21. Weber's Theory of Class

Uploaded by YaleCourses on 05.03.2011

Prof: Good morning.
Well I think it is high time that you start thinking about
your final paper.
Let me just one more time tell you what my expectation is.
There are three major blocks in the course.
For each of the blocks there is a test.
You have done two; one more will be done,
last week of classes.
I mean, the idea of the paper is that you do a little more
ambitious work.
You link two of the blocks to each other.
So you compare Hobbes' theory of human nature with Durkheim's
theory of human nature, or Hobbes, Rousseau and
Durkheim, or something like this.
Or you look at the question of power in Hobbes,
Nietzsche and Weber.
Do two or three authors, as such.
I also highly recommend you that you go what excites you the
You pick a topic what you find exciting.
If there was anything in this course what made you excited,
write about it.
And you can use earlier essay topics, what you wrote up;
that's no problem.
That will be a new paper anyway--right?--because you have
to link occasionally quite distant authors to each other.
And talk to your discussion section leader,
or send an email--it can be very short--just to make sure
that you are on the right trajectory.
And probably your discussion section leader will give you
just a two-sentence response to say,
"Yes this seems to be fine."
Or, "No you are taking on too many;
there are two many authors.
Why don't you do only two or three, rather than five,
what you're suggesting?"
Or, "Well you should be a little more ambitious."
This is the kind of feedback you should expect.
And otherwise--let me also say that one more time--you know us
in this course, we want to make these abstract
theories relevant to your life.
So therefore don't shy away.
If you have opinions, if you can reflect how the
course helped, or did not help,
to understand yourself in society, do so.
But I think you really should talk to your discussion section
leader, or at least on email, before you leave for the
Because I want--when you are tired of turkey,
or you had enough beer and watching football,
and then you want to have fun, then you can start working on
your final paper.
You don't leave it to the very end--right?--but you can use
your spare time during Thanksgiving's break,
to get started on it.
And that's not a big deal.
We want you to do something like six or, at most,
eight pages; but more like six pages.
This is not really much more than the usual test essays.
Is that all clear?
Any question about this?
Anyway, we will try to be as un-bureaucratic about this as in
a bureaucratic organization you can be.
All right?
As you have seen in this course, we were trying to break
the rules of bureaucracy, and hopefully not at the
expense of efficiency.
All right, so this is Weber theory on class.
And this is probably--Weber, next to Marx,
is the most influential theorist of class.
And they are also on a collision course with each
other--a collision course in many ways.
I will elaborate on this.
But just to foreshadow, there are really three
fundamentally important issues where Marx and Weber disagree.
Marx, as you recall, identified classes in property
The class dichotomy was between those who owned capital and
those who owned only their labor power.
Weber, in contrast, defines classes on the
marketplace, as market situations.
So the relationship--this will be more complicated--but then
the class relationship is between the employer and the
employee; it is between the manager and
the worker, and not the owner--right?--and the possessor
of labor power.
Then Marx also said, "Well all history of
humankind is history of class struggles."
So Marx has a theory of class which is overarching the whole
human history.
Weber is very specific about this.
Class is a modern phenomenon.
Classes only emerged with the emergence of the market economy,
market capitalism.
Before capitalism they are not--the stratification system
is not based on class, but it is based on status,
and we will talk about the notion of status a great deal.
And finally there is a third important political difference.
Marx believed that class struggle gets more intense over
time, and therefore the subordinated class eventually
will revolt and overthrow capitalism.
Weber believed that--in the opposite: Class struggle is the
most intense in early stages, rough stages of capitalism,
and as capitalism becomes consolidated and bureaucratized,
class struggle is actually reduced.
So these are the three fundamental differences.
And this is the outline of the presentation today.
So first of all I want to talk about the usual interpretation
of Weber, and I want to challenge this interpretation.
If you ever took a course in which Weber's theory of class
was discussed, you usually had the
interpretation what I present now.
If you go on the internet and you find what Weber's got about
class, this is what you get.
