Class Theory Table


Class as status

Class as power

Class as discourse

Class as culture


Max Weber

Karl Marx & Frederick Engels

Poststructuralist theories

Raymond Williams, Basil Bernstein

Focus of analysis

Multiple aspects of individual life

  • Education
  • Income
  • Lifestyle
  • Language
  • Associations

Economic role and relationships - owners have the power and means to exploit workers in order to generate a profit; workers are compelled to sell their labor in order to survive



Popular narratives & discourse

Family and neighborhood


Attitudes, values, beliefs, and experiences

View of Conflict

Present but not primary - class as differentiation

Inherent and central - class relations give us contrasting interests

Present but not central - discourse reflects class conflicts, conflict is worked out through discourse, and discourse may limit or shape how conflict works

Present but not central - much attention to conflicts based in attitudes or behaviors; conflict is acted out through behavior and affiliations

Possibility of changing one's class

Yes, through education, job changes, and changes in behavior

Yes, by changing one's position in the economic system, but this is rare

Focus isn't on what class one belongs to; more on analyzing how class is represented in the culture

Partially, similar to ethnicity - people can change class position, but the culture in which one grew up influences one's patterns of thought and behavior throughout life

How many classes are there, and how sharply are they divided?

Multiple variations of upper, middle, working, and lower; some models suggest variegations between these - upper-middle, lower-working, etc. - and scholars vary in how clearly they think these categories are differentiated

Three, very clearly separated: owners, workers, petit bourgeois (small business owners, professionals)

Multiple with very fluid boundaries - sees class categories as defined by and through discourse, but different ideas exist about whether these categories exist before or as a result of discourse

Tends to focus on working and middle class and defines their differences in terms of attitudes, behaviors, and experiences