Social classes. The ruling class obtained its power

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Last updated: June 5, 2019

Social inequality is characterized by the existence of unequal opportunity for various social positions or statuses within a given group or society.

It is a phenomenon that has a long history as social inequalities has a wide range of varieties. From economic, gender, racial, status, and prestige, social inequality is a topic often disputed by classical theorists. Sociologists Karl Marx, Max Weber, W.

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I. Thomas, and Frederic M. Thrasher have formed varying thoughts on this recurring phenomenon. Marx believed that social inequality synthesized through conflicts within classes and in modern society those two classes were the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. In contrast, Weber disputes Marx’s simplistic view of the conflict and theorizes that social class is not the only form of inequality that exists. He argues that inequality has three dimensions: class, status, and party. Thomas and Thrasher surmise that economic inequality play a role in an individual’s engagement in social deviance. Karl Marx believed that social stratification within society had only two levels: a ruling and subject class.

The social inequality derives from the ownership of wealth and causes conflict between the two classes. The ruling class obtained its power from owning and controlling the means and forces of production. While the subject class only owned their bodies. Holding all the power, the ruling class exploits and suppresses the subject class. Marx argued that history is a revolutionary succession of different modes of production and their class divisions. He claimed that Western societies had developed through four epochs: primitive communism, ancient society,feudal society, and capitalist society.

As conflicts between the groups grow, it causes an upheaval and creates a new historical stage. In primitive communism, or tribal society, the main class conflict was between man and woman. In ancient society, tensions between slave masters and slaves were felt. In Ancient roman society, class conflicts were prevalent amongst patrician, knights, plebeians, and slaves. Class conflict amongst lords and serfs were present during the feudal period.

As history moves forward, the oppositions between the classes become stronger until you have a binary in capitalism. In modern capitalist society, the main class conflict is between capitalists and workers, or as Marx describes it, between the bourgeoisie and proletariat. The bourgeoisie own the means of production for factories including machines, private property, and products, while the proletariat own themselves (MCP). Marx theorized that through commodity fetisism, alienation and exploitation of the working class, society as a whole will be largely impacted.

Commodity fetishism has blinded people into believing that value is a relationship between objects, when in reality, it is a relationship between people. This in turn, prevents people from thinking about the social labor condition workers have to endure; they only care and value about how much objects costs. They think that the source of the value comes from the cost, but it truly comes from labor (FC). Through this objectification stems alienation and estrangement. Marx starts with the assumption that humans have an intrinsic quality. As human beings, individuals like to be create and manipulate his or her environment. Creating is a part of people; therefore, people their being into their creations.

However, Marx postulates that capitalism and specialized division of labor separates that working class from their creations in four ways- through alienation from the product, the labor process, one’s species-being, and humanity itself. The working class suffers through this hostility to make create more wealth for owners of factories. They get trapped in a cycle to make products for profit, but as automation advances, machines begins to take over people’s jobs; therefore, there less employment opportunities available, which in turn allows factory owners to decrease wages and exploit and devalue the working class (EL).

In the The Poverty of Philosophy, Marx explains that when the time is right, the “mass becomes unites, and constitutes itself as a class for itself” (Marx CU: 110). The working class will realize they do not need to be stuck in their miserable conditions, but can start a revolution to abolish capitalism and create a dictatorship of proletariats (MCP).  On the other hand, Max Weber saw social inequality as the dynamic between class, status, and party. Weber believed that Marx’s view on social stratification too simplistic. He believed that wealth and owning property is only part of of what determines an individual’s social class. He believed that power and prestige is included along with property and wealth.

When classical sociologists address social inequality in their arguments, specifically referencing economic or status and prestige inequality does not make one more right than the other. More often than not, those with a high economic standing will also have high status and prestige. Therefore, individuals with low economic standing will have low status and prestige.  Chicago school thinkers focused on the relationship between human behavior and social structure and physical environment because they believed that those factors can lead to social deviance. The social disorganization theory directly links social deviance (criminal activity) to neighborhood ecological characteristics. Thus, an individual’s residential location can shape whether he or she grows up in engaging and participating in illegal activities.

In The Polish Peasant in Europe and America, W.I. Thomas defined social disorganization as a “decrease of the influence of existing social rule of behavior upon individual members of the group” (Thomas DR: 4). The likelihood of an individual on the lower end of the economic ladder living in a crime ridden neighborhood is high. Therefore, the likelihood that individual will be involved in illegal activity when he ages is substantially higher because he grew up in that environment and sees crime just a way of life.

In addition, individuals poor neighborhoods might engage in social deviance as a desire for security. The individual may be motivated by fear to avoid death by finding any means necessary to procure items for survival (W 123).  Seeking to understand the formation of gangs, Frederic M. Thrasher used concepts developed by his mentor Robert Park and Thomas in his research on the zone in transition, the areas where migrants first moved to when they arrived in cities. He found that gang formation and recruitment begins in childhood. Children would go to areas that are not claimed for activities, interstitial area, which were not controlled and play games there.

They form groups and eventually group behavior and solidarity materialize (G).


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