Authors: Bobbio, Matteucci, Pasquino
Summary: The entry defines class, noting difficulties in any definition, and discusses the concepts of class contributed by Marx and Weber. First, the entry notes the relationship between the existence of classes and social inequalities. Classes can be considered social groups that arise from the structure of social inequalities.
The entry connects social classes with the bourgeoisie-democratic revolutions of the 19th century, after the emergence of capitalist society and the decline of agricultural societies. The entry identifies the bourgeoisie as the first true social class.
Karl Marx first worked out a theory of social classes. According to Marx, classes are expressions of the mode of production in society. Classes and the relationships between them depend on the requirements of the means of production. In a pure capitalist society, there will be only two classes: the middle class and the proletariat. These are necessarily antagonistic because their interests are antagonistic. In Marx's thought, classes are the subjects of historical development.
The other prominent theorist of class, Max Weber, worked out a strictly economic definition of the concept. According to Weber, a class comprises all the individuals who are in the same situation in the market--that is, who have the same objective opportunity to gain goods in the market. Whereas for Marx class represents the central element for analyzing economic, political, social and cultural relations, in Weber classes are relevant only in the economic order.