I disagree with it, and I will try to show you why
this is the wrong approach.
The usual interpretation goes back to a British sociologist,
Runciman, who wrote about this already in the 1960s--
he's still active actually--and he interpreted Weber as offering
a theory of social inequality in three dimensions.
Again, go on the internet; ninety percent of internet
posting on Weber and class will give you this view.
What are those three dimensions?
Status or prestige is one dimension;
the second is class, usually defined by income or
wealth; and the third dimension is
And therefore if you look at stratification in society,
people can be unequal in any of these--
can be privileged in any of these dimensions,
or all of the dimensions, as such.
Runciman's conceptualization of Weber's theory of class was
extremely influential empirical research.
There was a lot of empirical survey research carried out
which was trying to measure how people fare in these three
Gerhard Lenski, who was Emeritus Professor,
was professor at the University of North Carolina,
created the theory of status inconsistency.
The idea was that people actually can be high in one of
these dimensions, and relatively low in another
So, for instance, you are a professor of
Then your prestige is sort of reasonable--probably somewhat
higher than average.
If you are a professor at Yale, it's sort of even a little
higher than average, substantially higher than
Well in terms of income, if you are a professor of
sociology you will be again only slightly higher than
average--will not be very high.
In terms of power, well you will be very low in
the power hierarchy.
At least in the United States--right?--nobody listens
what sociologists are saying.
Students do have to--right?--and occasionally
they have to take a sociology course.
That's the only power really a professor exercises.
Well if you are a Supreme Court justice, then your prestige is
extremely high; you are on the top of the
prestige hierarchy, at least in the United States.
If you are asking who is the most prestigious occupation in
the United States?
In surveys people will say to be a Supreme Court
justice--right?--to serve on the Supreme Court.
Well in terms of income, the Supreme Court justices
probably don't do all that well.
They probably do about as university professors do.
People in public service usually don't do all that well.
I think probably a governor of a state is not earning more than
a university professor.
But in terms of power they will be very high.
Supreme Court justices are very high.
Occasionally they can even appoint--right?--the President
of the United States; if I may crack this joke. Right?
Anyway, they are very powerful.
Well if you think about a Mafioso.
The prestige of a godfather, except in the Mafia,
will be very low.
You regard it as criminal.
In terms of income, will be on the very top.
In terms of power, well will have some power,
but mainly in the Mafia, not really nationally.
You see what they are getting at?
So therefore you can measure status, class and power as three
And it is very helpful to understand whether the social
status is crystallized.
People who have high prestige also have high incomes and high
power, and let's say somebody who is
sweeping the floor-- right?--will have very low
prestige, very low income and no power at
So that is a useful way how to stratify society for upper-upper
class to lower-lower class.
That is the way how Weber usually has been used.
Well I will challenge this.
I don't think I'm the only one who does challenges.
Anthony Giddens, I think, gets very close to
what I am describing, though probably he doesn't
stick his neck out as much as I do.
My fundamental argument is that Weber's distinction between
class and status is a historical distinction.
And this is not accidental that this is an English speaking
person, Runciman, who reads the notion of status
the way how he reads it.
Because if you know a little German,
and you try to read Weber in German--
you know that the word status is actually translated from the
word Stand.
And Stand, well it can be translated into
English as status, but it's a not very good
translation of the word.
The better translation is estate.
Now if you would translate Stand as estate,
it would become obvious that what Weber is trying to suggest,
that there is something archaic about status stratification,
as distinct from class stratification,
which is a modern phenomenon.
So this will be one of the major points what I'm trying to
make, and will try to show this from Weber text.
Then the question is where is the third dimension?
As I've said, status and class are historical
categories, but where is power?
And when I was working on one of my books, I was very much
attracted to Runciman's idea, and tried to interpret Weber
this way.
And, in fact, it appeared to me a great deal
to use power as an independent dimension of the class position.
