Constructing Belonging: Class, Race, and Harlem's Professional Workers

By Sabiyha | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE

Locating Class and Race in Anthropology and History

A Theoretical Overview

BEFORE GRAPPLING WITH THE SPECIFIC QUESTION OF HOW RACE AND CLASS intersect in the case of Harlem, views of class in the literature should clarify how these concepts are used in this book. Social scientists, historians, and laypersons agree that when we talk about class, we are discussing processes, issues, and conditions rooted in the economic. For over a century, however, disagreement has ensued about the specific ways in which class differentiation shapes the human experience.

Some scholars, for example, view classes as tangible or objective positions in socioeconomic hierarchies, while others deem the manner in which people form class identities and affiliations to be of more consequence. There is also contention about the number of classes that exist and the specific characteristics persons occupying each category should manifest. What is indisputable is the debt contemporary scholars of class owe Karl Marx and Max Weber for their work in this area. Neither answered all the questions about the development and role of class inequality in human life but their formulations did establish key theoretical foundations upon which to study these processes. These men also set up the parameters of a debate that continues today. Numerous scholars have used the work of Marx and Weber to advance understanding of aspects of class formation that were initially overlooked.

Karl Marx used concepts such as the means of production and the social relations of production in propagating his view that unfairness and inequality are endemic to capitalism (Levine 1998). In his model, class conflict fueled human history because the persons who own the land and capital would continually clamor for the profits generated by workers and the workers would fight for labor conditions that were beneficial to themselves and their kin.

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