Max Weber Theory of Social Stratification
What is Social stratification?
Social Stratification refers to divisions among people based on differences in status and things like wealth, power, or prestige.
Max Weber Social Inequality
Alongside Karl Marx and Emile Durkheim, Max Weber is regarded as one of the founders of sociology, and he’s particularly famous for his analysis of capitalism.
To some extent, Max Weber’s work builds upon and critiques the earlier work of Karl Marx.
Conflict Theory of Social Stratification
Like Karl Marx, Max Weber regarded society as being characterized by conflicts over power and resources. Weber defines power as the ability to get your own way even when other people resist.
Max Weber believed that society was organized in a stratified hierarchy system, with some people being more powerful than other people, being less able to dominate or resist that power.
Weber, therefore, agrees with Marx that relations of inequality are central to social life. However, Weber rejects the Marxist idea that class inequality is always the most significant form of social inequality.
For Weber, status groups, that is, groups possessing certain amounts of prestige or social honor, and parties that are organized groups of people possessing certain amounts of political power could be just a significant source of social inequality is class membership.
Therefore a major strength of the Weberian approach is it avoids the problem of economic determinism associated with Marxism because it adopts a multi-dimensional approach to studying social inequality.
Max Weber Three-Component Theory of Stratification
Max Weber Class Stratification
What is Class Stratification?
For Max Weber, the concept of class refers to people who share the same economic interests. According to Weber, class divisions derive not simply from ownership or lack of ownership of the means of production, as is the case through traditional Marxists, but also from an individual’s capacity to obtain financial rewards for selling their skills within society’s marketplace.
And this is referred to as the market situation of individuals. Some individuals can demand more money, better jobs because of their skills on their qualifications, which obviously affect the types of work on the types of play they can obtain.
Class Stratification Example
For example, those in managerial or professional white-collar occupations generally earn more and had more favorable work conditions than people in blue-collar manual working-class jobs.
The qualifications that white-collar workers possess, such as a degree or diplomas and their acquired skills, make them more marketable than others without such qualifications.
Similarly, if we look at a blue-collar manual, working-class workers, a skilled craftsperson would be able to secure higher wages than the semi or unskilled.
Different classes have different life chances, and life chances are described by Weber as access to things that are regarded as necessary and desirable in a society, such as access to food, housing, good health, and educational and job opportunities.
They have distinguished the following class groupings in capitalist society.
- Propertied upper class, the group that Marx referred to as the bourgeoisie.
- Manual working class.
But in between the top on the bottom, we have two important intermediate social classes. Namely
- White-collar workers (people like middle-class professionals and managers)
Self-employed or the petty bourgeoisie.
Weber also argued that they’re important divisions within each of these four broad social classes. And unlike Marx, he argued that the white-collar middle class expands rather than contracts as capitalism develops.
He maintained that capitalist enterprises in the modern nation-state require a rational bureaucratic administration that involves large numbers of white-collar admin, clerical and managerial staff.
Class System Today
Class systems are more common in the world today. Class systems purport to have high social mobility levels, and marriage across class lines is not considered problematic.
However, in reality, in most class systems we see today, class mobility is significantly limited, and most people do tend to marry within their own social class.
Scholars have noted the emergence of a global superclass. The global superclass refers to about 6000 of the wealthiest people in the world.
The wealthiest 1000 people in the world have more wealth than the poorest 2.5 billion Put together.
The global superclass tends to be male, and it tends to be white, and it tends to hail from the Northern Hemisphere.
While class forms one possible basis, social inequality, Weber argued that other factors needed to be considered, including particular groups’ status.
In Weber’s work, the concept of status refers to differences between social groups in the amounts of prestige others accord them.
Prestige is the respect and social honor given to some people in society.
Whereas class refers to the unequal distribution of economic or financial rewards, status refers to the unequal distribution of social honor or prestige.
Weber argued that the relationship between class and status isn’t always obvious and clear cut; he argued that status often varies independently of class, and possession of wealth can obviously sometimes confer high status.
But this is not universal.
The case of a drug dealer, for example, maybe multi-millionaires. But they aren’t well respected and therefore aren’t ranked high in a stratification system based on the status.
On the flip side, an academician working in the university may earn a relatively modest salary, but they command a fair amount, respect, prestige, and social honor. So they have a higher status.
Occupations, ethnic and religious groups, lifestyles can all be accorded different levels of status within society.
Furthermore, some societies are patriarchal and judge females as having less status than men.
A status group comprises individuals who are awarded a similar amount of social honor, and they often share a similar lifestyle and social identity.
Members of some status groups might try to place restrictions on outsiders joining them, and this is known as social closure. It’s a social closure that involves the exclusion of some people from membership of the status group.
Status Stratification Example
A concrete example in the contemporary UK would be those studies that suggest that those who’ve attended elite private schools that are over referred to as public schools usually feel certain occupations. This type of social closure is often referred to as elite self-recruitment.
Weber also identified a third form of inequality, which he called party. He referred not just to political parties but also to any organized group of individuals trying to gain power and influence society.
For example, in addition to political parties, these groups would also include various forms of pressure groups that seek to influence government policy. Some of these political groups are clearly linked to class interests.
For example, many trade unions represent groups within the working class. However, pressure groups often draw their members from all social classes, and some pressure groups might also represent specific status groups.
The existence of these other dimensions of status and party and class makes Max Weber’s conflict model a stratification of social inequality far more complex than simply a battle between the rich and the poor.
Weber was skeptical about whether or not a revolution resulting in the overthrow of capitalism would actually occur in Western societies.
He also suggested that communism, the alternative to capitalism proposed by Marx, might be just suppressive capitalism.
Weber’s approach to stratification has been adopted and developed by many sociologists. It allows them to create more complex and multi-dimensional models of how society is stratified and divided.
