Renewing Class Analysis Oxford. (Book Reviews/Comptes Rendus)

By Nakhaie, Reza | Canadian Journal of Sociology, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

Renewing Class Analysis Oxford. (Book Reviews/Comptes Rendus)


Nakhaie, Reza, Canadian Journal of Sociology


Rosemary Crompton, Fiona Devine, Mike Savage and John Scott, eds, Renewing Class Analysis Oxford. UK: Blackwell Publishers, 2000, 207 pp.

Despite the frequent prediction of the "death of class," class analysis remains a central element of the sociological enterprise. The continuing salience of class in various areas of sociology remind us that such prediction has been premature. Arguably, one of the reasons for downplaying class has been a lack of agreement as to what classes are, how they should be measured and how they can be mobilized. Often the class debate is polarized into "Marxian versus Weberian" where the former presents classes as qualitatively distinct conflict groups with mobilization potential rooted in the organization of production while the latter see classes as a series of status positions due to "market chances" resulting in "class situations" (where individuals are able to acquire sufficient revenue to manage certain style of life). Although these two camps generally agree that class position, variously measured and for a variety of reasons, results in some types of political ideology and political action, there are still sub stantial disagreement among the proponent of each of these camps with the Weberians often concluding that classes are "multidimensional," "diverse," and "plural." A similar conclusion emerges from Renewing Class Analysis (p.2).

The most novel and provocative article in this collection is Sorensen's on "employment relations and class structure." In this article, Sorensen rejects Marx's labour theory of value but accepts that classes are conflict groups originating in exploitation. He defines exploitation classes "by the presence and absence of rent producing assets." These classes have antagonistic interests because rents create advantages to owners of rent producing assets, obtained at the expense of non-owners" (p. 17). Monopoly rents created by unions and professional associations, and composite rents created by asset specificity are two important types of employment rents that create classes and result in exploitation and conflict. For Sorensen, it is not inequality in assets that, by itself, create exploitation and conflict. He stresses that, in a perfectly competitive labour market with no transaction costs, exchange of assets between two persons will in fact reach an equilibrium where both persons will benefit and nobody suffe rs. Exploitation and conflict emerge, Sorensen argues, only if owners of means of production and labour power are able to control the supply of their assets. They can control this supply by establishing monopolies and/or associations and unions. A monopoly of assets ensures an increase in the return on assets over what it would have been if there was no monopoly. Similarly, unions increase the rent to assets (labour power, skill, motivation, etc.) by ensuring a higher than competitive wage for workers. That is, union solidarity is a source of exploitation. Similarly, welfare recipients protected by legislation become part of the exploiting class!

Sorensen would like to stress that "rent is the proper basis for a sound class concept," resulting in two classes: positively and negatively privileged exploitation classes (p. 23). One can imagine infinite numbers of exploitation classes, depending on which grouping establishes a monopoly, forms a union or association and/or is protected by legislation. In this light, Sorensen's exploiting class seems to include a combination of large and small capitalists with professional and managerial groups with associations, unionized workers, welfare recipients, sick, physically challenged and retired! Such a classification challenges the seriousness of his theoretical undertaking.

A second problem with Sorensen's thesis is his inattentiveness to the qualitative aspect of exploitation. For Marx, capitalists sell a product in the market at a higher value than the sum of value they give to workers for their labour-power. …

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