Social class

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( Social ) class or caste called the social sciences a class of people with common social interests , particularly economic way. The use of the term usually refers to the definition of terms of the German philosopher, economist and social theorist Karl Marx in the sense of differentiation of society by different "classes". Marx points out the elementary fact that class society is essentially dichotomous , that is, it consists of social classes of ruling and ruled ( exploited ). The term serves Marx to explain the class struggle between the antagonistic classes.

A sense of togetherness or class consciousness may or may not exist within this community. In any case, the concept of class only optionally means a subjective perspective and in any case solely an object of scientific consideration ( Marxist approaches). A considered class may not or not yet be aware of its class character (e.g. initially the European proletariat at the beginning of the 19th century). The term is by no means synonymous and per se with a feeling of togetherness or even a politically cohesive capacity to act.

The concept of class is controversially discussed in sociology . The concept of class is particularly controversial in its polemical and political effects (see various definitions of social inequality ). Discussions are currently underway about an emerging “ transnational capitalist 'class'”. In a figurative sense, the “ political class ” is spoken of as the leadership class of professional politicians .

In contrast to the German has in the Anglo-Saxon concept of class get (class) to identify without its user as Marxists; there is of " capitalism " (capitalism) spoken while often the concept of (social) "in the German market economy favors".

Early concepts and theories of social classes

The Greek philosopher Aristotle mentioned social classes as early as the 4th century BC . In the Roman Empire , the censors used the word classis to divide the population into tax groups; it ranged from the assidui (from the Latin assiduus "resident, taxable citizen" with 100,000 As) to the proletarii , who only had to show their numerous descendants (proles) , and the rag proletarians who were counted as capite by head .

In the mid-16th century, the English scholar and diplomat Sir Thomas Smith described English society as one divided into four classes. 1788 arrived in the United States classes, especially in the "Föderalistenartikeln" ( Federalist Papers ) of the factions in the treatment (factions) discussed.

In the late 18th century, the Scottish historians Adam Ferguson and John Millar used the term class for classes of society that could be distinguished by rank or property; since then the name with this meaning can be traced in all European languages. While Adam Smith still speaks of a "poor" or "working class", in David Ricardo , Andrew Ure , Henri de Saint-Simon and Charles Fourier, the "working class" is followed by the "class of the capitalists" and the "poor" the “rich class”, next to the “ proletariat ” the “ bourgeoisie ”. In France, the historians Augustin Thierry and François Guizot, among others, advocated the idea of ​​a history developing through class struggles at the beginning of the 19th century .

The classical political economy worked with class concepts. In 1821 the British economist David Ricardo introduced his main work by stating that there are three large classes in society ( landowners , capitalists , workers ) who share social wealth through different sources of income ( rent , profit , wages ). Influenced by French historiography and political economy, Karl Marx drafted his theory of classes and the class struggle from 1842. In addition to Lorenz von Stein and Max Weber , the considerations of Ferdinand Tönnies and Joseph Schumpeter are particularly important in German-speaking countries . In 1899, the American economist Thorstein Veblens analyzed the leisure class ("fine people").

While the class term continues to be used in English and French-speaking countries and has a more neutral meaning there, in German-speaking countries it is mostly used negatively and is comparatively seldom used in politics, media and science.

The class theory in Marxism

Members of different classes differ from one another economically through their position in the system of social production - more precisely: through their position in the respective production relations in which the workers come into connection in a specific way with the means and objects of labor, and thus how the product produced from this work process is distributed between the classes. Other economic factors depend on this question, for example the respective share in social wealth, income and wealth . Historically, in the “progressive” modes of production of the concrete historical social formations, two main antagonistic classes stood opposite each other, a numerically large ruled class that was economically exploited, politically oppressed and ideologically subjugated by a small ruling class, until it finally became revolutionary out of the class struggle formed a new order.

