1. P. Gisbert:
A social class is ‘a category or group of persons having a definite status in society which permanently determines their relation to other groups’.
2. Ogburn and Nimkoff:
‘A social class is the aggregate of persons having essentially the same social status in a given society’
3. Maclver and Page:
‘A social class is any portion of the community marked off from the rest by social status’.
4. Max Weber:
Social classes are aggregates of individuals ‘who have the same opportunities of acquiring goods, the same exhibited standard of living’.
‘A social class is culturally defined group that is accorded a particular position of status within the population as a whole’.
Thus, it is clear that social class is a segment of society with all the members of all ages and both the sexes who share the same general status. As MacIver says, whenever social intercourse is limited by the consideration of social status by distinctions between higher and lower, there exists a social class.
Nature and Characteristics of Social Class
1. Class—A Status Group:
A social class is essentially a status group. Class is related to status. Different statuses arise in a society as people do different things, engage in different activities and pursue different vocations.
The consideration of the class as a status group makes it possible to apply it to any society which has many strata. The idea of social status separates the individuals not only physically sometimes even mentally.
2. Achieved Status and not ascribed status:
Status in the case of class system is achieved and not ascribed. Birth is not the criterion of status. Achievements of an individual mostly decide his status. Class system provides scope for changing or improving one’s status. Factors like income, occupation, wealth, education, ‘life-styles’, etc. decide the status of an individual.
3. The Class System is Universal:
Class is almost a universal phenomenon. The class system appears in all the modem complex societies of the world. It is a phenomenon that is absent only in the smallest, the simplest, and the most primitive of societies. All other societies of any size have a class structure.
4. Mode of Feeling:
In a class system we may observe three modes of feelings. (i) There is a feeling of equality in relation to the members of one’s own class (ii) There is a feeling of inferiority in relation to those who occupy the higher status in the socio-economic hierarchy, (iii) There is a feeling of superiority in relation to those who occupy the lower status in the hierarchy. This kind of feeling develops into class-consciousness and finally results in class solidarity.
5. Element of Prestige:
Each social class has its own status in society. Status is associated with prestige. The relative position of the class in the social set up arises from the degree of prestige attached to the status. Thus, the status and the prestige enjoyed by the ruling classes or rich classes in every society are superior to that of the class of commoners or the poor people.
The prestige which a class enjoys depends upon our evaluations. In many societies knowledge, purity of race or descent, religion, wealth, heroism, bravery and similar other qualities confer a high degree of prestige on the persons possessing them. These qualities on which our evaluations are based vary considerably in different societies, and in the course of time, within the same society.
6. Element of Stability:
A social class is relatively a stable group. It is not transistor nor unstable like a crowd or a mob. Though status in the case of class is subject to change, it is to some extent stable. Status in the case of class may undergo radical changes in extraordinary circumstances i.e., in times of wars, revolutions, economic, political and social crisis and so on.
7. Mode of Living:
A social class is distinguished from other classes by its customary modes of behaviour or mode of behaving. This is often referred to as the ‘life-styles’ of a particular class. ‘Life -styles’ or the modes of living include such matters as the mode of dress, the kind of house and neighbourhood one lives in, the means of recreation one resorts to, the cultural products one is able to enjoy, the relationship between parents and children, the kinds of books, magazines and TV shows to which one is exposed, one’s friends, one’s mode of conveyance and communication, one’s way of spending money and so on. ‘Life-styles’ reflect the specialty in preferences, tastes, and values of a class.
8. Social Class — Open Group:
Social classes are ‘open groups’. They represent an ‘open’ social system. An open class system is one in which vertical social mobility is possible. This means there are no restrictions, or at the most only very mild restrictions are imposed on the upward and downward movement of individuals in the social hierarchy. However, a completely open class system and a completely closed class system are only hypothetical.
9. Social class — an Economic Group:
The basis of social classes is mostly economic, but they are not mere economic groups or divisions. Subjective criteria such as class-consciousness, class solidarity and class identification on the one hand, and the objective criteria such as wealth, property, income, education, occupation, etc., on the other, are equally important in the class system. Classes, thus, are not merely economic groups; they are something more than these.
