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by Phil Bartle, PhD

Training Handout

Let us compare the approaches to class of Karl Marx and Max Weber. How would those differences apply a hundred years later?

Marx and Weber contributed to sociology in many ways. An important contribution is their different approaches to social class and inequality.

Karl Marx saw class as related to the means of production.

He saw a shift from a feudal society based on agriculture, where the land owning class was differentiated from the peasant class, through the industrial revolution, which saw the capital owning class (factory owners) differentiated from the factory workers.

Other persons, such as scribes, information dealers, intelligencia and civil servants, did not contribute to production in the economy, were therefore useless (non productive), and did not constitute classes.

Max Weber, writing a quarter to a half century later, in contrast, saw class based upon three factors, power, wealth and prestige.

In today's sociology, we tend to see the same three factors, although Marxist sociologists still emphasize the relations to the means of production (including now the production of ideas and information).

Weber saw society as having several layers, not only two, and that factors other than the material were important.

Today, there is still a tension between owners and workers, but there are greater proportions of people in other situations, dealers in information, managers, civil servants, which mean that the relative importance of the struggle between owners and workers has relatively declined.

One student in class pointed out that if Marx and Weber had been born today, or twenty years ago, they may have produced very different perspectives and theories, because they would have been socialized into a society much changed since 1850 - 1900.

Marx predicted revolution would occur in industrial societies as the workers rebelled against the owners, and this did not happen.

The only countries where there were communist revolutions were agricultural and feudal.

It is likely that, if Marx were here today, he would have been surprised.

Also he might not have seen or predicted the rise of consumerism, and the privatization of services.

Many mini capitalists have been created, and this brings a strong ideology in favour of private enterprise, plus a decline in large factories, therefore a decline in the tensions between the two classes from as they were in the late nineteenth century.

Today the difference between Marx and Weber continues to contribute to our understanding.  Both still contribute to a sociological perspective of today's society.


See: Dead Sociologists Society.

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