide in 1979.

As noted last day, Poulantzas developed theories of social classes and the state in capitalism. Classes are defined primarily by their place in the economic sphere of society, but there are interconnected ideological and political elements. For example, the group that owns the means of production may not be the dominant class. Rather, what matters is who actually controls the means of production and uses that control to extract surplus value from workers. It is economic control, not actual ownership that matters here. For example, legal ownership of corporations may rest with stockholders, but actual economic control may rest with only a few large stockholders, banks, and top corporate executives.


The class that Professor Diaz talked about is a new middle grouping, and Poulantzas termed it the new petty bourgeoisie. Other writers have given it other names such as intermediate strata, the professional-managerial class, or the new middle class. Exactly who is to be included in this group is a matter of some argument, but it could include technicians, engineers, middle to top level managers, perhaps professors and teachers, civil servants, and workers in finance and real estate. These do work that in Poulantzas’s interpretation of Marx, do unproductive work. In terms of ideology, they tend to be be individualist, attracted to the status quo, are opposed to revolution, aspire to upward social mobility, and tend to believe that the state is neutral with respect to favouring one class or another.

Poulantzas also put major emphasis on the ideological apparatuses of the state in his analysis. Unlike some Marxists, who thought of the state as the executive committee of the ruling class, Poulantzas considers there to be a degree of autonomy for the state. Giddens and Held (p. 95) note that "the state is not the immediate ‘instrument’ of the ruling class but has a degree of power independent of that class." That is, the state protects capital and the conditions for capital accumulation, but may need to intervene in directions that hurt some capitalists in the short run. Poulantzas spent more time analyzing the ideological, as opposed to the repressive apparatus (army, police, administration, judiciary) of the state. Both are important but the ideological apparatus includes

the churches, the educational system, the bourgeois and petty bourgeois political parties, the press, radio, television, publishing, etc. These apparatuses belong to the state system because of their objective function of elaborating and inculcating ideology, irrespective of their formal juridical status as nationalized (public) or private. (Poulantzas in Giddens and Held, p. 109).

Since various groups and fractions of classes are represented in these areas, there are a number of ideological and political factors that create a relative autonomy for the state. At the same time, the structuralism of Poulantzas leads to the view that the state apparatus in the end must serve the interests of capital and capital accumulation – in order to preserve and expand the dominance of capital. Also note that Poulantzas argues that the state includes much more than just the government sector. That is, the state includes a network of organizations and institutions that stand outside the economic structures themselves – perhaps including almost all of these.

While Poulantzas’s analysis of the state provides a useful perspective, his analysis of social classes has been shown to be less useful. In particular, the division into productive and unproductive labour – which is a primary feature of his analysis – does not appear to provide a useful way of examining class structure.


3. Wright and Contradictory Class Locations

a. Introduction. Erik Olin Wright (1947- , United States) is a professor in the Department of Sociology, University of Wisconsin – Madison. His extensive writings on class analysis provide a perspective that seems more useful for structural class analysis in North America. He incorporates analysis of recent developments in capitalism in this class analysis. Wright's work is theoretical, historical and quantitative, and uses ideas and approaches from Marx, Weber, structuralism, and other perspectives. It can be considered to be mainly within the Marxian and conflict theory approach. The work of Wright is contained in Class, Crisis and the State (1978), Class Structure and Income Determination (1979), and Classes (1985), and Class Counts (1997).

The approach of Wright is structural in various ways, but is also empirical, so that it is less abstract than the French structuralists. (i) Wright begins his analysis from an historical and theoretical stance, using structural ideas from earlier theorists such as Marx, Weber, and Poulantzas. (ii) In terms of the organization of society, he argues that the economic forms of organization of the economy are key to understanding social structures. In particular, the position within the mode of production, and forms of and relationship to exploitation provide a way of describing and understanding social class. (iii) The major focus of Wright's analysis is on the various positions within the society – locations and places occupied as a result of the manner in which production is organized. That is, the analysis begins with the positions and locations, rather than the individuals who fill these positions and locations. Further, these form the basis for the social relationships people have those in other positions and locations. These relationships are part of a totality and are reasonably stable over time. (iv) Finally, Wright's theory is structural in that individual consciousness is related to position within the class structure. That is, the attitudes and behaviour of individual has a connection to the location they occupy within the division of labour and the contradictory locations that exist in capitalism.

