Class, Status, and Power

Weber differed onlymarginally from Marx when he defined as a class a category of men who(1) "have in common a specific causal component of their life chances inso far as (2) this component is represented exclusively by economicinterests in the possession of goods and opportunities for income, and(3) it is represented under the conditions of the commodity or labormarket." He was even fairly close to Marx's view, though notnecessarily to those of latter-day Marxists, when he stated that classposition does not necessarily lead to class-determined economic orpolitical action. He argued that communal class action will emerge onlyif and when the "connections between the causes and the consequences ofthe 'class situation' " become transparent; Marx would have saidwhen a class becomes conscious of its interests, that is, of itsrelation, as a class, to other classes. Yet Weber's theory ofstratification differs from that of Marx in that he introduced anadditional structural category, that of "status group."

Classificationof men into such groups is based on their consumption patterns ratherthan on their place in the market or in the process of production. Weber thought Marx had overlooked the relevance of such categorizationbecause of his exclusive attention to the productive sphere. Incontrast to classes, which may or may not be communal groupings, statusgroups are normally communities, which are held together by notions ofproper life-styles and by the social esteem and honor accorded to themby others. Linked with this are expectations of restrictions on socialintercourse with those not belonging to the circle and assumed socialdistance toward inferiors. In this typology we again find Weber'ssociological notion of a social category as dependent on the definition that others give to social relationships. A status group can exist onlyto the extent that others accord its members prestige or degrading,which removes them from the rest of social actors and establishes thenecessary social distance between "them" and "us."

Empiricallythere are fairly high correlations between standing in the class and inthe status order. Especially i capitalist society, the economicallyascendant class will, in the course of time, also acquire high status;yet in principle, propertied and propertyless people may belong to thesame status group. At certain times, an economically weak element, suchas the East Elbian Junkers, may exercise considerable influence andpower because of its preeminent status. Generally, as muchpos-Weberian analysis of American politics has shown, political behaviormay at times be influenced by men who are fearful of losing their statusor who bridle at not having been accorded a status they think is theirdue; such influence may be as powerful as class-determined modes ofpolitical behavior.

In Weber's view every society is divided intogroupings and strata with distinctive life-styles and views of theworld, just as it is divided into distinctive classes. While at timesstatus as well as class groupings may conflict, at others their membersmay accept fairly stable patterns of subordination and superordination.

With this twofold classification of social stratification, Weber laysthe groundwork for an understanding of pluralistic forms of socialconflict in modern society and helps to explain why only in rare casesare such societies polarized into the opposing camps of the "haves" andthe "have-nots." He has done much to explain why Marx's exclusivelyclass-centered scheme failed to predict correctly the shape of things tocome in modern pluralistic societies.

In regard to the analysisof power in society, Weber again introduces a pluralistic notion. Although he agrees with Marx in crucial respects, he refines and extendsMarx's analytical scheme. For Marx, power is always rooted, even inonly in the "last analysis," in economic relations. Those who own themeans of production exercise political power either directly orindirectly. Weber agreed that quite often, especially in the moderncapitalist world, economic power is the predominant form. But heobjects that "the emergence of economic power may be the consequence ofpower existing on other grounds." For example, men who are able tocommand large-scale bureaucratic organizations may wield a great deal ofeconomic power even though they are only salaried employees.

Weberunderstands by power: the chance of a man, or a number of men "torealize their own will in communal action, even against the resistanceof others." He shows that the basis from which such power can beexercised may vary considerably according to the social context, thatis, historical and structural circumstance. Hence, where the source ofpower is located becomes for Weber an empirical question, one thatcannot be answered by what he considers Marx's dogmatic emphasis on onespecific source. Moreover, Weber argues, men do not only strive forpower to enrich themselves. "Power, including economic power, may bevalued 'for its own sake.' Very frequently the striving for power isalso conditioned by the social 'honor' it entails."

From Coser, 1977:228-230.

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