KarlHeinrich Marx and Max Weber’s Different Approach to Social Class

Underclass analysis, much effort has been placed in the definition ofclass, and coming up with the different boundaries or classes. Thishas been so because class analysis an empirical understanding of thedifferent consequences and corollaries existing in a class structure.Heading from a particular definition sociologist are able to accessthe extent to which such factors as inequality in life opportunitiesand chances within the family and individual structures areclassified in terms of class. In contrast, the second approach looksat class structure from the empirical distribution of inequality inthe society. It is from the different approaches that have seen suchtheorists as Karl Marx and Max Weber disagree on the issue concerningnature of class. As such this essay breaks down the differences inview points between these two scholars, examining their understandingof social stratification, their underlying causes and the effects tothe society.

KarlMarx and Max Weber Understanding

Karl’sargument is based on his conflict theory that is, runs on the ideathat the modern society is thrives under two classes of people, thatis, the bourgeoisie who are basically the controllers and owners ofthe mean of production, which are such resources as factories,businesses, and associated gear utilized in the production of wealth.While the second class, it is comprised of the Proletariat, whichencompasses laborers serving the bourgeoisies in the operation of themeans of production. As such bourgeoisies exploit the workers, onlyoffering them enough to afford food in return of the labor theyprovide, nevertheless, these workers do not realize they are beingexploited, as they thrive on a mistaken conscious that they are welloff, arguing they can depend on their capitalist bosses to takechoices that are best for them (Giddens 2001, p.60).

Onthe other hand, Max Weber is of the argument that owning property,for example, possessing factories of equipment of production is justpart of the determiner of an individual’s social class. Therefore,according to Weber’s argument, in addition to owning or controllingproperty, the social class of an individual comprises of power andprestige. As such people who are entitled to run corporations yetthey do not own them yet they are bond to profit from the heightenedproduction. In line with the argument of Weber property providesprestige as the society has a tendency of holding rich people withhigh regard (Weber 2009, p.5). In addition to all these, Weber notesthat prestige is sometimes sourced from different avenues such asathletics or intellectual abilities, plus he believed the socialclass can be a result of power whereby an individual would attain theability to get his or her away despite the existence of an opposition(Weber 1994, p. 15).

Comparisonsand Contrasts

Thecomparisons and contrast of these two theorists on their ideologiesof social class inequality is basis of a democratic system. That is,those with the skills and ability to perform will be successfulnevertheless, this belief operates on the postulation that allpersons are offered equal advantages and opportunities (Merton1968, p.16).Weber has stated the kind and quantity of resource owned byindividual determine the available opportunities to an individual’sincome in the market exchange. Owning a means of production, that is,the capitalist class offers individuals different alternatives fromthose of owning skills and credentials, which is the middle class,whereby these two are quite different from owning unskilled laborpower, representing the working class (Lowith2002, p. 128).

Researchhas indicated that the difference between class and status does notemanate from motive. Motive asserts that status groups are defined ingroup’s communal interactions, which is referred by Weber as thesocial order, which implies some level of identity based on positiveor negative social estimations of honor. Notably, status groups arenot purely derived from symbolic motives when class categories arederived from material interests, instead, both class and status areimplicated in the pursuit of material interest (Calhoun2007, p. 2).Therefore, the central contrast for class and status it is ideallynot motive, but the nature of the mechanism that is used by class andstatus to bring out inequalities of materials and representativeconditions for people’s lives. As such, Weber argues classinfluencesubstance well-being directly via the different forms ofeconomic assets individuals present though the market. On the otherhand, status influences the material effectiveness directly(Lowith2002,p.133).

Takingthe existence of capitalism as an example, Weber focus on how themodern day people under regimes of democracies and capitalismorganize themselves in class, their assumed status, and parties ofaffiliation. As such he explains classes to encompass people withalmost identical life chances in the quest to obtain economic power.Status is viewed simply as groups organized around politicalidentities and they are the groups holding social power obtained fromhonor rather than economic means and they will organize differentlyaround the commonly regarded social actions. Finally, parties aresimply the groups organizing themselves around commonly heldpolitical interests or beliefs. In contrast, Marx views on how themodern people organize themselves, he only comments on classinterests. Therefore, according to Marx, class limned uniquely by thelight cast on it by the dominant mode of production, which heidentifies as capitalism beliefs it is enough to showcase all thathumans become under capitalism, people who is economic, theirpolitical, and related social interests are patented in classassociations (Calhoun2007,p. 7).