Wright's analysis began with studies of class structure, attempting to investigate the suitability of various theories of class structure the United States labour force by using empirican analysis. In doing this he first developed a theory of contradictory class locations and later a theory based on exploitation.

b. Changes in Capitalism. The major developments in capitalism which Wright points to in "Class Boundaries and Contradictory Class Locations," in Giddens and Held, pp. 112-129, are three.

i. Loss of control over the labour process by workers. Wright traces the manner in which control over the actual work process was taken away from workers during the development of capitalism. Originally, workers owned their own tools, and controlled many of the aspects of the actual work process. The development of the factory and developments within the factory such as assembly lines and scientific management all have acted to take control away from the worker. There has been a deskilling of many jobs (Braverman), with new skills of other types being created. Wright also notes though how job enrichment, or allowing some workers greater control over some aspects of the work process, is a development which has recently begun to return to some parts of the workplace.

The importance of these developments has been (a) to provide means of extracting more surplus labour and surplus value from the worker, by increasing relative surplus value. In addition, (b) this has increased the gap between mental and manual labour in many sectors of the economy. The division of labour expands in such a way as to create jobs associated with high levels of skill or technology, at the same time that more manual labour jobs are also created. For Wright, this is a means by which a new class location is created, the semi-autonomous experts. Note that this part of Wright's analysis goes back to Marx's view of alienation being rooted in the division of labour. The development of the division of labour, along with the expansion of relative surplus value, create new divisions within the working class, perhaps creating a new class, or in Wright's terminology, a new class location.

In Classes, Wright considers these workers to actually exploit those without credentials. Whether this can be considered to be exploitation in the sense of taking surplus value directly from the manual workers is not so clear. However, Wright does regard the surplus value of society as being taken from workers, and redistributed to those with skills and credentials. This could help tie this group to those above them in the social hierachy, and create sets of interests that are different from those of workers.

Within socialism, Wright regards this group as also having considerable power, and might be able to continue exploitation of manual workers.

With respect to the relationship with manual workers, the maintenance of the division of labour, with the separation of skills, the ideological differences this implies, and the degree of exploitation, would all seem to separate this group from the workers. At the same time, Wright considers this to be a contradictory class location in that this group is not part of the bourgeoisie, or even the petite bourgeoisie. Wright considers this group to be a contradictory class location between the working class and the petite bourgeoisie.

This group is unable to legally own the means of production, and is unable to establish and generate the labour process on its own. It may have surplus labour extorted from it by the bourgeoisie, and is generally prevented from exercising economic ownership by the bourgeoisie, or those who control the means of production. Further, to the extent that this is a highly educated class, it may view the manner in which the means of production is organized as being quite irrational. There are thus also a number of aspects to this group which lead them to identify with much of the working class critique of capitalism.

The conclusion is that this group really does have contradictory ideological, economic and political aspects to its existence. It may identify with the workers on many issues, but is also likely to attempt to maintain the mental/manual labour distinction.

ii. Differentiation of the functions of capital. In early capitalism, the entrepreneur was both the capitalist and manager, organizing capital and production, and was directly involved in capital accumulation and exploitation of workers. As the concentration and centralization of capital developed and as the economy and the corporation became more complex, it became difficult for one person to carry out all of these functions. In particular, the development of the large scale corporation, with separate divisions, and the separation of economic and legal ownership mean that capital itself is much more complex phenomenon than in early capitalism. Since Marxists view capital as a social relationship, this also means the nature of the social relationship is not as immediately clear as earlier. Weber had pointed this out as a factor blocking the development of class consciousness. That is, workers might struggle against their immediate managers and the representatives of capital, rather than against the legal owners themselves.

iii. Development of complex hierarchies. Wright notes that as capitalism developed, the scale of companies increased and economic ownership (control over investments and finance) concentrated more rapidly than has possession (control over production). That is, capitalist organization can manage with relatively few owners, but requires considerable numbers of supervisors and managers. This has created multidivisional corporations within the business sector, and other bureaucracies in the state and other sectors. Weber already say this as a major development, and placed considerable emphasis on these developments.

A few of the levels of these hierarchies can be described by considering the various kinds of decisions that are made within these corporate hierarchies. The decisions concern what is to be produced (i) economic ownership, how things are to be produced (ii) control over the means of production and (iii) control over labour power. Each of these types of control are separate, although inter-related. In general, more control means a position closer to the real owners, the capitalist class. But control over (ii) for example, may be quite separate from control over (i). As a result, each of these three aspects of decision making lead to different types of control or lack of control. They are in different dimensions so that each combination can represent a different location within the class system. Wright argues, along the Marxian lines, that all class positions are contradictory, but

... certain positions in the class structure constitute doubly contradictory locations: they represent positions which are torn between the basic contradictory class relations of capitalist society. ... I will ... refer to them as "contradictory class locations." (Giddens and Held, p. 113).