Marxism emphasizes the historical character of classes: human society has not always been and will not always remain divided into classes. Classes did not exist at an early stage of human development. "The underdeveloped productive forces conditioned the common ownership of the means of production, the common work of all members of society and excluded the possibility of exploitation of man." Classes only emerged when people acquired the ability to produce more than for their immediate needs Survival was required. The development of the productive forces and the incipient social division of labor formed the basis for the emergence of classes.

These classes exist as long as total social labor produces an output which only slightly exceeds what is necessary for survival, and the work to produce this output takes up the time of the vast majority of the population. "In addition to the large majority indulging exclusively in work, a class that is freed from directly productive work is being formed to deal with the common affairs of society: work management, state affairs, justice, science, the arts, etc."

The class division is no longer necessary when the social productive forces are so highly developed that all the necessary goods can be produced in such a short time that the entire population can take care of the general affairs of society in addition to their productive activities. According to many Marxists, this high level of the productive forces has been reached in contemporary capitalism . Ernest Mandel believes that it is possible to shorten the working day to four hours. Assuming collective ownership of the means of production and a planned economy , the classes could then die off, which is an important characteristic of socialism.

In the course of history the relations of production have changed several times and with them the class structure of the respective society. In addition, a distinction can also be made between basic classes and secondary classes within a society .

economic society formation Main classes Minor classes
Primitive society no
Asian production method State bureaucracy - personally free peasants Slaves ; Craftsman ; Dealer ; Proletarians (e.g. wage servants )
Slavery society Slaveholders - slaves Free peasants (e.g. witnesses ) and artisans , as long as they have no slaves; Proletarians (e.g. wage workers in ancient manufactories , see also Thets )
feudalism Feudal lords - unfree (e.g. serf ) peasants Merchants / (long-distance) merchants ( bourgeois ); Guild craftsmen ; University scholars and lawyers ; Workers (z. B. Hammer Mill and knechte S., i. W. And Landsknechte )
capitalism Bourgeois - proletarian Large landowners , farmers , farm workers ( domestic workers , day laborers ); Petty bourgeoisie (small merchants, craftsmen); Officials, lawyers, journalists, intellectuals, rag workers ("class" character disputed)

Secondary classes can be remnants of old or appearances of new, as yet insufficiently developed relations of production .

"The relationship between the prevailing basic class and the secondary classes is always also a relationship between domination and servitude , but not always a relationship between exploitation." and vice versa. So were z. B. the peasants in feudalism a main class, in capitalism they are only a secondary class.

The class struggle is guided by Marxist understanding between the two basic classes and turns ultimately to the maintenance or the removal of exploitation order. Here the interests of the two basic classes are irreconcilable ( antagonistic ). It ends either with a reshaping of society as a whole, as in the transition from feudalism to capitalism, or with the common decline of the two fighting classes. This happened z. B. at the end of antiquity.

With the development of the productive forces, the historical necessity of the respective ruling class is repeatedly called into question. The lower classes perceive the ruling class more and more to be superfluous, while it tries to defend its prerogatives . According to historical materialism , the likelihood of revolution increases if the development of the productive forces is hindered by the prevailing relations of production with the respective ruling class, which occurs sooner or later, the further the productive forces develop. The ruling class is overthrown, a new class seizes power and establishes new relations of production. The history of mankind from the end of primitive society to the present day is a history of successive class societies. The last class society should be capitalism (see above).

The class structure in capitalism in Karl Marx

Karl Marx uses the term class differently:

  • In his earlier writings he describes concrete classes in certain societies, e.g. B. in the writings that deal with the balance sheet of the revolution of 1848 and its consequences and causes, such as The Class Struggles in France 1848 to 1850 and The Eighteenth Brumaire by Louis Bonaparte . Here he did not define the classes exclusively in economic terms, but called the common conditions of existence in their entirety, which distinguish one class from the other. These include B. their way of life, interests, education and political organization. Marx describes in detail the manifold relationships between the classes, the role of the middle class, various alliances or coalitions between them, and even the possible representation of some of these classes by others.
  • In his later works, e.g. B. in capital , he describes the different classes more abstractly as the result of the production relations of capitalism. In the first volume of Capital , his main work, Marx describes the immediate production process. From this point of view there can only be two classes: the productive wage workers and the industrial capitalists . The explicit chapter on classes can be found as a fragmentary chapter at the end of the third volume. Here Marx also names the landowner class as the third class. Although the entire work breaks down there, the existing detailed individual analyzes fill the gap. "Class theory is therefore a special case of a scientific program that develops in the progressive withdrawal of abstractions: As one approaches the 'surface' of social relationships, new definitions of the concept of class are gradually incorporated."

