SOC 2390 Lecture Notes - Blue-Collar Worker, Elite, Proletariat
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Measuring Social Class
• Karl Marx defined class as all people who share a common relationship to the means of production
(e.g., land, factories, machines, tools, raw materials, labor)
• Marx argued that there are two fundamental social classes:
1) the bourgeoisie – those who own the means of production (the capitalist class)
2) the proletariat – those who do not own the means of production and are thus compelled to work for
- These classes have opposite interests and thus their relationship is characterized by inequality,
exploitation, and conflict
• Max Weber held that class consisted of three interrelated components:
1) Wealth, or economic status
2) Power, or political status
3) Prestige, or social status
- An individual may rank highly on one dimension of class membership, but lower on the other two;
however, these dimensions tend to be tightly correlated (positively)
1) Wealth – consists of property and income. Property comes in many forms, such as buildings, land,
animals, machinery, cars, stocks, bonds, businesses, and bank accounts. Income is money received as
wages, rents, interest, royalties, or the proceeds from a business.
- Large differences of income and wealth have existed as long as these data have been collected. Wealth
is highly concentrated. The majority of wealth, 68 percent, is owned by only 10 percent of the nation’s
families. The super-rich, the richest 1 percent of U.S. families, are worth more than the entire bottom 90
percent of Americans. This unequal distribution of income and wealth has been remarkably stable; the
changes that do occur indicate growing inequality.
- Also, there have been persistent differences in income and wealth between men and women, the
young and old, and white and non-white Americans.
2) Power – the ability to carry out one’s will despite resistance
- Power is also concentrated in the hands of the few. It has been observed that a “democratic façade”
serves as an powerful ideology for the elites, concealing the real source of power in the United States.
- C. Wright Mills coined the term power elite to refer to those top people in U.S. corporations, military,