I was trying to understand the social structure of communist
societies, and their power appeared to be an independent
So I was looking into the Weber text,
and I read cover to cover Economy and Society a
couple of times, and I could not find the third
Read it: it is not there.
So trying to understand what Weber is getting at,
I came to the conclusion that for Weber power is the dependent
But he wants to explain where power comes from,
and whether power exercised is exercised on the basis of class
privileges, or whether it is a status type
of, or estate type, of power which is exercised in
And this is very consistent what you already know about Max
Weber--right?--type of authorities, where power comes
What legitimates power--right?--tradition or
legal-rational authority?
Class stratification corresponds to societies based
on legal-rational authority.
Status stratification corresponds to traditional
All right?
Well I will elaborate a little on this--
will qualify this somewhat, primarily because Weber--
like in his types of authority as well--
has two balls in the air at the same time.
He has a macro-theory--right?--of
historical variations of stratification.
For him, transition from traditional society in modern
rational societies is a transition from estate type of
stratification to class stratification.
But Weber also has a micro-theory.
He also said, "Okay, society today is
primarily class stratified, but I can identify status power
in modern societies as well," just exactly as he
does with the types of authority.
Yes, the United States today is legal-rational authority,
but I can spot elements of traditional authority,
or charismatic authority, operating within legal-rational
Since it is dominantly legal-rational authority,
it will be secondary.
Law will make a difference.
But tradition in this society, in this very America today,
does make a difference.
It is consequential where you are in society.
Traditional authority is consequential.
We are all equal before the law, but in practice where we
end up has a lot to do with tradition,
traditional prejudices, the traditional way how power
The same goes for--he brings back the idea of status.
This is why I said translating Stand as status is not
completely wrong.
It only gets a footnote in the Weber concept.
The footnote is Stand is primarily a historical concept
for past traditional societies.
But by the way--this is the footnote--
even in contemporary society, in class stratified societies,
there is power occasionally exercised on the basis of
Well and obviously the power which is exercised by a Supreme
Court judge, or the power exercised by a
university professor, the little one we have--that we
may probably in some way try to change your mind--
right?--which is an act of power, some would say even an
act of coercive power.
Bourdieu called it symbolic violence.
I violate your mind; if I can penetrate your mind
and put a new idea into your mind.
This is an act of power.
Well it's primarily done, or a great deal done,
by status; that you say,
"Well, this is a professor who has a Ph.D.,
must know it."
Then it is really--right?--the reason why you start believing
me has a lot to do with my status.
Hopefully not only the status; hopefully I can make a good
argument and persuade you.
But occasionally--it's a mixture why you tend to believe
me or disbelieve me.
And the very fact of the status, what I am incumbent of,
has something to do--right?--of you trying to believe your
So let me work on the notion how Weber defines classes.
And the most important issue is--the uniquely Weberian idea
is that class has to be identified on the market.
And then I will also say a few words about class interests and
how he--to what extent he's different from Marx in this
So class and market.
Now here you have famous definitions.
He said class situation is determined by market situation.
Class situation is ultimately a market situation.
And this is very important now, as follows.
"The effects of naked possession per se is only the
forerunner of real class formation."
"Slaves", he said--or you can say
serfs--"are not a class.
They are rather a status group."
Now here you can see--right?--the historical uses
of the distinction between class and status.
And also the challenge to Marx.
Those who have property and deprived from property do not
constitute a class.
And the fundamental argument for this is that in traditional
societies it is not really property which puts you into a
high status position.
You being in a high status position has the consequence
that you are wealthy.
So the king or the queen decides to give you nobility,
and gives you an estate.
In capitalism this works the other way around.
In order to become a billionaire--right?--you don't
have to get the approval of the President of the United States.
Simple enough: you go to Wall Street,
you invest your money smartly.
You start with a thousand dollars and in no time you have
a billion--right?--if you invested it in a smart way.
And then you are in the class--right?--of billionaires.
So here it is your property, and your activity on the
marketplace, which helps you to enter the class.
