A class can be defined in different ways according to the sociological theories of Marx Weber, Pierre Bourdieu and Karl Marx. Marx defines a class in terms of capitalistic differentiation while Weber defines it on the basis of social stratification. The Marxian theory defines a class in terms of owners of labor, capital, and land in a capitalistic society (Calhoun and Gerteis, 2007). These three owners receive profit, wages and rent correspondingly.
Therefore, class is fixed by the owners of capital and the relationship individuals have to production resources. This theory brings out two types of social classes. Marx refers to them as the bourgeoisie and the proletariat to mean the owners of production resources and the working class respectively (Calhoun and Gerteis, 2007). Bourgeoisie can also be classified into owners of capital or land. On the contrary, Weber asserts that class, party and status are aspects of all communal structure.
These aspects present economic, social and political order in that order (Calhoun, Gerteis and Moody, 2007). For that reason, it is not appropriate to fix class without considering the other two aspects. Essentially, Weber defines a class as a group of individuals united by social action. Bourdieu defines classes based on social space. His definition tends to explain how classes are formed (Calhoun and Gerteis, 2007). His classification is derived from the division of different types of capital.
Over the years, the situations under which class politics were effective have taken a tremendous shift. This is because the societies have transformed from communal or societal regimes to industrialized economies. An advanced industrial society is characterized by a rise in the standard of living. This extends to previously deprived parts of the society. It is also notable that manufacturers focus on production of luxury goods.
Likewise, there is an increased focus on financial and political hegemony. More resources are allocated to scientific research and experimentation. Industrialization has promoted a stable economy that meets the needs of the classes. Therefore, the antagonism between classes has reduced significantly as social mobility increases. Furthermore, the gap between the owners of capital and labor cease to be decisive because economic factors are less prominent.
This paper examines the reasons why class politics is no longer popular in advanced industrial societies by focusing on the changes in classes, status and politics. It also discusses social space and symbolic space in relation to class politics.
Classes and Social Action
Weber asserts that class does not necessary refer to a group of individuals with similar skin color, gender or nationality (Calhoun and Gertais, 2007). If the term class is used to describe this group, then it would lead to several distortions. Essentially, classes emerge as a result of social action (Calhoun and Gerteis, 2007). It is imperative to note that these types of action do not reinstate individuals of the same gender or nationality together.
On the contrary, social action brings people of diverse classes together. An outstanding example is that of workers coming together to demand better pay or better working environment. However, the existence of advanced capitalism attracts a distinctive social action that seeks to protect property especially the rights of production. Class politics change when the social actions that exist over production resources change.
Status and Social differentiation
Unlike classes in Weber’s theory, Status refers to a group of people whose characteristics are determined by societal differentiation. Social differentiation describes the line drawn between individuals on the basis of physical and societal aspects such as gender, race, age and ethnicity, among other factors.
Individuals who share the same position in the society because of their wealth, duties, lifestyle or honor, are said to be of the same social status. Weber claims that a status group is determined by social honor (Calhoun et al, 2007); to remain in such a group, individuals are required to maintain a unique lifestyle. Status groups characterize social order. Social order in turn, influences the actions of individuals. Most people will tend to disassociate themselves from class politics in order to maintain their status in the society.
Power and Politics
According to Weber in his article, the distribution of Power within the Political Community: Class, Status, Party, the organization of the political system controls the distribution of power in a society (Calhoun et al, 2007). Weber defines power as the ability of an individual to accomplish his purpose under unfavorable circumstance.
Advanced industrial societies demand a powerful administration that can render ethical decisions on behalf of the society. This means that before a society can achieve the industrial state, government in charge exercises exemplary leadership skills. The power behind the leadership is critical for status groups and parties. The politics of classes is, therefore, minimized by legal order.
Social Space and Symbolic Space
Social space refers to the grouping of individuals in a society. According to Pierre Bourdieu, social space is a distinct space based on the distribution of capital and the quality of goods or services in a social world (Calhoun et al, 2007). His theory is anchored on the basis that social space has multiple dimensions.
The dimensions are based on power and they include level of education, economic power, and sociocultural advantage. In addition, the quality and quantity of capital determines the basis of differentiation. Lastly, the value or capital must be considered relevant in the social world. The definition of Bourdieu reflects on specificity. For example, in a financial market money is a specific medium of exchange. Social space is not a static field; it changes depending on the forces at work.
Based on this definition, education can be considered as the basis of social space in industrial societies. The relationship that exists between people of the same level of education can constitute a social space.
This kind of social space alters the structure of the labor force and reduces the power of class politics. For Bourdieu, Symbolic space describes the characteristics that distinguish different economic actors (Calhoun et al, 2007). For example, fashion, sports, prestige, talent, and music. These factors embody the social similarities or disparities between individuals.
In other words, the decisions made by people are a symbol that can be used to classify them in different groups. Symbols such as prestige can be considered as a source of power. Sources of capital and power that are social in nature are classified as symbolic capital (Calhoun et al, 2007). Symbolic space in advanced industrial societies dominates class politics.
Interests and Goals of Classes
With the development of industrial societies, the interests and goals of classes have changed. The proletariat class becomes smaller as the technological progress gives rise to a new class of workers with expertise. In this era, universities and colleges are essential institutions in the society because of their intellectual capacity.
According to Marxian theory, class interests have to exist before a class is formed. As the society advances to an industrialized state, the class interests that were previously disparate become more and more united (Calhoun and Gerteis, 2007). Unlike the classes of capitalism, technology is not based on economic laws. This means that, in an economic revolution, capitalist classes cease to be significant while technology continues to grow.
For example, the members of a labor union can now unite with entrepreneurs of a weapons manufacturing factory to ensure that the factory receives a contract for the production of the weapon. A merger which lobbies for contracts together with the corporation does not have the moral authority to fight for the workers when the company disregards their welfare.
The theories of Marx, Weber and Bourdieu remain relevant and credible in explaining why class politics do not prevail in advanced industrial societies. During the pre-industrial era, it was common for people with limited power to come together as class in order to gain control over capitalistic resources. However, in economic advanced industrial societies such actions are no longer necessary. This is because industrial societies have gained economic strength. As a result, the needs of the different classes are met.
Members of different classes now come together to achieve a common goal instead of fighting; for example, classes uniting to ensure environmental sustainability. Additionally, the economic factors that favored the existence of classes is less dominant in industrial societies. Instead, the economic development cushions the lower and middle class. The society is no longer analyzed in terms of ownership of labor, capital or rent.
Calhoun, J.C., and Gerteis, J. (2007). Classical Sociological Theory. New Jersey: Blackwell Publishers
Calhoun, J.C., Gerteis, J., and Moody, J. (2007). Contemporary Sociological Theory. New Jersey: Blackwell Publishers