Explain Marx and Webbers Differing Approaches to Class

Explain Marx and Webbers Differing Approaches to Class

Discuss Foucault’s argument that power is both productive and repressive. Explain Marx and Webbers differing approaches to class. Marx * For Marx, class fundamentally explained two things -the structure of inequality in a society -the process by which that inequality would be over come. * Marx defined class by social relationships in production. Webber * Class situation – the class circumstance of an individual- is based in the market. The market is a concept describing the arena in which buyers and sellers come together to exchange gods and services. For Webber class situation reflects not how individuals relate to the means of production and other people in the production process ( as it does for Marx), but what they have, and what they can bargain with for rewards in the market * Webber called these rewards and social opportunities life chances. -life chances is a term associated with the work of Weber to refer to different opportunities and differential access t resource, including education, wealth, housing, and health. Like marks, Weber makes a fundamental distinction between people who own productive property and people who do not. Both * Marks ideas about class inequality in capitalism have remained influential today, even though his predictions about the end of capitalism have been discredited. Even at the time at which he was writing, Marx’s ideas were controversial. The other equally influential classical theorist of class, Weber, is often described as writing in dialogue with “Marx ghost”, because his own writings were, in many ways, a response to Marx’s. Essay

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In this essay I will examine the class theories of Karl Marx and Max Weber, and how they differentiate within there approaches. Marx argued that class was determined by income and the relationship a group had to the means of production, which created a distinction between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. While Weber argued that class was created according to an individual’s own abilities and skills and through this they would be rewarded by their income and status. His approach was more individualistic and allowed for a more flexible and less ridged class structure.

Karl Marx argued there are two major social classes, the ruling class who own the means of production and the subject class, who don’t own the means of production and are a diverse group of people controlled by and working for the ruling class. These two groups are better known as the bourgeoisie and proletariat. In particular, the bourgeoisie use a mode of production, in the form of capitalism, to oppress the proletariat. Whereby the owners of production (bourgeoisie) use the (proletariat) workers labour to produce their surplus value.

In turn they pay their workers the smallest amount possible to make a profit, thus exploiting the working class. The defining factor in what makes them a separate class is the bourgeoisie’s ownership of the means of production, not their wealth, because they don’t produce the surplus value, the proletariat do. The bourgeoisie only appropriate the surplus. In essence the bourgeoisie are a ‘class for itself’ whereas the proletariat are a ‘class in itself’. Marx identifies that the reason we have classes is due to a group sharing a common interest and economic position.

The bourgeoisie own the capital of land, machinery and raw materials. Whereas the proletariat own nothing, they can only sell their labour power in an attempt to survive and provide for their families. This in turn results in the social/power relations between the bourgeoisie and proletariat. With such oppression placed upon the proletariat this creates a struggle, as the proletariat are constantly in conflict with the bourgeoisie over their wages and working conditions. Yet, and in contradiction to this, both groups are also dependant on each other.

The bourgeoisie depend on the proletariat to provide labour to increase their surplus value, and the proletariat depend on the bourgeoisie for financial survival. So through this forced union of common interests for each of the groups, such as the pursuit of personal gain by the bourgeoisie pulling one way, and the proletariat attempting to survive financially pulling the other, this conflict creates a division and through this class is born. Stemming from these two major groups, Marx recognised the middle or intermediate class, which he termed  the petty bourgeoisie.

This class contributes to the capitalist surplus, by using their skills to administer and keep the capitalist system functioning effectively, but unlike the other two classes, is considered as a transitional class. Marx considered it to be transitional as he believed that it would eventually be absorbed into both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, as its function in society was not sufficiently different from the other classes for it to survive in the long term. In this respect they represent a median between the two.

As such it is suggested that they are a class of their own. One that indirectly contributes to the surplus value through their service to the capitalists. This class also provides the possibility for social mobility for the working class, as with increased skills they can increase their income and move up the social ladder. While Weber agrees with Marx’s theory of the class distinction between the bourgeoisie and proletariat, he is more interested in the individual’s market value. For Weber, an individual’s class position is determined by their current market value.

This market value is established by the individual’s level of education, natural talent, skills and acquired knowledge. With these skills the individual is opened to numerous life chances and opportunities to further their career and increase their standard of living. Their market value equals their economic gain. Market value is defined by their ability to market themselves to a particular job opportunity. For instance, a university degree makes an individual more marketable and as such they have greater chances to work in their preferred field. They are given greater financial rewards and in turn move up the social ladder.

Weber did not fully agree with Marx’s theory of class, instead he believed in status groups. He defined class as being an ‘unequal distribution of economic rewards’, whereas a status group was an ‘unequal distribution of social honour’. The status group comprises a group of individuals who are rewarded similarly in social honour and share the same lifestyles and professions. In other words, they are rewarded for their skill as much by social honour or status, as by economic reward. Weber concentrated on an individual’s market value, what things the individual did to acquire and deserve rewards.

Whereas class was such a generalisation of people, it defined them only by economic constraints, not their social honour. Weber’s market value identified and recognised the individual as an individual, rather than as Marx’s faceless and nameless member of a mass class. Marx and Weber differ in their thoughts on social mobility. Marx argues that there are two main groups, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, and that it is a predictable relationship and the only way to end this power relationship is through the proletariat overthrowing the bourgeoisie.

Whereas Weber argues that social mobility is possible through the individual acquiring marketable skills. These skills through education, life chances and subsequent occupational choices can lead to movement in the class structure for the individual. For instance, a boy has grown up in a working class family and his father is a tradesmen. But the son, through education and attending university, graduates as an accountant. The son is now considered to be middle class.

Weber argues that social mobility can either move us upwards or downwards depending on our choices and opportunities. While Marx does recognise social mobility, he relates this mainly to the petty bourgeoisie, and its likelihood of being absorbed by the other two classes due to its transitional nature. For Marx, class is a clearly defined and ridgid structure with little in the way of social mobility being possible or likely. This is particularly the case with the working class, due to the oppressiveness of the capitalist system itself.

In conclusion, this essay examines the class theories of Karl Marx and Max Weber, and how they differentiate within there approaches. Marx theory explains that class structure is indeed based on the the bourgeoisie and proletariat and their struggle and conflict with one another to secure their separate common interests for personal gain, which in turn created the upper, middle, working, and underclasses. Weber however takes a different approach with his idea of natural talents and skill and the income and status this provides, which in turn determines class position.

This shows that the traditional Marxist theory of the upper class, based primarily on their economic wealth from owning the means of production, is increasingly inaccurate when determining class within a mode modern day society. While Weber’s more flexible theory allows for a more realistic and modern understanding of how class is determined. However, class structure appears to be alive and well all throughout society, and while some parts of the theories have aged and to a degree have become outdated, the structure still stands reasonably intact.


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