Discuss the proportion that whilst class may have lost its force in the collective sense nevertheless class remains fundamental both to culture and perceptions of individual human identity Since ancient times, most of societies have been divided by a hierarchy ladder between their members. During the course of history, humans have been classified in many ways – by wealth, power, status, education, occupation and gender. The term ‘class’ has always been difficult to explain.
According to Karl Marx ‘it is an explanatory term linking the economic sphere of production with political and ideological superstructure’ (Pakulski and Waters,1996, The death of class: p1). Weber said that ”classes are composed of the various groups whose market opportunities and life – chances are similar”. Another opinion about class was developed by Emile Durkheim and defined by Talcott Parson, who described class as an one organism where any part of organism must be seen in terms of the organism as a whole. (Haralambos, 2009:p8)
The first theory about social classes was given by functionalists, who compared society with the human body and find lot of similar things. For instance human body grows and develops, the same process they found in society: society also develops and changes. The main idea of functionalism was that the different parts of society are seen to be linked and taken together, because they are form of complete organism. For instance economic system, political system, family and cultural system all have their portion in keeping up a stable and strong society from generation to generation.
According to functionalism, a major function of social institutions is to socialize everyone into a complex of norms and values that will lead their future behavior and thinking. Individual required to be taught the main essence values of their society and to adopt them. The end result of this process is ‘value consensus – members of society agree on what counts as important values and standards of behavior. ‘(Moore Etal, As sociology,3d edition) The value consensus creates the sense of solidarity. This means that, we feel ourselves as a part of community and we have something in common, so we have common identity.
Another idea about classes has been presented by Karl Marx, whose theory was very popular in 1970s because it was simple to understand and his theory gave people answers, which were not given by functionalists. Karl Marx saw that all societies were class societies, which means that one part owned and controlled material resources (bourgeoisie), while another owned nothing (working class). For instance, in feudal society lords owned land, and exploit workers, who didn`t own anything. As a result, there was basic conflict between two classes.
The extent of inequality between the value of the goods and services produced by workers and the wages paid for them is lies at the core of the huge profit made by the capitalists. For instance, according to HM Revenue and Customs, in 2003, 71% of all financial wealth was owned by 10% of the population. Marxists believed that those who regulate the economy also control all the cultural institutions such as family, media, religion and education. They thought that the function of these cultural institutions is to keep up class inequality and influence on human identity and culture.
This plan and ideological device were so successful that the majority of working class believed that their position in society is deserved. Through ideology capitalist shaped the way of life of an identity. For instance TV, cinema and music advertise us that to buy more and more material goods, which would make us happier. This means that most of people are not suspecting about their real identity. Marxists determined it as false class consciousness. They believed, that working class will find the real truth and fight for their rights against capitalist system.
Max Weber was another sociologist who took a conflict perspective. Weber agreed with Marx that social class was main source of unfairness between people of different classes, but Weber argued and thought that status more important than class. For example injustice between White and Black in South Africa, 1950s: poor White had more power and status, than educated and successful Black. Weber thought that people from the same status group share a similar lifestyle and identity. For feminists the basic source of inequalities and conflicts is gender.
They believe that even today the UK is patriarchal society, where men have more power and status than women. Despite of it, nowadays women are more prosperous and forceful, than they were some years ago. For example, nowadays women could decide whether to have children or not, women could work the same jobs as men. Another important idea about social classes was explained by postmodernists. They thought that future problems could be solved by power of science and that class and gender don`t affect human`s identity and culture.
(Haralambos, 2007:p891) Nowadays, thanks to the money and globalization, identities are no longer reducible simply to the social groups to which people belong. For instance people have a great deal of choice about what social groups to join, shopping, surgery and other forms of consumption help people easily change their identity. For example Michael Jackson who changed his identity from Afro-American to white American. It means that people could make their own decisions what society, lifestyle or subculture to join.