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Class Versus Stratification

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Two main approaches to social differentiation, i.e. social class and social stratification are oftentimes conflated with each other; in particular, behind the termininology of stratification the conceptual framework of class theory is in fact hiding in many cases. Meanwhile, the distinction between the two aforementioned perspectives needs to be maintained. First, social classes, as conceived of in the writings of Karl Marx and Max Weber, are inherently economic groupings, which also means that class theories, in their classic renderings, do not commit the fallacy of classism, which posits that each and every member of a given society must be a member of a class. However, it is the alternative approach to societal differentiation that is marked by the said deficiency, as social strata can encompass people from all walks of life. Relatedly, social stratification is universal as regards not only social space but also social time-according to the conventional wisdom, there is no human society that would be not subject to some form of stratification; meanwhile, social classes arise at a certain stage of historical development and at least in theory one could imagine conditions for the classless societies to exists. As its very name suggest, stratification is irrevocably hierarchical in character, whereas the shape of class relations is, by and large, a more complex one. Relatedly, most, if not all, scales of income, prestige, and other criteria used within the stratification approach are marked by arbitrariness, which error is far easier to avoid in class theories, based-as they do-on some qualitative factors, such as property relations.
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  • Ordinary Professor, Chair, Economic Sociology, Institute of Sociology, Adam Mickiewicz University, 89c Szamarzewskiego Str., 60-586 Poznan, Poland
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