For Wright, there are three primary classes within the capitalist system of organization, the capitalist class, the working class and the petty bourgeoisie. The three contradictory class locations are (i) the small employers, (ii) managers and supervisors, and (iii) semi-autonomous employees. It might be noted that here Wright has an additional similarity to Weber, the class situation of Weber becomes the class location of Wright. Wright does attach the notion of contradiction to this, so he blends the Marxian and Weberian approaches. Like Marx, these locations and classes become the basis for the formation of class consciousness, but like Weber these classes and locations are defined on a multidimensional basis, and with more characteristics than simply ownership or non-ownership of the means of production. The basis becomes the extent and type of control, and the position within a hierarchy (Weber's means of administration).

c. Contradictory Class Locations. There are three contradictory class locations for Wright. These are as follows.

i. Small Employers. The capitalist class is clearly within the dominant capitalist mode of production, while the petty bourgeoisie could be considered to be characterized by simple commodity production. In the latter case "production [is] organized for the market by independent self-employed producers who employ no workers" (Class, Crisis and the State, p. 74). There is no clear dividing line between these but as soon as one employee is hired, there may be a capitalist form of exploitation that can develop. But it is likely that the real separation of small employers from the petty bourgeoisie only begins when there are several employees, and Wright uses the range of 10-50 employees as being characteristic of this group.

There are likely to be controversies between large and small capitalists. In Regina, the debate over store hours pitted parts of the working class, the petty bourgeoisie and smaller employers against large employers, other workers and some of the middle class. On issues related to taxation and government regulation, it is often small employers who oppose these most, because of their lack of resources. In this situation, the large and small employers may argue somewhat differently, with large employers sometimes appearing to be more on the side of workers, because the latter have the resources to accomodate the workers' demands. On issues related to government intervention more generally, both large and small employers are likely to oppose this.

ii. Managers and Administrators. In this contradictory class location, Wright places all those workers who supervise other people on the job, or who can be considered managers. This location itself includes quite a broad range of types of jobs.

Those top level managers are often tied directly to the owner through legal ownership of stocks and bonds as part of their pay. They are in possession of the means of production in the sense that they control these, give orders that are obeyed, and generally manage and superintend the process of production. They may have skill and organizational asssets (control over means of administration) and share in the surplus value that is produced, directing the process of exploitation of labour, and benefitting from it. As a result, these top level managers are likely to have, or to develop, and ideology and political view that ties them to owners and the bourgeoisie.

Middle level managers are in a more contradictory position, and the exact nature of this position may depend on the level they are at, the degree of control they have, the income they gain from this, and their chances for upward mobility. These middle and lower level managers and administrators do not have sufficient resources or ownership to become employers themselves, and may have little actual control, so that they may be very similar in many ways to the proletariat. Yet their position within the chain of command in an organization likely ties them ideologically to the employer and top level managers in many cases.

Lower level supervisors and foremen are very close to being workers themselves, and usually began as workers. In that sense their objective situation is not really very different from most workers. Wright notes that "they have moved further from workers by becoming less involved in direct production, and they have moved closer to workers by gradually having their personal power bureaucratized" (Giddens and Held, p. 125). That is, the foreman once may have been in a powerful position, as head of an internal labour force, perhaps even being a subcontractor. In a more bureaucratized organization, the foreman becomes subject to rules that mean little autonomy, and these people may side with the workers under their supervision more than with the administration of the organization.

In each of these positions, there is obviously considerable room for individual and group differences. While Wright does not discuss actual workplace situations, a study of any workplace would show how individuals and groups react to their situation within the administration of an organization, and develop allegiances that are more with the workers or with the top administrators and owners.

iii. Semi-Autonomous Employees. These are employees that do not for the most part supervise others, and are likely to have special skills or technical training, or be professionals. These could be engineers, teachers, professors, programmers, some health professionals, etc. These are people in occupations that have a degree of autonomy in terms of decisions related to the job, and while subject to orders, are likely to fill positions that requires their own judgment concerning production and related decisions.

The semi-autonomy is described by Wright as being

certain degree of control over their immediate conditions of work, over their immediate labour process. In such instances, the labour process has not been completely proletarianized. .... they can still be viewed as occupying residual islands of petty-bourgeois relations of production within the capitalist mode of production itself. (Giddens and Held, p. 127).