In Das Kapital , the term class no longer only describes empirically determined population groups, but Marx tries here to explain the systematic origin of such a division. The criteria for this should itself be derived from the specific production and reproduction conditions of society.

Marx assumes that labor alone creates value ( labor value theory ). The labor-power that is sold by the wage-laborers is, according to this theory, the only commodity whose use-value consists in creating more value than it itself possesses. Because their value, like the value of all other commodities, is determined by the socially necessary labor time for their production. This means in this case that the value of the commodity labor corresponds to the value of all commodities that the workers need in order to reproduce (including the "substitute team", the offspring). However, workers can work longer than is necessary just to produce the equivalent of their own reproduction. Because:

  1. the workers work under the control of the capitalists who can buy their labor and then use that labor in their interests,
  2. the product of this labor is the property of the capitalists, not the workers.

Surplus value is created by capital letting labor work longer than would be necessary for its own reproduction. The working day of the workers is thus divided into two parts: into necessary labor , into a paid part, which is necessary for the reproduction of the commodity labor power, and into an unpaid part, into surplus labor, in which the workers work for the capitalists.

In the class struggle, the capitalists are therefore constantly looking for ways and means to increase the unpaid part of the working day compared to the paid part. There are two ways to do this:

  1. absolute added value : the increase in absolute added value production by extending the working day
  2. relative surplus value : the increase in the relative surplus value production. Here, given the size of the working day, that part is expanded in which the workers work for the capitalists

The capitalists are thus able to appropriate the surplus product created by the workers . "Marx logically characterizes these qualitatively different positions within the capitalist production process as the main classes of the capitalist mode of production: the class of wage workers and that of the capitalists."

The capitalists do not consume the entire surplus value, but reinvest part of it and convert it back into capital. Part of the surplus value is consumed, another part is used for capital accumulation . As a result, the division into workers and capitalists is repeatedly reproduced and permanent. The workers cannot appropriate the work of others. Because their wages are usually only sufficient to reproduce their labor. Therefore capitalists and workers face each other as opposing classes whose starting point is constantly being re-established in the course of the accumulation process.

In addition to workers and capitalists, that is, those classes that emerge directly from the capitalist mode of production, there are also classes in a concrete historical social formation that go back to other modes of production . These are z. For example, the simple commodity producers (old petty bourgeoisie) who still own the means of production themselves, but do not exploit any or only a few workers, and the large landowners who only own land, but do not work it themselves, but receive a rent .

All these forms of production and classes are mediated through the capitalist market. Therefore the members of these classes compete with each other and with capitalistically manufactured goods.

However, the objective existence of classes does not yet mean that their members are subjectively aware of their similarities (“ class consciousness ”) and act in a uniform manner. Marx and his successors assumed that the consciousness of the working class was caused by its objective situation: “ Being determines consciousness .” This assumption has not always been empirically confirmed.

Already in Marx's successor, his concept of class was critically differentiated. In 1910, Rudolf Hilferding in Das Finanzkapital emphasized the crucial importance of banks.

Newer Marxist class theories

The authors of the class analysis project (PCA) , such as B. Joachim Bischoff , tried in the 1970s to empirically prove the different classes in the Federal Republic using the Marxian criteria. The criterion for the individual classes is here - as with Marx - their position in the capitalist valorization process.

Like Marx, the PCA assumed the existence of two main classes dividing civil society: the class of capitalists and that of workers.

