In a 2016 article published by the BBC, David Robson (2016) claims that, although the structure of the class system may have changed since the past, there are still very clear strata in our contemporary society. A number of societal institutions are influenced by these strata including education, healthcare and other occupational jobs. Although we recognise that there are indeed class divisions there are many arguments on how many classes exist and the sociological criteria a person meets to be placed within one of these classes. Furthermore, class is an economical term whereas status refers to power and authority which has become just as influential in determining social strata therefore whether the term ‘class’ is still relevant must be evaluated.
Social stratification in ancient Greece and all pre-industrial traditional societies was perceived to be natural, Aristotle claimed that ‘It is clear that there are by nature free men and slaves, and that servitude is just and agreeable for the latter.’ However in contemporary society, class is more of an ‘open’ system by which we are able to move up and down the hierarchy which is socially constructed for us and therefore subverting the ‘closed’ class system of which our relevant class is determined by our parents and therefore the ‘natural’ order. Pre-industrial societies also had religious and moral roots in which class was based, something which is mostly absent from contemporary class division. The concept of a ‘natural’ class system therefore ‘rules out any sociological analysis’ which is strongly opposite to that of the post-industrial and current era of which extensive sociological research has gone into class division. It was in the seventeenth century where the concept that all humans were born equal rather than naturally unequal arose, leading to the beginning of a sociological approach to class division. However it must be said that other ‘natural’ inequalities such as race,gender and age have been carried through to the modern age despite the capitalist structures of production taking the predominant role in contemporary class stratification.
In 2011, the Great British class survey was taken by 160,400 British people which aimed to provide a more relevant model of class divisions. It’s aim being to replace the Nuffield and Goldthorpe class schema in which derived seven classes in the 70’s based on occupational and economic status. The Great British class survey furthered the insight into modern class divisions by considering social and cultural factors that determine people’s class rather than just their occupation, such as the pre-industrial land, property and wealth system. The Great British class survey, therefore, is a much more representative model of the class divisions that exist, especially in contemporary society for the class we are put into is now also heavily reliant on our cultural and social interactions. From this data it is perceived by sociologists that there there are three key areas for class analysis,those being a persons social, cultural or economic capital.
The sociological view that economic capital is a fundamental feature of someones class is Karl Marx’s. Marx held a very simplistic view of which consisted only of two classes; The bourgeoise and the proletariat. The bourgeoisie owned the means of production such as the business’ and land required to produce wealth and the proletariat consisted of the workers. The proletariat also had a false-class conscience, in which they believed capitalism was beneficial to them, Marx predicted the working class would soon lead a revolution and a state of communism would arise. This sociological perspective has now been identified as a false prediction, for capitalism is still a prevalent feature of todays society. Moreover the introduction of a welfare state and better education has given the working class more opportunities and allowed a complex class system to be developed as seen by the 7 newly identified class divisions in the 2011 British Class Survey. Weber also shared the view that the economically ‘better off’ and possessors of property defined the class system yet Weber also argued that political power was very influential in the development of different classes and not simply driven from economic power. For example, a British politician may have a far less income than an established billionaire yet are of equal class to the prime minister, for example, due to their political power. Weber also didn’t believe in social action to confront the class system and therefore challenged the Marxian belief of polarisation and a social revolution. Furthermore weber assured the importance of status as a factor of class determination, his class groupings also extended to five on the basis that the labour market was more complex than just a bourgeoisie and proletariat. Therefore weber’s outlook on class is much more relevant and applicable to contemporary society for he also concludes that our class is reliant on life opportunities and privileged status than just economical and land ownership reasons as Marx denotes. Moreover, marxist class theory is often rejected due to its communist nature which is perceived as radical, it is also a very limited outlook on class as cultural and natural divisions are not considered.
On the contrary to Marx and Weber, post-modernists believe in ‘The death of class’. Two noteable sociologists being Pakulski and Waters who say “It is simply, for us, an obvious truth that class can no longer give us purchase on the big social, political and cultural issues of the age”. ( Pakulski and Waters, 1996, pp vii) Post-modernists strongly believe in the importance of status influence to determine someone’s place within society rather than the economical class system of the industrial era. Status is reliant on cultural and political factors rather than class which is economically based.