Thediscussions carried out by Weber about status, class, as well asparty, can be examined as explaining Marx’s theory of class,indicating how there are interactions besides economic ones in apurely capitalist democracy. As such Weber unlike Marx explainsdifferent dimensions of stratification other than class. As mentionedearlier they those based on lifestyle that is the status, forexample, particular jobs or occupations carry traditional statuswithout considering their levels of income and wealth. In case ofstatus, people working in the same locality may feel they have muchin common, even where they belong to different class, while thestatus group members have a rhyming life style causingstratifications to form in terms of style (Ritzer2008, p. 43).

Theworks of Marx explains the historical existence of today’ssocieties during the times when there was immense class struggle.Marx argues class develops on the ground that there are differentroles that are played by the different individuals in the society. Assuch the key concepts of Marx in his theory are the modes ofproduction, which entail among others agriculture, handcraft, andindustrialism to mention but a few, which are the major of status inthe economic enterprise. Marx looks at individuals as the means todifferent forms of production however, they naturally have opposedinterests. In addition Marx proposed other 3 concepts that helpexplain stratification in the society. The concepts include classconsciousness, which is refers to the ability of being exploited andbeing denied the extra value. Then there is the class stratificationreferring to how workers act together in achieving political andeconomic aims, finally, is the class conflict which is in referenceto the unconscious or conscious struggle existing between two classeswhere workers have realized of their historical role causing them toact collectively in improving their situation (Morrison2006, p.34).

Weberdoes agree with some of the elements contained in the approach takenby Marx particularly so with the economic aspects of stratification.According to Weber, for a society or an individual to determine theavailable life chances, it is essential to have total control overproperty. Weber has, however, added some more elements to theeconomic aspect which are the power and prestige. According to Weber,it is clear that power, property and prestige are the basis uponwhich hierarchies are created. Weber continues to assert that gaps inwealth or property create the different classes of people whereas hegaps found in power are responsible for the strata groups (Giddens2001, p. 121).

Notably,Marx and Weber differ when it comes to the subject of how probable itis that people of the similar economic class put group efforts wherethey seek to attain a common purpose. In addition, Weber disagreeswith Marx regarding the consciousness of true class, as well as thestruggle against an exploiting system. According to the argument putforward by Weber, different kinds of class actions are possible,among which there are those seeking to change the basic forms ofdifferent current systems associated with property relations. “Marxtoo did happen to show this awareness, when he touches on the issueof workers who act with a false conscious and do so in a way fallingshort of trying to overthrow existing systems of property ownership”(Blishen2).

Inline with the argument put across by Weber, it is evident thatwhereas status groups may constitute of communities, economic classesdo not. Status groups are developed when there is sufficientascription of prestige and honor by the society. According to Weber,status is in an absolute opposition to the pretension of property.Usually, both the propertied and property-less will ascribe to thesame status group. Bendix contends “however, just like Marx, Weberrealizes the importance of possessionsdistinctions in the formationof class groups and in handling of the lines of distinction andprestige among them” (Bendix9).Nevertheless, Weber differs from Marx when it comes to thesignificance that he ascribes to status groups.

Onmaters how they relate to work in different social stratus, both Marxand Weber share the observations that people have become morespecialized in their work. Kerbo argues “according to Marx, thisspecialization relates to the division of labor required in anefficient capitalist economy leading to the labors alienation fromtheir work” (Kerbo52).This alienation establishes a foundation for the struggle between theworkers and their capitalists and leads ultimately, as such Marxagues to the dissolution of the entire capitalist structure. On theother hand, Weber looks at specialization from a bureaucratic viewpoint, which calls for workers with special expertise or acertification to handle the job in hand. Weber views this proficiencyas not leading to the form of alienation that Marx asserts, insteadto be leading to a continuation of rationally organized action.Therefore, according to Weber, expertise does not lead to the kind ofalienation suggested by Marx as a mean to end capitalism, but ratherthe means by which capitalism survives (Wright2002,p.2).

InMarx’s theory, the role of an individual in the society’seconomic system is directly related to his class. That is in the twodistinguished classes of those who own the means of production andthose appointed to deal in the production of material goods. Kerbonotes “on the other hand, Weber’s classes are more bound up withstatus, all which are linked to the social networks and upbringing ofthe individual, such that, an individual class is related though notexclusively a function of his existence as an owner of labor”(Kerbo55).


TheMarxism model of social stratification is extremely useful inexplaining the stratified nature of the society that is capitalist,symbolized by distinguished by two different income groups,distinction by rich and poor, creating a class based socialstratification in the process. In such societies, there are numerousconflicting interests emanating from the different classes of peopleand this leads to new relationships. On the other hand Weber’sassertion is a view of society that entails three different forms ofsocial aggregations, allowing the economic focal point of class,prestige and power.


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