The capitalist class is composed of active capitalists and mere owners of capital, with the number of the latter category expected to increase. Wage workers also belong to the capitalist class if their wages are so great that they actually represent part of the surplus value. This is the case with executive employees.

The petty bourgeoisie includes people who still have their own means of production but do not exploit any or only very few wage workers. The criterion of demarcation to the capitalist class is the size of the surplus value they have gained. When it becomes so large that they can increase their capital by investing and move on to capital accumulation, they are counted in the capitalist class. According to the PCA, between 1950 and 1970 the employment of approx. 3.7 wage workers in the Federal Republic was necessary. The petty bourgeoisie also includes people who employ up to 3 wage workers.

In addition to the old petty bourgeoisie, there are also wage-dependent intermediate classes, i.e. mainly state employees, whose income is thus diverted from the primary income from wages and profits through taxes. However, this class also includes non-state employees, i.e. employees of political parties, trade unions, churches, etc., but also servants or cleaning staff in private households.

The working class can be divided into productive and non-productive wage workers (in the Marxist sense). This subdivision is not meant to be moral, but only reflects the position of the respective persons in the production process (→ added value (Marxism) ).

According to this breakdown, in the German Reich and in the Federal Republic of Germany, the classes were distributed among the respective working population as follows:

Share of classes in the labor force
Classes (faction) 1907 1978 1985
Capitalists 3.0 2.5 1.5
Petty bourgeoisie 34.0 11.5 8.3
Wage-dependent middle class 13.0 19.7 24.8
Working class 50.0 66.3 65.4
thereof productive workers ? 42.8 37.8
thereof non-productive workers ? 19.7 18.5
of which unemployed ? 3.8 9.3
Together 100 100 100

The authors of the “Class Analysis” project also wanted to determine whether the different classes also correspond to certain forms of consciousness ( class consciousness ). They expected that advocacy for the ruling order would be greater in the capitalist class than among the petty bourgeoisie and that wage earners would be most distant from the ruling order. Within this category, the awareness of the class character of society should be more pronounced the more wage workers are directly subsumed to capital. It should therefore be comparatively low among the wage-dependent middle classes and highest among the productive workers. The non-productive workers would occupy an intermediate position. In order to measure class consciousness, the authors of the class analysis project in 1987 carried out a representative survey on typical “worker attitudes”. An example is: “Workers in our society need trade unions to enforce their interests.” These statements are then ranked on a scale from 1 (extreme pro-capital attitude) to 8 (extreme pro-employee attitude).

The results were:

class Consciousness index
Capitalists 3.2
Petty bourgeoisie 3.7
Wage-dependent middle class 5.3
Working class
thereof productive workers 5.7
thereof non-productive workers 5.1
of which unemployed 6.0

Although the values ​​of the capitalists, the petty bourgeoisie and the wage earners as a whole agreed with the objective class positions (determined by theory), the wage-dependent middle class turned out to be more critical of capitalism than that of the non-productive workers (mainly white-collar workers). In this respect, the differentiation between different categories of wage workers with regard to class consciousness appears problematic.

Ernest Mandel accordingly defines the working class differently: It includes all people who are forced to sell their labor. This includes both the actual industrial manual workers (essentially “productive workers”) and the commercial workers (essentially “unproductive workers”), but also large parts of the state employees (“wage-earning middle class”). They are all subject to the same fundamental constraints: lack of ownership of the means of production, lack of direct access to the production of food, insufficient money to earn the means of subsistence without the more or less regular sale of one's own labor.

On the other hand, according to Mandel, those people who are formally employed, but whose income level allows them to accumulate capital in addition to their “normal” lifestyle, do not belong to the working class. B. Manager.

Classes with Max Weber

The unequal distribution of economic power causes the unequal distribution of life opportunities and is therefore, according to Max Weber, the “basic condition of class” ( Reinhard Bendix , 1964).

The sociologist Max Weber makes a general distinction between "employment, property and social classes".