In the aristocracy it was a legal act--
right?--a political act, by a king or a queen,
which made you nobility, made you a lord,
and then as a consequence you became wealthy.
It's also interesting, by the way,
that well if you lost your wealth--there was some poor
noble people-- you still retained your status
estate privileges.
So if you were nobility, in most societies,
for instance, you did not have to pay taxes.
Now if you lost all of your estate,
because you gambled--for instance--right?--
you wanted to go to Monte Carlo where you gambled everything
away-- then you became very poor.
You were still noble and you still did not have
to--right?--pay taxes.
Your status privileges remained.
The opposite--right?--in capitalism.
You start fully investing your money and you lose your money on
the stock market, you cease to be a capitalist.
Then you will have to seek to find a job.
And since you lost all of your money, you probably will not
find a very good job, because who wants to hire a
This is also a very important citation from Weber.
He said, "Class position really means that people have
common life chances."
If you are located differently, there are positively and
negatively-- this is the Weberian
point--positively and negatively privileged positions on the
And if you are negatively privileged in the marketplace,
your life chances are not very good.
If you are positively privileged in the marketplace,
then your life chances are great.
You guys in this room are all very positively
privileged--right?--because you are getting a Yale degree;
and probably a Harvard degree would be even better for you.
Don't tell Rick Levin that I said that in class.
But this is about the best degree what you can have.
So you are extremely well-positioned on the labor
Your life chances are great.
You have to make a lot of mistakes to screw this one.
You are on the right trajectory.
If you are in a community college--right?--or you are a
high school dropout, then your life chances on the
labor market will be lousy.
Especially you are poor, you are African-American,
you dropped out of high school, well your chances that you will
end up in jail before you turn thirty is,
I think, seventy percent.
So--right?--this is life chances--right?--which in this
case, of course it is not only class.
There is a special type of status group.
Race, it also plays a role--right?--in your
deteriorating life chances.
Now let me also say that Weber actually suggests that you can
think of classes on every single market situation.
So, for instance, some people--and myself in my
work--have been writing about housing classes.
The differences between the owner of a house and the tenant
who rents this house is a class relationship--can be interpreted
as a class relationship.
The landlords, very often by the tenants,
are seen as bloodsuckers--right?--because
they charge too high rent and they do not maintain your unit
You know?
When you call them and you say that the water is dripping,
and I need a plumber, they will find excuses why they
do not fix your water, or why they do not fix your
So they are bloodsuckers. Right?
And, as a tenant, you are in a negatively
privileged class position.
That's true.
But on the other hand Weber is quite clear that there are two
important market positions which fundamentally define your class
position, and these are the labor market
and, in fact, the capital market,
will define whether you are-- have good life chances or poor
life chances.
And all other positions, on other markets,
will be a consequence of your position primarily on the labor
market, or on capital markets.
Well this actually brings Weber and Marx a little closer than it
appeared for the first time-- right?--because,
as we will see, Weber does acknowledge that if
there is a market economy, differences in property are
very important to creating class positions.
But, unlike Marx, he emphasizes this is only the
case if there is a market economy in place.
Now just very briefly about class interest and class action.
And here he said, "Well the statement by a
talented author"--he doesn't tell us who that author
is; I assume it must be Karl
Marx--"that the individual may be in error concerning his
interests but the class is infallible about its interest,
is false and pseudo-scientific."
So he said, "Well the classes are actually not
A community may have a kind of collective understanding.
You belong to a class just because of your position of the
labor market, and you actually--here he
subscribes to Adam Smith.
Class members are individuals acting out of self-interest,
and not acting out of collective interest.
But they are in a similar position,
and therefore they have common class interests,
and--surprise, surprise--occasionally they
will act the same way-- right?--because they have a
collective interest; but not as a community,
but as rationally acting individuals, determined by their
rational actions--right?--on the marketplace.
And therefore, he said, "Well classes
will really exist--well how can I tell that the classes really
I can tell if I see classes acting.
