Economically speaking, class conditions relate to property and employment status that define them but British society has a richer and more diverse culture that cannot simply be categorized as the privileged and the peasant classes at it once were. With technological advances came the rise of the post-industrial worker and as time goes on, the lines separating the upper-crust and the underclass get considerably murkier. The categorizing of people according to their status within society is as old as mankind itself. The study of the class had been viewed as the means in comprehending the structure of social society. Analyzing class has become a characteristic of much sociological debate. Leading class theorists including Marxist, Weberian, and functionalist thought assembled many complex approaches to class analysis near the turn of the 20th century. In today’s industrial society, such as Britain, the system of social structure is adaptable. People can more easily ascend the social ladder than in the past. Modern theorists have attempted to explain what constitutes a particular social class and whether it is the type of neighborhood one lives, their career, ethnicity, or income that defines to which class they belong. Although there is no specific definition of class as in say, India where there is a caste system, social differentiation does indeed exist.
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Class is a matter of social perspectives. Position in the hierarchy is determined by personal merit and personal wealth. Research on class awareness shows that people’s immediate financial situation influences their current perceptions of inequality. Other research has demonstrated that people’s attitudes to class variances seldom compare with one’s material possessions (Runciman 1966). When examining social divisions, many facets of social life must be factored in such as personal value ideals and an individual’s philosophies regarding “income, wealth, status, political power, health, education, employment opportunities, housing and freedom within societies, and across nations and over time, particularly along the lines of class, gender and race” (Grusky 2001). A defect in class perception studies is that “researchers have failed to explore the full sources of the social imagery that influences people’s perceptions of inequality” (Marshall 1983). Perception is the key to how a person views the status of another. Those that view society as something everyone should fit into having a more fixed viewpoint of the class than the average person (Reid, 1998).
Sociologists are forced to reconsider the relevance of class in present-day Britain and all industrialized countries. Class analysis is not the same nor provides a comprehensive base for social analysis on the whole but is an interesting and mobile debate as to the way different points of view interpret class designations. It is much involved in the analysis of class theories. Social classification theories are but one way to enhance the perceptions of social division and social identity. Class relations are far less defined than 200 years ago but still exist in a far more complex way as there are many steps in between each social rung and many differing attitudes regarding class structures. The study of class structures helps to evolve to what extent particular imagery of class is perceived and whether it molds the future awareness of present class perceptions. Marxists view inequality as inevitable because of conflict inherent to the industrialized, capitalistic system. Social inequality will only be leveled when the blue-collar and underclass revolt replacing individual ownership with collective ownership of production facilities. (Swift 2000).
Class divisions persevere as a vital structural characteristic of modern human culture, influencing an individual’s life chances. The discussion of class division is integrated amongst various facets of social divisions. Theorists can hardly claim to possess a full, descriptive analysis of class distinctions and attitudes relating to the subject. Conversely, the social consequences of class identifications should not be denied.
- Grusky, D. (ed.) (2001). Social Stratification: Class, Race, Gender in Sociological Perspective. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
- Marshall, G. (1983). “Some Remarks on the Study of Working-class Consciousness.” Politics and Society. Vol. 12, pp. 263–301.
- Reid, I. (1998). Class in Britain. Cambridge: Polity Press.
- Runciman, W. (1966). Relative Deprivation and Social Justice. Berkeley: University of California Press.
- Swift, A. (2000). “Class Analysis from a Normative Perspective.” British Journal of Sociology. Vol. 51, pp. 663–79.