"Property class" means the distinction between property. “Favored property classes” are, for example, rentiers of all kinds who earn their livelihood exclusively, or at least predominantly, by renting out houses, leasing land or from stock dividends. Opposite these are the unfree, slaves, the declassed, debtors and the poor.

“Employment class” means the distinction according to the chances of market exploitation of goods or services. Here entrepreneurs, middle classes of artisans and farmers as well as workers can be distinguished.

For Weber, however, employment and property classes are not yet social units. According to its definition, however, a social class comprises the totality of living conditions between which a person or their descendants can and often change relatively easily. In particular, the categories of ownership and acquisition must be taken into account. In his time, at the beginning of the 20th century, Weber saw three main classes in Germany:

  1. "The classes of the haves and those privileged by education."
  2. "The petty bourgeoisie and the dispossessed intelligentsia and specialist training (technicians, commercial and other 'employees', the civil servants, possibly very socially separated from each other, depending on the training costs)"
  3. "The workforce as a whole, the more automated the work process becomes."

In addition, people also differ in terms of their class position , i. H. their social esteem based on:

  1. "Lifestyle
  2. formal education
  3. Descent prestige or professional prestige. "

In practical terms, the corporate situation is mainly expressed in:

  1. Connubium ( endogamy within a stand)
  2. Commensality (you eat and drink together, i.e. celebrate parties together, invite each other)
  3. often: monopolistic appropriation of privileged employment opportunities or perhorreszung certain other types of employment (disgust for them),
  4. class conventions (traditions) of a different kind.

The class position can be based on the class position, but it is not determined by them alone.

(Quotations: Max Weber: Economy and Society , Chapter I, IV see also Korte / Schäfers: Introduction to the main terms of sociology , p. 201)

Class and layer theories

"Power-related" approaches (Tönnies, Dahrendorf)

Ferdinand Tönnies emphasized in 1935 in his work Geist der Neuzeit (§ 63) that "the great and decisive, ever renewed struggle [...] for 1. economic , 2. political, 3. spiritual and moral power [...]" - that is, power and striving for power - is "always a class struggle ".

Ralf Dahrendorf rejected in 1957 in Social Classes and Class Conflicts in Industrial Society the characteristic “possession | non-possession of means of production ” as too narrow and based his “class theory” on the possession or non-possession of means of power . The English version Class and Class Conflict in Industrial Society from 1959 was published frequently and became a standard text book for sociological education in Great Britain and the USA in the 1960s and 1970s .

While Marx and many other classical sociologists (including Pareto , Tönnies, Durkheim ) as well as Dahrendorf worked with social dichotomies (such as slave owners - slave ; possessing - possessing , landless - landless ; powerful - powerless ; elite - mass ; "lions" - "Foxes" ), later authors refined their concepts and sometimes used other names.

For discussion in Germany

In the post-war period in German sociology, the concepts of class , milieu and social situation were contrasted with the concept of class and discussed intensively. Helmut Schelsky presented in 1953 on the thesis that the social classes in the Federal Republic would have moved closer to each other so far that one of a " leveled-in middle-class society can speak" (see also middle class ).

Other social scientists also consider the concept of class to be outdated today. The Augsburg sociologist Christoph Lau doubts that internal social conflicts are still fought today by stable interest groups. Instead, there is now “a topic-centered, mass media-oriented, vagabond willingness to conflict”. According to the Munich sociologist Ulrich Beck , the “reflexive” or “ second modern ” is characterized by the fact that life situations and life courses are no longer organized in classes and can no longer be represented sociologically. The increasing individualization makes it impossible to draw conclusions from the position of the individual in the production process about his way of life and his place of residence and his leisure time behavior. The "disappearance of social classes" due to their temporal, spatial and social fragmentation goes hand in hand with an intensification of social inequality . According to Niklas Luhmann, however, the concept of social class is "factually correct, because there is the phenomenon that it describes: the bundled unequal distribution " has not disappeared and the concept has not become obsolete.