Classes materialize in action--right?--
because I speculatively cannot make any class distinction,
but people will make distinctions for classes by
acting upon their class interest."
Now let's go on to the question of status groups;
what are status groups?
And well I briefly want to identify who status groups are,
what status privileges are, and then status stratification
and the caste, and the question of ethnicity
in Weber.
So what is a status group?
Well, unlike classes, status group,
or Stande--this is the plural of the word
Stand--are nominally groups.
Status groups means that you belong to a group--right?--and
you have a high esteem, and you have a solidarity
within the group.
You have an honor; a certain honor is attributed
to you when you are in a status group.
You are initiated--right?--into becoming a nobleman by an act of
the king or the queen.
Well in order to get a university degree,
you are initiated--right?--into a status group.
In a way to earn a university degree--a Bachelor's degree,
a Ph.D.--is entering in some ways a status group.
It's not accidental that we wear these funny medieval robes
on those ceremonies where the degree is conferred on you.
And many professions which require formal university
training act as a status group; like the doctors
constitute--right?--a status group.
Like, in some ways, university professors
constitute a status group.
Lawyers constitute a status group, and they somehow control
ethics and entrance into the law profession.
There you have to pass a board exam if you want to become a
And, in fact, states will make--in
California, if you want to move to
California, you want to get a law degree and you want to move
to California, you will sweat
blood--right?--to pass the board exam.
If you want to go to South Dakota, you will easily pass the
board exam.
Because there are not many lawyers who want to be lawyers
in South Dakota, but there are many lawyers who
want to be lawyers in San Francisco,
and therefore the board, California board,
will be much stricter than the South Dakota board.
The same goes for medical exams.
It will be--again you have to pass exams, and it will be
different, depending on the labor market condition.
And it's very important: The status honor is expressed
with a specific lifestyle.
The way how you dress, the way how you eat,
the way how you behave, is constituting what is status
Traditionally--right?--noblemen could wear arms;
non-nobles couldn't.
And well if you are a Yale professor you wear J. Press.
I mean, not everybody does, but you can tell this is a Yale
You can see this is a J.***Press coat.
So there are--right?--lifestyles,
what in a way, even in modern society,
constitute status groups.
Even within class stratification,
you have this uniquely lifestyle specific stuff,
what you adapt in order to belong to this status group kind
of subgroup within a class.
So if you are a "yuppie"--young urban
professional, right?--you get a nice job on
Wall Street, you move to Manhattan.
Then you rent out--right?--or buy a condo somewhere in a Trump
Then you want to be driven by a limo to your workplace.
You will be reading Wall Street Journal,
and you will be going--right?--and you will be
having croissants for the morning.
You see what I'm getting at.
You will be dressed in a certain way.
People can tell--right?--this person must be a
broker--right?--on Wall Street.
There are these lifestyle characteristics what in a way
creates an almost status group.
You know each other. Right?
You recognize each other. Right?
There are places where you hang together.
There are yuppie places.
You look outside and you know this is a yuppie bar,
filled with yuppies.
This is the lifestyle by which you have status.
There are also, of course, status privileges--
which is ideal and material goods, which is a consequence of
you being in that status group, rather than the source of it.
And there are also specific special employment
opportunities, if you belong to a status
group, and it's being controlled this way.
I mean, the medical profession is a very good example.
And it's being actually debated and questioned why on earth do
we need a system in which people have to have registered--
do have to have a medical degree in order to practice
Why on earth people do have to have a law degree in order to
appear in court and defend somebody in court?
These are kind of status group barriers to enter the system.
Well the market, on the other hand,
knows no personal distinction.
On the market it matters whether you are successful or
you are a failure.
And therefore if you have these status group kind of privileges,
this is a limitation on the functioning of the market.
And therefore stronger the status groups are,
it can be a hindrance of free development of a market economy.
And now an idea about caste and ethnicity.
He said if the boundaries between status groups are
particularly sharply drawn, in that case we can talk about
The caste differences occur, for instance,
when there are prohibitions to intermarry between castes.