10. Classification of Social Classes:
Sociologists have given three-fold classification of classes which consists of (i) Upper Class (ii) Middle Class, and (iii) Lower Class. Warner and Lunt in their study of a New England town [their book being ‘The Social Life of a Modern Community], have divided each of the traditional classes into two sub-classes. They have given a six-fold classification consisting of (i) The Upper-Upper Class (ii) The Lower-Upper Class, (iii) The Upper-Middle Class, (iv) The Lower-Middle Class, (v) The Upper-Lower Class, and (vi) The Lower-Lower Class.
Karl Marx, the champion of the theory of social class and class conflicts, has spoken of only two major social classes, the ‘haves’ and the ‘havenots’ or the rich and the poor, or the capitalists and the workers, or the Bourgeosie and the Proletariat. Sorokin has spoken of three major types of class stratification. They are economic, political, and occupational classes.
11. Class Consciousness:
Class system is associated with class consciousness. Class consciousness is “the sentiment that characterises the relations of men towards the members of their own and other classes.” It “consists in the realisation of a similarity of attitude and behaviour with members of other classes.” Class consciousness is the means by which the integration of persons possessing a similarity of social position and of life-chances is transformed into a common group activity.
Conditions of Class-Consciousness:
Ginsberg has mentioned three conditions of class consciousness. First is the ease and amount of social mobility. If movement up and down is easy and rapid, differences in mode of life disappear; if it is possible but not easy, the consciousness of differences^ increased.
The second condition of class consciousness is rivalry and conflict. When the members of a class realise their common interests, then they may think of defending their interests against the common enemy.
The third factor is the growth of a common tradition embodying common standards of value and common experiences. When the people come to possess common traditions and common experiences, they may develop class consciousness.
Class Consciousness and Class Struggle:
Karl Marx, who championed the cause of workers, laid great emphasis on ‘class consciousness’ among the working classes. According to Marx, the rise of class consciousness among the workers leads to their class identification, class solidarity and finally to class struggle.
Hence he gave a clarion call to the workers in his Manifesto of the Communist Party of 1848 that “Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose, but your chains, you have a world to win”.
Class consciousness can be transformed into same group activity with the help of some organ or instrument. Political party is such an organ. Hence, Lenin added the idea of a party in Marxism to prepare the workers for class struggle.
What is the Criterion of Class?
It is true that society has been divided into different classes at different times. Classification of social classes has been made on the basis of objective criterion or subjective criterion or both.
1. Subjective Criteria may include the class consciousness, class solidarity and class identification the subjective criteria are essentially psychological. Members who have common interests and attributes have a sense of in-group solidarity. They feel that their socio-economic opportunities are almost equal.
Warner and Lunt in their study of the American class system have observed the importance of subjective factors in determining a class. According to them, (i) belonging to the ‘right family’, (ii) doing the ‘right things’, (iii) knowing how to ‘act right’ (iv) associating with the ‘right people’, (v) living in the ‘right’ section of the town, (vi) one’s feelings and beliefs concerning certain things—all have their impact on the status of individuals according to which their class is determined .’Wealth’ alone is not a sufficient qualification for being admitted to the upper-class— they maintained.
Objective criteria include those factors with the help of which one’s status may be determined. They may include—(i) wealth, property or income, (ii) family or kinship, (iii) location of residence, (iv) occupation, (v) level of education, (vi) physical marks of difference such as skin colour, etc. Some sociologists have given more importance to the objective factors.
It may be noted that the criteria upon which class is determined vary from time to time and place to place. For example, in pre-Nazi Germany, the combination of old aristocratic family line and high rank in the army put one in the top position.
In Russia, during the Czarist regime, nobility with a military career represented the top class position. In the Soviet Russia today, a high position in the communist party is a basis to become a member of the top-class position. In the U.S.A., today, the combination of high level business, high political status, wealth, education and old family descent represent a man’s high status in the society.
Karl Marx on the contrary, has placed premium on the objective factors particularly the economic ones. According to him, social classes originate only from economic struggle. He neglected other subjective factors his theory of social class is, hence, regarded as one-sided, misleading and deterministic.