The class theory of Pierre Bourdieu

Pierre Bourdieu's class theory is based on his (compared to Marxian) expanded concept of capital.

Forms of capital

He differentiates between different forms of capital that a person can own and that determine their position in society. The most important are:

  • The economic capital of a person is their material wealth. In modern capitalist societies it dominates over the other forms of capital.
  1. Incorporated cultural capital (e.g. education, knowledge, upbringing) (is time-consuming and requires that individuals be released from the need for immediate social reproduction, for example in order to be able to attend universities)
  2. objectified cultural capital (e.g. books, paintings)
  3. institutionalized cultural capital (school titles, e.g. Matura, apprenticeship certificate, Magister, Bachelor)
  • A person has social capital when he has built up good relationships with others, a good social network (e.g. a graduate from an elite school has usually built up good relationships and thus a higher capital than graduates from other schools).
  • In addition to these three forms of capital, there is also symbolic capital . As a form of reflection on the three other types of capital, it describes the reputation, prestige and fame that someone enjoys due to the amount and composition of the various types of capital acquired. How much symbolic capital a person possesses is determined by how much of his economic, cultural and social capital is recognized by other persons (e.g. knowledge of Bourdieu's three forms of capital only becomes symbolic capital when others consider it acknowledge such). Symbolic capital is important in the context of power. This often presupposes that the ruled recognize the capital accumulated by the rulers. Without recognition by others, ownership of the other three forms of capital would have no effect.

According to Bourdieu, capital is an "instrument for appropriating opportunities" with which specific positions can be achieved or meanings and valuations can be enforced. Many forms of capital have in common that they are the result of labor . Some of them are material (economic capital and objectified cultural capital), others Bourdieu calls “incorporated” or “internalized” (knowledge can be acquired through learning, for example). This incorporation is reflected habitually , which means that there are different perceptions, tastes, fears and behavioral patterns depending on the class. Since this often happens unconsciously , Bourdieu also speaks of habitus as the 'class unconscious '.

The capital conversions

Many practices, such as the exchange of gifts or the trade of honor in pre-capitalist societies or the cultural sector in capitalist societies, have the appearance of altruism because they are not geared towards direct economic gain. Nevertheless, they obey an economic logic. Here, too, the aim of those involved is to maximize the profits of the respective field, for example in the form of honor or reputation.

Honor and reputation can u. U. can also be converted into economic capital. The “economy of practice” developed by Bourdieu thus encompasses all types of social transactions. The exchange of goods is just a special case of social exchange.

In general, the individual types of capital can be converted into one another. Here, according to the principle of the conservation of energy, the principle applies that the profits of one type of capital are necessarily paid for with the costs of another. The universal measure of these capital conversions is working time in the broadest sense of the word. Here, both the labor accumulated in the form of capital and the labor necessary for the conversion from one type of capital to another must be taken into account. Examples of capital conversions:

  • The transformation of economic capital into social capital involves activities that, from an economist point of view, must appear to be pure waste. It is a seemingly free waste of time, attention, care, and effort on another person. In terms of the broader logic of social exchange, these activities represent a relatively safe “investment”, the “profits” of which will come sooner or later.
  • The acquisition of cultural capital requires an expenditure of time which is made possible by the disposal of economic capital. Primary upbringing and the family's capital volume also play a major role in the amount of incorporated capital acquired, because the acquisition of this type of capital requires a period free from economic constraints and cost-intensive funding.

The historical development of the social fields

The three primary types of capital mentioned above are only effective in one social field . These are subdivisions within the social space , which becomes more and more differentiated with the development of a society, and in which capital accumulation obeys specific laws.

Historically, the field of social relations in which social capital is accumulated is the oldest. It dominated the pre-capitalist agrarian societies. The basic principle of capital accumulation here is competition for reputation and honor. This is supported by excellent services, e.g. B. achieved in war, but also through generosity in exchanges such as the exchange of gifts. People who are successful in this regard will also benefit economically, for example by receiving very valuable gifts in return or being able to dispose of the labor from other people if they are not able to reciprocate gifts that they have to give according to the rules of the exchange of gifts. However, here the accumulation of wealth does not function according to the laws of the economic field, as it is e.g. B. was described by Karl Marx.

