Social Class Theories

Philosopher and economist Karl Marx argued that class membership is defined by one's relationship to the means of production. According to Marx, society can be divided into two main groups: people who own the means of production and those who do not. These groups are in a perpetual, antagonistic relationship with one another, attempting either to keep up or reverse the status quo. Sociologist Max Weber extended Marx's ideas by contending that social class refers to a group of people who occupy similar positions of power, prestige, and privileges and share a life style that is a result of their economic rank in society.

Social class theories are problematic for a number of reasons. They often conceptualize all classes as homogenous entities and do not adequately account for the disparities among different strata within a particular social class. These theories also tend to gloss over geographic variants of class manifestations, such as urban and rural areas. A host of other factors, such as gender, race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, and even age or sexuality, further complicate the theories.

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