While there are always attempts by employers and managers to limit the autonomy of the semi-autonomous employees, the technical expertise of the latter does give them a degree of bargaining power. In most cases, this expertise is required, and this has allowed these workers to maintain considerable flexibility in the workplace, and considerable control over the actual work process.

iv. Summary. Wright's analysis preserves the basic structures of the Marxian theory of class, but shows how these relationships may not be as clear cut, or produce such clear class allegiances as claimed by many Marxists. He has used features of the economic and social structure that are very similar to features discussed by Weber. While he may not have derived these directly from Weber, but more from some of the analyses of United States corporate structures, the implications of Wright's analysis is also similar to some of those of Weber. That is, class interests and class struggles will not be as clear cut as many Marxists claim. The immediate interests of the various groupings may differ by time and place, and there are many possible combinations of interest groups. These are similar to some of the factors mentioned by Weber as making class struggle difficult.

What these considerations might imply is that there are many different forms in which coalitions for political and social change will appear. This can be seen in much of current politics, where various lobby groups aroung particular issues develop, but often with shifting alliances.

In his more recent writing, Wright has shifted his analysis somewhat to concentrate on different forms of assests, skill and credential assets and organizational assets, along with assets in the means of production. This multidimensional scheme becomes even more similar to Weber's analysis of class, although Wright still lays primary emphasis on class, class relationships and class alliances, rather than on status groups.

d. Class Locations determined by Assets

In his later analysis, Wright developed a new typology of class locations based on ownership or non-ownership of various forms of assets. This approach is outlined in this section.

Wright’s Typology of Class Locations in Capitalist Society


Assets in the means of production


Owners of means of production



Non-owners [wage labourers]


Owns sufficient capital to hire workers and not work

1 Bourgeoisie


4 Expert Managers

7 Semi- Credentialled Managers

10 Uncredentialled Managers



Owns sufficient capital to hire workers but must work

2 Small Employers


5 Expert Supervisors

8 Semi-Credentialled Supervisors

11 Uncredentialled Supervisors

>0 Organizational



Owns sufficient capital to work for self but not to hire workers

3 Petty Bourgeoisie


6 Experts non-managers

9 Semi- Credentialled Workers

12 Proletarians











Skill/credential assets



Source: Erik Olin Wright. 1985. Classes. London:Verso. Table 3.3, p. 88.





Wright’s distribution of the labour force in the clas matrix using the exploitation-centred concept of class. United States Labour Force.


Assets in the means of production



Non-owners [wage labourers]


1 Bourgeoisie




4 Expert Managers



7 Semi- Credentialled Managers


10 Uncredentialled Managers




2 Small Employers




5 Expert Supervisors


8 Semi-Credentialled Supervisors


11 Uncredentialled Supervisors


>0 Organizational



3 Petty Bourgeoisie



6 Experts non-managers


9 Semi- Credentialled Workers


12 Proletarians










Skill/credential assets



Source: Erik Olin Wright. 1985. Classes. London:Verso. Table 6.1, p. 195.


i. Assets and Exploitation. In a discussion of rational choice marxism earlier in the semester, various types of assets and exploitation were identified with various historical periods. The types of assets and forms of exploitation were:


Mode of production

Principal asset unequally distributed

Mechanism of exploitation


Labour power

Coercive extraction of surplus labour


Means of production

Market exchange of labour power and commodities



Planned appropriation and distribution of surplus based on hierarchy



Negotiated redistribution of surplus from workers to expers


Wright, Classes, p. 83.

Through historical and theoretical analysis Wright identifies various assets and forms of exploitation. He argues that labour power, means of production, organizational assets, and skill assets are the primary assets that can be unequally distributed in a society and can become the source of exploitation. Exploitation occurs when some are better off as a result of others being worse off, when it is the case that "some people must toil more so that others can toil less, or that they must conume less at a given level of toil so that others can consume more, or both" (Wright, Classes, p. 36). Each of these four forms of assets can be unequally distributed and can become a source of exploitation, so that there is a causal relation that allows some to be better off at the expense of those who are made worse off.

ii. Organizational Assets. (Classes, pp. 79-82, 151-2, 303-313). For Wright, "the technical division of labour among producers [is] a source of productivity" (p. 79) and this means that "organization—the conditions of coordinated cooperation among producers in a complex division of labour—is a productive resource in its own right" (p. 79). The assets of an organization are generally controlled by the managers of the organization, who are hired to exercise and manage this control. In an individual or family enterprise, the organizational assets belong to the owner of the business (the entrepreneur), but in a large corporation, the organizational assets are usually turned over to the top managers.