It was only at a later point in human history that the economic field split off from the field of social relationships with its own laws. The prerequisites were the use of money as capital and the existence of a state that can guarantee compliance with the contractual obligations. The principle of capital accumulation in this field was described by Marx and other economists: The point is to utilize money in such a way that at the end of a certain period of time more money comes out than was put into this process at the beginning. According to Bourdieu, the economic field with its own laws first emerged in classical antiquity among the Greeks and Romans. However, it did not dominate society at the time. This is only the case in modern capitalist industrial societies.

The field of cultural production also split off from the field of social relationships at a later point in time. A prerequisite for this is the use of script and at least a rudimentary school system. In this field, individuals compete against each other for an excellent scientific and / or philosophical achievement. This happened for the first time in history at the Greek and Chinese schools of philosophy from the year 600 BC. Although this field is gaining importance in modern capitalist industrial societies, it in no way dominates any society.

The class structure of a modern capitalist society

On the basis of the theory of types of capital and fields presented above, it is now possible to determine the class structures of certain societies. Bourdieu describes an objective class as an ensemble of actors who are subject to homogeneous living conditions. Such a group has in common both objectified characteristics, such as possession or non-possession of goods, and incorporated characteristics such as class-specific habitus forms. An objective class is defined by the structure of the relationship between all relevant characteristics which, in combination with one another, have specific effects on the forms of practice.

However, objective classes should not be confused with mobilized classes . For the latter is an ensemble of actors who have come together to struggle to preserve or change the structure of the distribution of the types of capital among the classes.

The relevant characteristics mentioned above can be described by the position of the individuals on the individual types of capital. They depend on their disposal of capital in the fields mentioned by Bourdieu, which can be described in three dimensions:

  • the quantitative volume of the capital,
  • the structure of capital, i.e. the relationship between the ownership of the various types of capital,
  • the development of these variables over time, i.e. the question of whether an individual or a group is more likely to be on a descending or ascending social career at a certain point in time.

The differences that make up the main classes of a society are based on the total volume of capital as the sum of all effectively expendable resources and power potentials, i.e. the totality of the disposal of economic, cultural, social and symbolic capital. The distribution of classes in a modern capitalist society ranges from the most abundantly endowed with economic and cultural capital to the most disadvantaged in both areas.

These main classes are again differentiated according to class fractions with different amounts of the individual types of capital with approximately the same volume of total capital. The rank of the different types of capital within the social space is different in different societies, but for capitalist industrial societies Bourdieu assumes that economic capital is the dominant ordering principle. In second place comes cultural capital, while social capital has lost importance compared to previous social formations. The class groups or individual professional groups within these groups also differ in terms of their ascending or descending social career.

In addition to these primary differences, a class is also determined by a number of secondary division principles such as gender, ethnicity, place of residence and other characteristics.

According to these characteristics, a modern capitalist society can be divided into the three basic classes.

  • The first class is the ruling class or bourgeoisie , which is split into two factions: those factions of the class whose reproduction depends on economic, mostly inherited capital, contrasts with the factions that are relatively weakest in terms of economic capital, whose reproduction is mainly through cultural capital runs.

For example, from artists to industrial and commercial entrepreneurs, the volume of economic capital is constantly growing, while that of cultural capital is decreasing. The ruling class thus shows a chiastic structure in its structure, with the fraction, whose reproduction mainly takes place via economic capital, is the dominant one. Bourdieu calls them the "ruling rulers" or the "dominant part of the ruling class".

On the other hand, he describes the faction that has more cultural than economic capital, such as artists and intellectuals, as the “dominated rulers” or the “dominated part of the ruling class”. But this ranking is also constantly the subject of class struggles. The ruling class corresponds to the habitus of the legitimate lifestyle .

