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Social class

A social class is a group of people that have similar social and economic status.

At various times the division of society into classes has had various levels of support in law. At one extreme we find old Indian classes - castes, which one could neither enter after birth, nor leave. (Though this applied only in relatively recent history.) On the other extreme there exist classes in modern Western societies which appear very fluid and have little support in law. When sociologists speak of "class" they usually mean economically based classes in modern or near pre-modern society.

Marxists explain history in terms of a war of classes between a rich, privileged class which possessed the means of production (bourgeoisie), and a poor, unprivileged class (proletariat), which actually produced, while the fruits of their work were being mostly taken by members of the privileged class.

Modern usage of the word "class" generally considers only the relative wealth of individuals or social groups, and not the ownership of the means of production.

The sociologist Max Weber formulated a three-component theory of stratification, with class, status and party (or politics) as conceptually distinct elements.

All three dimensions have consequences for what Weber called "life chances".

See also:

The concept of "caste" differs from that of "class", and refers to rigid status groupings, the membership of which is usually inherited. Particular caste groups include:

For other meanings of the word class, see Class.

Further reading

  • Consumer's Republic, Lizabeth Cohen, Knopf, 2003, hardcover, 576 pages, ISBN 0375407502 (An analysis of the working out of class in the United States)

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