Wright notes that organizational assets are closely related to authority and hierarchy, so that those who control and benefit from these organizational assets are those that exercise control "through a hierarchy of authority" (p. 80). Note the similarity to the view of Poulantzas here, that while such authority and control cannot be bought and sold and is not legal ownership, it is economic ownership in the sense that these managers have the power to carry the functions of the organization, and must do so if they are to retain their position. Also note the similarity to the means of administration of Weber and how this can form the basis for a status group or class – means by which workers in a bureaucracy could exercise control over the bureaucracy. For Wright, the possessor of skills, credentials, abilities, talents, etc. may not have any actual legal or economic ownership of the means of production, but there may be some degree of possession of the means of production. That is, the technocrat or professional may be able to exercise some discretion concerning how production is to be organized. In addition, the ideological aspect that Poulantzas noted would seem to be of some importance for this group. That is, the illusion of control is likely to be present, the possibility for considerable upward mobility may also be present, and these may lead these people to a high degree of identification with the organization, and with the structures and relationships of domination.

In his empirical work, Wright considers specific issues such as type and extent of decision-making power, authority in terms of sanctions that the manager can exercise over others, formal position in a hierarchy, and extent of supervisory power. From this he develops a three-fold classification of (i) managers – positions with "effective authority over subordinates" (p. 151), (ii) supervisors – "positions which have effective authority over subordinates, but are not involved in organizational decision-making" (pp. 151-2), and (iii) those without any organizational assets in terms of being managers or supervisors.

iii. Skills and Credentials. (Wright, Classes, pp. 85-6, 152-3, 313-315). Experts, or those with credentials, skills, and knowledge own or control these and by using these in production "are able to appropriate some of the surplus from production" (p. 85). Wright does not consider this to necessarily form a basis for a class relationship since those with such expertise or knowledge may work alongside or with less skilled workers, not having the power to exploit the latter directly. That is, experts may not control the less-skilled, and may have little supervisory or hierarchical authority over them. Rather, they are hired to carry out certain tasks, and they are well paid to perform these tasks. At the same time, these skilled workers may share in the social surplus and may be better paid because some are less well paid.

Wright measures the skills and credentials by "using a combination of occupational titles, formal credentials and job traits as a basis for distinguishing people in jobs where certain credentials are mandatory" (p. 152). While formal job titles and educational credentials are primary in measuring this, Wright also specifies job autonomy as a key aspect of it. For example, some sales jobs allow for considerable autonomy (real estate, insurance) while others are strictly controlled (cashier). In doing this, Wright is not just using credentials, but he argues that "the degree of conceptual autonomy in the job is likely to be a good indicator of the skill asset attached to the job" (p. 314). Again note how this classification comes from Poulantzas and Weber. Weber noted the possibility of acquistion classes as a major part of the class structure, and added these to the three classes of Marx:

Notes on Weber’s acquisition classes: These are those 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 which 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). 

Similarly, Poulantzas was concerned with the growth of the new petty bourgeoisie: technicians, engineers, middle to top level managers, perhaps professors and teachers, civil servants, and workers in finance and real estate. Many of these are similar to the new middle class of Clement or the credentialled and experts of Wright.

Using these criteria, Wright develops a three-fold classification into (i) experts such as professionals, technicians, and managers with university or college degrees; (ii) skilled employees such as school teachers, craftworkers, managers and technicians not having college degrees, and salespersons or clerical workers with college degrees and having some job autonomy; and (iii) nonskilled workers – other clerical and sales, and noncraft manual and service occupations.

iv. Assets in the Means of Production. (Wright, Classes, p. 149-51). From a Marxian viewpoint, the measurement and classification of these is relatively straightforward and unproblematic. Wright’s measurement of the different forms of the bourgeoisie is based on who own means of production and who is self-employed. The bourgeoisie proper are those among these who employ ten or more workers. Small employers are those who employ between two and ten workers, and the petty bourgeoisie are those who employ one or no workers, but who are self-employed. All others are non-owners or wage labourers, although some may have high incomes.

v. Class Structure and Class Consciousness. Wright’s classification of people and jobs into various class locations is a useful way of sorting through the maze of different types of jobs and class positions in contemporary North America. The assets on which the analysis is based make considerable sense historically and theoretically, and correspond to much contemporary social theory and practical experience.