Other Classifications of stratification that Sociologists Study.
Slavery is a stratification system in which some people are owned or treated his property by other people.
Historically, slavery has looked very different in different times; in other places, we see primarily three traditional causes of slavery.
- Debt Slavery Stratification
- Crime Slavery
- War Slavey
The first is debt. People unable to pay debts might be subjected to slavery. People also might be sold by their parents or relatives or might sell themselves as indentured servants.
Some people might also end up being enslaved as a result of a crime. It might be a way for them to pay of their debt of crime.
And finally, one of the common ways people ended up a slave was that they were the spoils of war.
Conditions of slavery
Conditions of slavery have also varied tremendously. In some cases, slavery was seen as a temporary condition, not necessarily an inherited status, and not all slaves were necessarily poor and powerless, depending on the time and place.
The type of slavery you’re probably most familiar with is the type that took place here in the Americas. While attempts to enslave the indigenous population largely failed, large numbers of slaves were imported from the continent of Africa.
Many people mistakenly believe that racist ideologies are what fueled the exportation of this type of slave. But many social scientists believe that rather ideologies of race became a way to defend the importation of slave labor, not the justification for it.
This system was heritable, and people were bred for profit, making it a particularly cruel example of slavery.
Unfortunately, slavery continues to exist in the world today. Some people highlight the ways that extreme economic exploitation is akin to slavery.
Besides, we know that 8 to 9 million children are currently enslaved, and a much larger number are exploited, workers.
Women and Children across the globe are trafficked as low-wage workers, slaves, and sexual slaves.
Caste as a Form of Social Stratification
Cast refers to a system in which birth determines your lifelong status. While people often associate caste systems with India, British, French, and Spanish monocle systems are also examples of a caste system.
Caste systems tend to practice what’s called Endogamy; one will marry those at the same station or level.
Difference between Karl Marx and Max Weber
Compared to Max, his approaches, it is much easier to explain social inequality by things like gender, ethnicity, and age since the position of these groups can be described in general terms relating to both their market situation, their status as well as their ability to organize in a political sense.
The Weberian approach rightly identifies that people may come together and identify with others not simply based on economic interests but also because of a shared status position or shared political goals.
Marx Vs. Weber Social Class
Among classic sociological theorists, Marx and Weber had the most say about social class. Marx is considered to be what’s called an economic determinist. For Marx, social class depends entirely on your relationship to the means of production.
There are really only two classes with which he’s concerned.
- The bourgeoisie; who owned the means of production and
- The proletariat; who are the workers.
Marx argues that because of your shared identity, you may develop class consciousness. However, he argues that false consciousness often ensues, in which workers think of themselves as capitalists rather than labor.
What this means in practice is that we often see labor supporting political candidates or bills that maybe aren’t beneficial to the workers themselves.
Weber has a more nuanced view of the class. For Weber, three components could raise or lower your class status.
- Your class, the property or wealth to which you have access
- Your status or prestige; This would come from positions you may hold
- Your power, your ability to control others.
For example, in the 1960s and the 1970s, the Women’s Liberation Movement tried to bring together women from all social class backgrounds to campaign for women’s rights.
Why Is Social Stratification Universal?
Many sociologists have argued that stratification is universal. Here are Structural functionalist and conflict theorist views;
Structural functionalist- Davis and Moore
The structural functionalists were the first to tackle this argument, and though their argument is in the end been discredited, it’s essential to take a look at what it was.
Davis and Moore argued that stratification is inevitable or will definitely happen because;
- We need all of our important positions filled.
- Some positions have more importance than others, and you need to motivate people to take those positions.
- The more important position, the more qualifications are required. Why would you spend years in medical school if there wasn’t a big reward from being a doctor?
- To motivate people, we use these rewards.
This theory has mostly been discredited for several reasons. The Structural functionalist argument is deceptively simple.
Melvin M. Tumin points out that how do you decide what’s important to society? Maybe we should question this.
For example, First, Tumen points out that having our trash picked up is actually more integral to our health than necessarily having a good heart surgeon. Yet, the rewards for being a heart surgeon are commensurately much higher than for being a sanitation engineer.
Secondly, Tumen points out that society is clearly not a meritocracy. People who work the hardest might not get ahead. In fact, social class is the best predictor for access to things like education. Well, that’s just simply the class into which you were born.
Third, Tumin points out that social stratification works out very well for the privileged, and it’s relatively dysfunctional for everyone else in society. So maybe we need to rethink this idea of what is functional.
Conflict theorists take a different tact. They argue that conflict is actually the cause of stratification, that those with more power or privilege use their position to maintain power, which is how stratification occurs.
Gaetano Mosca, for example, points out that.
- All societies are stratified by power. There’s something different about leadership and everyone else.
- Leadership requires there to be power imbalances.
- Once people achieve a position of power, they tend to reward themselves.
Sociologists argue that stratification is perpetuated in several ways and includes;
- Control of ideas. Ideologies tend to favor those in power.
- Control of information. This is linked to the control of ideas. By limiting access to information, you’re ultimately controlling which ideologies have the most purchase or attraction.
- Limiting criticism. You could limit criticism legally or simply through control of the media, and
- Lastly, used the use of surveillance technology to monitor your citizenry.
Criticism of Max Weber Theory of Social Stratification
- The main criticism of the baby ring approach comes from Marxism. Marxists argue that focusing on multiple dimensions of inequality obscures class divisions’ fundamental importance within capitalist societies.
- Marxists would argue that the status distinctions that they were talks about within the working class are often encouraged to divide and rule by the ruling class and that the significant political struggles are ultimately linked to the class struggle conflicts over economic interests.
- Nevertheless, despite these criticisms, Weber’s ideas have had considerable influence on modern sociologists.