According to E.A. Johns a Principal Lecturer in Behavioural Sciences (Department ofManagement, Slough College of Technology) ‘the concept of the class provides aconvenient method of classifying and differentiating various types of attitudeand social action prevalent in society, without necessarily implying evaluativenotions of superiority or inferiority’. This essay will explain how socialclass can be both a source of identity but also inequality.
Firstly, it willidentify the meaning of social class and give examples of the existence of suchphenomenon. Secondly, it will focus on social class as a primary source ofidentity in reference to up to date research. Thirdly it will present argumentsfor the social class being a primary pattern of inequality.
This essay willalso refer to key sociological studies on institutional inequality andstatistical data as well as to theoretical perspectives such as Marxism and Weber’s.Lastly, it will expose causes of primary patterns of inequality and give theconclusion. In the sociologydictionary, social class is identified as one of the concepts ofstratification. Social class or in other words social category is a result ofunequal distribution of rewards and resources such as wealth, power andprestige it is mostly primarily defined by how these segmentations areidentified.
In the capitalist system most of the goods are controlled by Upperclass also called bourgeoisie, whose members use the work performed by theworking class or proletariat to gain wealth and control. The prosperity ofUpper class depends greatly on the work of others, workers meet the needs ofBourgeoisie through selling the wages they are paid in exchange for their timeof labour power. Another social class that more recent Marxist thinkersidentified is the managerial class, more often called middle class orintermediate class, members of this social class generally do not own means ofproduction but are responsible for controlling them in the interest of UpperClass. We can consider as members of this class professional workers such asprofessors and government officials, they work for wages but still have a respectableamount of autonomy that divides them from working class. (The BackwellDictionary of Sociology, A. G Johnson, 1995) We can see the existence of socialclasses on daily basis. Although belonging to a certain social class doesn’tmean that an individual has to conform to all the rules and patterns existingwithin this social group, there are featuring characteristics that we cannotice within every class. Where do people shop, where they eat, what kind ofcar they drive, what school did they go to, all of those things are affected bythe class that they belong to and in most cases are born into.
The differencesbetween social classes can be seen in almost every aspect of life. A very goodexample of this is fashion. Since hundreds of years fashion was one of themeans of class distinction, it was used to distinguish between classes, theones who belonged to Upper class such as members of the monarchy would wearexpensive, decorative clothing and those who belonged to a lower social class,peasants wore simple, cheap clothes. Although in present time the rules offashion in addition to social class have changed and are no longer as strict asthey used to be, we can still notice that in certain job professions, companiesthat are considered as middle class the fashion style is rather different tothe one in factories and other places were the workers are considered workingclass.
By referring to research in at least one of the aspects mentioned abovewe can easily see how social class can be both a source of identity andinequality. Social Class hadbeen presented by many researchers and theorists as a primary source ofidentity, one of the great thinkers who presented such an idea was Karl Marxwho based his theory on a statement that social relations as well as activitiesthat humans engage in transform the real world. For him, that was the mainargument why humans should be perceived as social beings. He indicates that itwould not be possible for humans to survive in a world and have their needs metif it wasn’t for the power of transformation generated by the social activity,especially social labour. The level of productive power required to change thenatural world could never be generated individually, for Marx it is only inCapitalistic society, where individuals are separated from the means ofproduction when these become owned as private property. Capitalism is a societyof the most advanced social relations and socially developed productive forces:it is the type of relations that exist in the isolated individuals ofcapitalism who are still social beings, their personalities developed withincapitalist social relations. Lucien Save takes as the starting point for hispsychology of personality this notion of humans as necessarily connectedthrough relations that transform the real. For Save, the development of thepersonal capacities of each social individual takes place within productiveactivity organized by the division of labour.
Each person can only develop tothe level of the productive forces created in society, for these constitute thesocial heritage which individuals appropriate in their personal development. Itis not through the gene that people inherit the talents necessary to thecontinued existence of humanity: instead, these are handed down and transformedfrom generation to generation through social relations. What is essential tohumans, then is not located in each separate individual, but in the social andhistorical heritage through which individuals develop as personalities.
Save,then, takes a decisive step in the direction we are following here, bytheorizing social relations as primary in the study of individuals. He invertsthe traditional view of the relationship between individuals and society: it isnot the individual, but social relations which are the basis for the real-lifeprocesses in which personalities develop. However, this view has its rootsfirmly planted in the theories of Marx. By being born into a specific socialclass and engaging within this group, our identity is created