Political Ideology and Class Formation: A Study of the Middle Class

By Carolyn Howe | Go to book overview

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The Problem of the Middle Class in Social Science

Western sociology was born out of a period of transformation. As the old class structure of European feudalism gave way to a new class structure, scholars of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries tried to understand the transformation and the new forms of inequality that emerged.

The pathbreaking scholar of class analysis was Karl Marx, whose insights into the workings of the capitalist system have profoundly shaped sociological thinking about social inequality. Marx's work influenced the thinking of Max Weber, whose own theories of class stimulated what became the hegemonic paradigm for the sociological study of stratification. Even those who draw most consciously on Weber recognize that Marx has probably had more influence on modern theories of social inequality than any other person ( Tumin, 1970:1). Since the late nineteenth century, debates have flourished over the proper conception of class, the best indicators of classes, and, ultimately, the very salience of "class" as an explanatory concept (see Dahrendorf, 1959; Nisbet, 1959).

As capitalism developed in the twentieth century, the three-class model of capitalist, proletariat, and petit bourgeoisie proposed by Marx and Frederick Engels ( 1972 [ 1848]) began to seem inadequate for dealing with the complexities of advanced capitalist countries. New strata of managers, professionals, and clerical

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