Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Max Weber on Social Inequality

Max Weber, as part of his views on Ethnomethodology and critical inquiry, debated Mark's views on social inequality. Karl Marx saw inequality in terms of the ownership of wealth and the control of material possessions, which are also manifested in ideological perceptions (see: The German Ideology).  One critique of Marx is that this is a very simple view and does not take into account all of the other forms of inequality found in society. Weber was obviously aware of Marx's writing when he disagreed with him. Weber said that inequality is more complex than what Marx described. He defined power as being the ability to influence others to do your will and claimed that power had a number of sources such as ownership of land and capital, social status, physical strength and education.

Weber saw stratification in terms of the triadic relationship between class, status and party. Status according to Weber is related to inequalities that are to do with the way in which people judge and relate to each other. Class is to do with inequalities that have their source in the workings of capitalism and the market place. Party is related to concepts of politics in its broadest sense. Weber says people form groups and organisations tend to look after their own interests, thus sustaining and reproducing  social inequality.

According to Weber Status is formed out of the tendency of people to judge each other (Bourdieu thought similarly). We all value some characteristics and despise others. When we do this as members of a social group towards members of other social categories, then we are according them a social status. Status, in other words, is based on self affirmation of one's social group and the denial of other groups and their members. Some groups will benefit from having a high status, but others may well be treated negatively. In our society, for instance, membership of certain racial groups implies worth, so that non-membership of high status groups then disadvantages those who come from ethnic minorities. The disadvantages of belonging to a low status group, such as membership of an ethnic minority, can leave people in poorly paid, low status occupations and with little hope of advancement. This means that status, according to Weber, is not (just) a personal matter but rather something which depends on group affiliation.

Wealth and economic advantage are a significant element of class. Weber suggested that the increasing bureaucracy that accompanies capitalism leads to status differences between those members of the working class who are manual workers and those who offer services to capitalism through the exercise of professional skills such as the middle classes. Weber suggested that there would be a growth and increase of classes linked to differences in educational skills and qualifications and the power that these confer on workers in the labour market.

Karl Marx believed that the social classes would polarise, leading to the eventual demise of capitalism with some people becoming ever more rich and powerful while others would become poorer until the pyramid can no longer sustain the gap and caves in. Weber said that there would be ever more social classes developing in capitalist society. Class would depend on our life chances and our life styles. Class would be characterised by such things as accents, education, locality, leisure habits and spending, what would later be characterised by Bourdieu as "Habitus". 

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