Max Weber:

I. Class, Status, Part.

In this work, Weber sets out a broad view of how society is organized.  He posits three dimensions upon that collections of people can be grouped under: Economic, ‘Honor’ or ‘Life-Style’, and “Power”.  These three are, of course, related.  But understanding how each works lets us make better sense of how changes in society occur, and how to understand the exercise of power, economic and cultural goods.  These three things (power, economic systems and honor) constitute the ‘social order’.

1) Economically determined Power and the Social Order.

This is an introduction to the problem.  Weber wants to know what constitutes the ‘social order’.  He arguest this must rest on power, and thus we need to identify the types and sources of power in society.  He will build on Marx, and start with the economic system, but he quickly establishes that there ismore to power than money, as people can get power through social honor, or use power for things other than monetary gain.  He starts with some definitions.

a) “Law exists when there is a probability that an order will be upheld by a specific staff o men who will use physical or psychical compulsion with the intention of obtaining conformity with the order, or of inflicting sanctions for infringement of it.”
[In other words, law exists when we can count on some rule being enforced by someone who can compel you to conform]

b) The structure of the legal order influences the distribution of power.

c) Power = “the chance of a man or of a number of men to realize their own will in a communal action even against the resistance of other who are participation in the action.”   That is, power exists when one actor can enforce his/her will on another actor.

The question then arises: From where does power come?  Why do a certain set of people have power, while others do not?  This is part of the question underlying this reading.

Economic power is not the only kind of power, and people seek power even if they don’t seek to economic returns.  Often it is concerned with the need for social honor, or ‘prestige’.

Power, and social status, is often supported by the legal order, but it “cannot always secure them”.

“The social order and the economic order are not identical.  The economic order is fo us merely the way in which … goods … are distributed and used.  The social order is … conditioned by the economic order, and in its turn reacts to it.”

Thus, we know that Weber is going to make a serries of distinctions:  There is more to the world than economics (regardless of what Marx might think), and understanding social order requires understanding how these other aspects fit together with the social order.

2) Determination of Class-situation by Market-Situation

“Classes” are not communities, but represent possible and frequent bases for communal action.  Weber defines classes in terms of the economic life-chances that people have.  Thus, he identifies three related aspects:

 “We may speak of ‘class’ when (1) a number of people have in common a specific causal component of their life chances, in so far as (2) this component is represented exclusively by economic interests in the possession of goods and opportunities for income, and (3) is represented under the conditions of commodity labor or labor markets.”

That is:

1) Defined in terms of the life-chances of people
2) In relations to economic goods
3) Under a system of market economy.
Weber argues that owners are in a better position to benefit from what they have than are non-owners, because owners can use their economic resources to further their economic self-position, whereas non-owners only have their labor (services to provide).  Thus, classes tend to fall along the lines of owners and non-owners (i.e. laborers).  Each of these can then be broken up by the type of ownership and type of service they provide, in many ways.

    Classes for Weber:
        /                        \
   Owners              Service Providers / non-owners
      | | | |                          | | | |
  (many types)            (many types)
     /                \
  Rentiers      Entrepreneurs

This is a much more fluid, and complicated vision of economic class than Marx.

3) Communal Action flowing from Class Interest

Here Weber is arguing against marx.  He says it is not the case that there must be a (single) class-interest associated with being a member of a given class.  It is simply more complicated than that.

Weber argues that class-interest, and action following from class-interest will only happen when there is a clear link between a given situation and the economic system.   He thinks this, because something has to make the class see the issue as a class issue, not an issue about ethnicity, or region, or any of a host of other ways that people could interpret the situation.

This transparency occurs in two ways:
1) people see direct economic differneces  (Rich tyrants of the middle ages)
2) people recognize the inherent inequalities of the system (think of company store examples)

4) Types of ‘Class-struggle’

Here Weber makes a couple of important points.

First, that ‘classes’ do not necessarily constitute a community.  By which, he means they are not necessarily connected into a single social body.

Classes may act in unison, simply because every member of the class – acting as an individual – recognizes that a certain action is in their own interest (just like the umbrella example of Durkheim).  Thus, there is no necessary community implied by class action.  He even goes so far as to say class itself is not a result of common action (the union of workers, for example) but instead comes about because of the interaction of people in different classes.  That is, the role ‘buyer’ only comes to be because of the compliment role ‘seller’.