If these class locations are to make sense in a structuralist framework, Wright also needs to demonstrate that people think or act on the basis of the position occupied. That is, if the class location is to be useful theoretically and politically, these class locations should connect to class consciousness, the possibility of political alliances, and class action. While Wright cannot measure the latter issues using survey methods, social researchers consider it possible to connect class structure with some measure of class consciousness. Wright does this in the latter part of Classes, where he examines "the empirical relation between class structure and an attitudinal measure of class consciousness" (p. 241).

Wright discusses various meanings of class consciousness and settles on three dimensions of subjectivity (p. 247):

Wright examines these by asking the members of his sample a variety of questions (p. 263) concerning issues related to these. The questions asked people to respond to the following views: 

While Wright’s analysis includes a number of other factors and illustrates a variety of connections between class location and class consciousness, he generally finds that those in the working class (proletarians of cell 12) are most class conscious, with semi-credentialled workers (cell 9) and uncredentialled supervisors (cell 11) close to this (p. 260). In contrast, the bourgeoisie (cell 1) and expert managers (cell 4) are least class conscious, with those in cells 2 and 5 close to this. Intermediate are cells 3, 6, 7, 8, 10.

From this, Wright draws three conclusions (p. 278):

The first and second points in this conclusion are very structuralist in nature – arguing that meaningful class locations can be constructed from some basic economic and sociological concepts. People occupy these class locations as they are recruited for and fill the various occupations and jobs in the economy and society, and as they do the work required in these jobs. It is these class locations that have a strong effect on their consciousness, in particular on their class consciousness. This, in turn, is likely to affect the political choices and actions of the people in these class locations.

While Wright spends most of his book dealing with these structural aspects of the social class system, in his conclusions he also notes that the historical experiencs, the organizational practices (trade unionism, strikes, work actions) and politics can affect the outcome of any specific group. In recognizing the latter, he recognizes that structural sociology does not provide all the answers, and he attempts to include some of these political and organizational features in his analysis.

e. Canada. In Canada, the main attempt to produce a similar analysis comes from Wallace Clement. Clement bases his current research on a five nation study the "Comparative Class Structure Project." This project was partly set up by Wright, but included three Nordic countries as well. Clement attempts to simplify the analysis of class structure by considering the small employers as a fraction of the capitalist or petty bourgeois class, and the semi-autonomous employees as a fraction of the new middle class or working class. The petty bourgeois are the old middle class, including some small employers. The new middle class is those workers who have control over the labour power of others but do not have substantial command over the means of production. For Clement

making binding decision over the means of production is equated with real economic ownership, while directing labour power is understood as possession. Those with real economic ownership belong to the capitalist/executive class, while those with possession alone belong to the new middle class. (Clement, 1990, p. 466).

Clement is quite critical of Wright's formulations, but does not justify his assertions, and perhaps produces a overly simple model of social class. For Clement, the main contradiction and struggle within modern capitalist societies is between the capitalist and the working classes. with the old and the new middle class in between. He summarizes the main relations as

... the capitalist/executive class controls production and the employment of others while the new middle class is composed of employees who assist the employer's control through sanctioning authority and/or setting policy. The working class is the subject of the control processes and engages in work for pay. The old middle class is self-employed and works outside the dominant relations of production and basically has at its disposal the means of realizing its own labour. (Clement, 1990, pp. 468-9).

Clement also sorts out class by sex, something which earlier analysts often ignored, assuming that the class position of women is determined by the husband in a family or household.

4. Conclusions Concerning Structuralism



Clement, Wallace. 1990. "Comparative class analysis: locating Canada in a North American and Nordic context," Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, 27 (4), pp. 462-486.

Clement, Wallace and John Myles. 1994. Relations of Ruling: Class and Gender in Postindustrial Societies. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Giddens, Anthony and David Held. 1982. Classes, Power, and Conflict: Classical and Contemporary Debates. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Ritzer, George. 1996. Sociological Theory, fourth edition. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Turner, Jonathan H. 1998. The Structure of Sociological Theory, sixth edition. Belmont California: Wadsworth Publishing Company.

Waters, Malcolm. 1994. Modern Sociological Theory. London: Sage Publications.

Wright, Erik Olin. 1979. Class Structure and Income Determination. New York: Academic Press.

Wright, Erik Olin. 1985. Classes. London:Verso.

Wright, Erik Olin. 1997. Class Counts: Comparative Studies in Class Analysis. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.


Last edited on April 4, 2000.

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