Social class  

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"Class conflict, frequently referred to as "class warfare" or "class struggle", is the tension or antagonism which exists in society due to competing socioeconomic interests and desires between people of different classes.

For Marx, the history of class society was a history of class conflict. He pointed to the successful rise of the bourgeoisie and the necessity of revolutionary violence—a heightened form of class conflict—in securing the bourgeoisie rights that supported the capitalist economy.

Marx believed that the exploitation and poverty inherent in capitalism were a pre-existing form of class conflict and that wage labourers would need to revolt to bring about a more equitable distribution of wealth and political power." --Sholem Stein

Pyramid of Capitalist System, anonymous American cartoon (1911)
Pyramid of Capitalist System, anonymous American cartoon (1911)
This page Social class is part of the politics series.Illustration:Liberty Leading the People (1831, detail) by Eugène Delacroix.
This page Social class is part of the politics series.
Illustration:Liberty Leading the People (1831, detail) by Eugène Delacroix.

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A social class is a set of subjectively defined concepts in the social sciences and political theory centered on models of social stratification in which people are grouped into a set of hierarchical social categories, the most common being the upper, middle and lower classes.

"Class" is a subject of analysis for sociologists, political scientists, anthropologists and social historians. However, there is not a consensus on a definition of "class" and the term has a wide range of sometimes conflicting meanings. In common parlance, the term "social class" is usually synonymous with "socio-economic class", defined as "people having the same social, economic, cultural, political or educational status", e.g., "the working class"; "an emerging professional class". However, academics distinguish social class and socioeconomic status, with the former referring to one's relatively stable sociocultural background and the latter referring to one's current social and economic situation and consequently being more changeable over time.

The precise measurements of what determines social class in society has varied over time. Karl Marx thought "class" was defined by one's relationship to the means of production (their relations of production). His simple understanding of classes in modern capitalist society are the proletariat, those who work but do not own the means of production; and the bourgeoisie, those who invest and live off the surplus generated by the proletariat's operation of the means of production. This contrasts with the view of the sociologist Max Weber, who argued "class" is determined by economic position, in contrast to "social status" or "Stand" which is determined by social prestige rather than simply just relations of production. The term "class" is etymologically derived from the Latin classis, which was used by census takers to categorize citizens by wealth in order to determine military service obligations.

In the late 18th century, the term "class" began to replace classifications such as estates, rank and orders as the primary means of organizing society into hierarchical divisions. This corresponded to a general decrease in significance ascribed to hereditary characteristics and increase in the significance of wealth and income as indicators of position in the social hierarchy.


Social class in ancient Rome

Social class in ancient Rome played a major role in the lives of Romans. Ancient Roman society was hierarchical. Free-born adult male Roman citizens were divided into several classes, both by ancestry and by property. There were also several classes of non-citizens with different legal rights, along with slaves, who had no rights, and could be ejected or sold by their master.

Renaissance Europe

The Mantegna Tarocchi, sets of cards made as an educational aid in Ferrara in the late 15th century, used the following hierarchy for the "Conditions of Man", largely ignoring the rural population:

1 Beggar
2 Servant (Famiglio)
3 Craftsman (Artigiano)
4 Merchant (Mercante) - presumably living mostly off income as a landlord
5 Gentleman (gentiluomo)
6 Knight (cavaliere)
7 Doge (doge)- i.e. a local ruler
8 King (Re)
9 Emperor (Imperatore)
10 Pope (Papa)

Pre-revolutionary French

France was an monarchy with a king and other princes at the top of the class structure. The French States-General, established in 1302 was an assembly whose members were ranked according to hereditary class. The First Estate was the clergy, all Roman Catholic, and by this time with the bishops and higher roles dominated by sons of the nobility. The Second Estate consisted of lay members of the nobility, who constituted approximately two percent of the total population. The Third Estate consisted, technically, of everyone else, but was represented by representatives elected by a complicated system, in practice dominated by the bourgeois lawyers who held offices in the various regional Parlements. The peasantry had no official status in this system. This may be contrasted with the ideologically high status of farmers in Confucian China. The rigidity of the French hereditary system has been suggested as a major cause of the French Revolution.

See also

See also

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