Second, that the capitalist enterprise requires the existence of a legal order to work.   The legal order determines how people should interact.  Without this, we could never agree on terms of trade, and thus a legal order must precondition the economic order.

5) Status honor  [read this section closely!]

“Status Groups” are, in contrast, normally communities.

A status situation is every typical component of the life-fate of men that is determined by a specific, positive or negative, social estimation of honor.

Property (i.e. economics) is not necessarily linked, but in the long run it usually is, and both propertied and propertyless people can belong to a given status group.

6) Guarantees of Status Stratification

Status honor is linked to a way of life.  A cultural and social set of behaviors that are ‘expected’ of members of a given class.  The key element for status groups is a restriction on ‘social intercourse’  That is, on who can mix with whom.  Thus, people of one status group forbid marriage to another status group.
 Example:  When universities started admiting both males and females, sororities were developed to help limit who the new co-eds might marry. This is why they were (historically) linked to particular fraternities.  So that daughters would be sure to marry within the ‘right’ social group.
 A long tradition of work in anthropology has examined how marriage patterns delineate systems of power and status.

       M.W. Claims that stratification rests on usurpation.  What does that mean?

To usurp means to take something that doesn’t belong to you.  His point is that the origin of any given status system might well be entirely accidental.  One group simply makes a claim to status, and in different societies the qualities of groups on the top will be very different from other societies.  But once the status order is set, it tends to solidify (and correspond to economic wealth), because those in the highest rank monopolize the currency of status.

7) Ethnic segregation and Caste

When taken to their full extent, status groups tend to evolve into a closed caste, where status is guaranteed by both law and ritual.  This often ends up resting on ethnic lines as well as behavior lines.  That is, one become born into a given caste level.

In all such cases, a ‘pariah’ group develops.  This groups is usually outside of the class system – so far down the bottom that the rules which define caste do not even apply.  These groups always play an essential functional role in most societies, usually transferring goods that others cannot touch (such as waste among the Indian untouchables) or link groups that would not otherwise be linked (the role of Jewish groups in mercantile Europe).

The classic Hindu Caste system is multiple variations on four basic types (the Varna):

1) The Brahmans – priests and scholars
2) The Kshatriyas – military leaders
3) Vaisys  -- Farmers / merchants
4) Sudras – Peasants & Laborers

Outside: Untouchables (Harijans).

The distinction of caste (as opposed to ethnic segregation) is that ethnic groups are ordered.

Cast position leads to a different view of position in the world.  Those on top see their position as resulting from something about themselves, while those on the bottom look to the ‘next life’ or the future world to release them from their bondage.  Early Christians said they should be ‘in the world but not of the world’, that is, they should orient their lives to the afterlife, not the mundane worries of this world.  [this is, of course, in the interest of the people on top.  There is a Sting line that mocks the ‘weak shall inherit the earth’idea, he says “I hear an old man laughin / what good is a used up world and how can it be worth havin?”]

MW points out that it is not always ethnic, and today caste correlates will with class.

8) Status Privileges

Stratification goes hand in hand with a monopolization of ideal and material goods.  That is, people in a particular caste control a particular set of goods.  The most important one is marriage, which lets them control who is or is not in the group.  [think of the great literature this has spawned: Romeo and Juliet.  The god of small things

The status system often evolves to promote a sense of ‘purity’ at the top, with disdain for economic mobility.

9) Economic Conditions and Effects of Status Stratification

The top members of a status system disdain economic goods.   “The market knows nothing of honor”  Thus, all groups claiming status react against purely economic order.  Thus, if you win the lottery, you will not become a member of the national elite.  They don’t care how much $$ you have, membership in the elite is more than $$.

What effect does this have on the economic system?

1) the goods controlled by the elite are not subject to the market (weapons in traditional India, for example), and in stable economies the elite tend to monopolize the means to economic goods.

2) Honor does not allow ‘higgling’ – that is, you shouldn’t be concerned with price.  (Thus the idea that ‘if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”)

Classes are stratified due to the relation to production, but status-groups are stratified with relation to the principle of consumption of goods and styles of life.

how are they related?

Economic transformation shakes up the system. The elite will, eventually, control the means of economic success, but if new modes of economic success come into being, then the correlation between economics and status drops.  If it goes far enough, ‘elites’ will not be able to afford their lifestyle, and a new order will emerge.

10) Parties

Parties are concerned with power.  They are usually some combination of class and status, but they need not be.  Weber wants to call parties a whole separate dimension. The whole goal of parties is to gain power, to gain controll.