‘The history of all
hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles’
Class stratification and inequality has been the starting
point for many debates and arguments about why and how societies are divided. There
are several sociological perspectives that all have different ideas and
theories on this topic, including Marxism (conflict theory), Functionalism
(consensus theory) and Social action. This essay will be focusing on class
stratification from the perspective of conflict theory.
Marxism was introduced by Karl Marx (1818 – 1883). Marx
believed that society was divided into two classes, the Bourgeoisie which is
the ruling class and the Proletariats which is the lower and working class (Burton,
2013). He believed that the bourgeoisie exploited and abused the proletariat. The main difference between these two groups
is the ownership and control of production. This then causes conflict between
the two classes.
Institutions such as the media, education and the law are
used by the bourgeoisie to define and influence social class (Blunden, 2013).
Capitalism plays a significant role in the Marxist
perspective. Marx believed that capitalism would lead to the division of the
two classes; the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. This would
make it much harder for the lower classes to have success in their life as well
as gaining social mobility. Marx argues that a social group can only become a
class when it becomes a class for itself. This means that the members have class
consciousness which is when they have full awareness of the situation and class
solidarity. Both of the social classes have dependence and conflict. In a
capitalist society, the bourgeoisie and proletariat need each other. Labourers
must sell their labour to survive and make a living as they do not own part of
the production, therefore they depend on the capitalists. The capitalists
depend on the labourers as there would be no production without them. This is
not equality because it is a relationship of exploiter and exploited. The
ruling class (bourgeoisie) are gaining at the expense of the subject class
(proletariat) which is why there is a conflict of interest between them.
Marx felt that the basic contradictions held in a
capitalist economic system would eventually lead to destruction. The
proletariat would overrule the bourgeoisie by taking the means of production,
which he believed was the source of power. After this, property would become communally
owned and since all society members would be equal. The result would be a
A major strength of Marxism is that theoretically, it
would have a greater understanding on how to run a society. It would be more
beneficial if we had societies where individuals did not subject anyone else
and where no one was poor. This is what Marxism promises, although nothing has
changed as of yet. Another strength is that it looks at society as a whole which
allows it to acknowledge all the social forces involved and the interests of
power from different groups within the society. The conflict between the bourgeoisie
and the proletariat is effective at explaining change in society. The society
is organised under capitalism and the bourgeoisie maximizes profit with the
proletariat. ***** Overall, this theory analyses the power and
conflict within societies. It explains why there can be an unequal distribution
of power and wealth between social classes. *******
A weakness of the Marxist perspective
is that it does not see the significance of private ownership. Whilst you could
be given a place to live, you will not have private property or ownership,
which means that you may no longer have control. Another weakness is that it
can negatively affect the educational system. Marxist education believes that it
is all controlled by the government for example, the teaching methods,
curriculum and exam system would be determined by the government and does not
allow external agencies to be involved.
work was supported in “Class in a Capitalist Society” (reference).
Using various sources of
data, Westergaard and Resler looked at the existence of classes and argued that
aspects such as the taxation, ownership of property, social mobility and education
are complex. The complexity is that there is clear evidence of a divided
society over class boundaries.
They came to the decision
that class stratification was the main form of inequality in the United
Kingdom. A ruling class creating the 5-10% richest, which meant that their
class had a larger amount of wealth than the lower class which was 30%.
was updated by John Westergaard and Henrietta Resler in 1976.
conclusion, Marxists perspective on class stratification is that society is
divided into two classes; the bourgeoisie, which is the ruling class and the
proletariats, which is the working class. This theory can analyse the power and
conflict within societies and can explain why there can be an unequal distribution
of power and wealth between the bourgeoisie and the proletariats.