Lower castes are usually seen as polluted, as dirty;
you even cannot touch them, or if you did touch a low class
person, let's say in Indian culture, you have to go some
purification procedures.
And he said status groups--segregation grows into
castes, that transforms a horizontal
coexistence of ethnically segregated groups into a
vertical social system.
This is also very important--right?--his notion of
It's a very innovative idea in writing this around 1920,
about this.
The differences are held to be ethnic, based on the belief that
it has something to do with blood relations.
He does not believe--right?--that ethnic
differences really have anything to do with blood relations.
You have ethic or racial differences when there is a
common belief that blood relations do matter and are
socially consequential.
He doesn't believe it is.
Now class and status compared.
I am sort of running out of time;
don't want to operate on--to do too much on this.
The point is--right?--that there is some kind of stability
in status stratification.
Class stratification is dynamic and conflictuous.
This is where his idea will come from that,
that in fact, class relationships are not
becoming more antagonistic over time,
but is becoming less antagonistic over time.
But the point is, as you can see,
that the main point is that there are two basic
stratification systems: one based on status or
Stand, and the other one is on class
Historical difference, but there is also a subtype of
stratification in a class stratified society based on
status differences.
So what are--he makes a distinction between different
types of classes.
Let me just briefly rush through of it.
He does not negate that there is actually a class based on
There is actually--property differences can be very
substantial, as long as they are operating in a marketplace.
If your property can be sold or bought--
which was not the case under feudalism--
and if there is a labor market which complements capital
markets, then differences in capital
markets is the source of differences.

But the most important distinction is what he calls
commercial classes.
And commercial classes are based--right?--on the market
situation, and particularly especially based on labor
And therefore the basic class distinction for Weber,
in modern society, is between management and
employees, rather than owners of capital
and owners of labor power; unlike Marx.
And that, I think, is a very insightful argument,
at least an important qualification on Marx,
or probably a useful replacement of Marx with a
better fitting theory to understand modern societies.
Okay, and then there are--he introduces the notion of social
There is a third type of class in modern society,
which is social class.
And what is social class?
People are in a social class situation when individual and
generational mobility is easy and typical within that class.
And then he said, "Well what are social
And interestingly he said, "Well these examples are--
working class is a social class, the petit bourgeoisie is
a social class."
The basic argument here is working class is not a
commercial class.
Working class--well he's writing in the nineteenth
But it's still to some extent true in the United States today,
probably the least so in the U.S.
than in other economies.
Then being working class was certainly very true in Europe,
probably less so now, but even during the second half
of the twentieth century in Italy and France there was a
very strong working class consciousness.
You were proud of being working class.
In the U.S.
the term working class hardly exists.
We are talking about the working people rather than the
working class.
But in Italy or in France there was a very strong identity of
being a working class--very clearly identifiable lifestyle
Not that even, in fact, in the United States
you can't really-- you usually can tell,
I think, with ninety percent certainty,
if you walk into a tavern--right?--who is a manual
worker and who is not a manual worker.
The way how people behave, the way how people dress,
gives you a very good clue.
And in France or in Italy, to some extent even in the
United States, working class will say,
"Well, it was good enough for me to be
a plumber.
Why on earth my son doesn't want to be a plumber and
continue my business as a plumber?
That's good enough." Right?
If it was good enough for me, should be good enough for my
How he understands social class as distinct from economic class.
You become social class when you will say--well you are in
working class and your daughter is dating a lawyer.
Then you will say, "Can't you find a decent
working class guy?
You want to date with this egghead?"
Again, in the United States it is much less common.
There is many more marital mobility across class
lines--much less so in Italy or in France, even today.
Anyway, this is social class, but as you can see,
social class in a way bringing back the idea of status groups.
It is a modern version of status group,
what is being constituted as a social class.
because it has a lot to do with lifestyles, values,
culture--right?--and typical patterns of mobility and
aspirations, as such.
Well that's about it.
Thank you very much.