How does class influence identity in contemporary society?

Essay by zoloneyCollege, Undergraduate January 2008

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Social class is a very important and highly contested concept within social science. The meaning and measurement of social class is a subject of continual arguments. However the concept of social class is dominated by two distinguishing traditions of thought - Marxism and Weberianism.

Karl Marx produced his theory of class in the nineteenth century when the European and the British society was going through the 'Industrial Revolution'. His theory was only a part in the exploration of a new type of society, the industrial capitalism. Marx and his associate Engels suggested that there were two main classes generated by the capitalist society; 'Bourgeoisie', the capital-owning or ruling class who owned the property and took advantage of labour for their own benefit, and the 'proletariat', the propertyless or working class who received only a wage for their labour. Marx suggested that a people's identities are mainly shaped by the class they belong to.

Class consciousness is based on common situation and interest shared by mass of people which is typical of the working class.

Max Weber shared the view of Marx's but he saw class as a group of individuals with common interests, similar opportunities for earning income. It can be summarized as market position. (Woodward,2004, p.100) However these market positions can result distinct situations which can be either beneficial or disadvantageous for different class groupings. Weber recognized four main classes; upper, middle, working class and the poor. He argued that our status in social groups has a significant impact on how our identities are shaped but not the only factor.

In the middle of the 1990s surveys showed that significant number of the population thought that their opportunities were affected by the social class they belonged to and there was an inequality in the distribution of incomes. Social class...