  • The second great class is the middle class or the petty bourgeoisie , whose capital volume is significantly smaller than that of the bourgeoisie. Like the bourgeoisie, this class is split into two factions. Here, too, there is a contrast between the “old” middle classes, i.e. the small merchants and craftsmen, whose reproduction depends primarily on their economic capital, and the “new” middle classes, e.g. B. the members of the new service occupations, the reproduction of which proceeds through cultural capital. Compared to other classes, the criterion of career is particularly important here, because the mobility processes are greatest in the middle class. The volume of capital and the numerical size of the old middle class (small traders, craftsmen) tend to decrease, while the importance of the new middle classes increases. The middle class corresponds to the habit of striving .
  • The third class is the working class or ruled class, the capital of which is very small. Bourdieu cannot prove a chiastic structure of this class due to lack of data. But he assumes that it also exists here in a weakened form. The habitus of necessity corresponds to the ruled class .

This class structure, which is primarily determined by the volume of capital and the two types of capital economic and cultural capital, only applies to capitalist societies. In other social formations, for example in feudalism, other types of capital occupy the dominant position. In this example (feudalism) these would be social and cultural capital.

Classes, habitus forms and milieus

According to Bourdieu, the class positions basically determine the habitus and thus the concrete forms of practice of the individuals. This manifests itself in similar work experiences, forms of consumption, life perspectives, etc. A coherent set of such forms of practice is called a lifestyle or a social milieu .

Accordingly, it would be expected that individuals belonging to the same class or class faction also have a similar habitus and are thus assigned to the same social milieu. As social science observations have shown, this hypothesis is only partially correct. An important reason for this is the hysteresis (inertia) effect, also known as the Don Quixote effect.

Because the habitus has a tenacity. It can be adapted to conditions of existence that no longer exist and therefore no longer match the current conditions of existence. Such a mismatch does not have to be as extreme as in the case of the example of the literary figure Don Quixote himself, who was no longer able to lead an independent life in the real world. It can also have the consequence that options for action that would potentially exist due to the development of the productive forces are not taken. Given the same class situation, this can lead to a differentiation of the milieus, depending on the extent to which the habitus has already been adapted to the current conditions of existence.

The studies of the Sinus Institute for the Federal Republic of Germany can empirically prove such a development. The studies carried out on the basis of Bourdieu's class theory since 1980 currently describe ten large social milieus. According to this, society is on the one hand still divided vertically into three classes or habitus forms, on the other hand it has pluralized horizontally: at the level of a class, three values ​​usually compete with one another.

In particular, the expansion of mass consumption after the Second World War, but also the social, political and sexual liberalization (“ sexual revolution ”) in the wake of the 1968 movement - despite the maintenance of class antagonisms - led to a change in values in parts of the classes . While the milieus oriented towards traditional values ​​shrank, the milieus oriented towards new values ​​increased sharply. Education , self-realization , individuality and authenticity are viewed as liberal values . Traditional values, on the other hand, are solidarity , happiness, humanity and material security .

The combination of three classes / social situations and three values ​​/ basic orientations result in nine so-called sinus milieus . These milieus differ in their specific combination of class and modernization orientation, which is expressed primarily in their attitude to values ​​and life goals. Newer Sinus studies increase the number of Sinus milieus by dividing the modernized upper class into two milieus to ten.

Table 1: Social milieus in the Federal Republic of Germany 1992.
Class / value retention Modernized (20%) Partly modernized (45%) Traditional (35%)
Upper class (19%) Alternative milieu (2%) Technocratic liberal milieu (9%) Conservatively upscale milieu (8%)
Middle class (59%) Hedonistic milieu (13%) Promotion-oriented milieu (24%) Petty bourgeois milieu (22%)
Working class (22%) New employee milieu (5%) Workers with no tradition (12%) Traditional employee milieu (5%)
Table 2: Sinus milieus in the Federal Republic of Germany 2010.
Social situation / basic orientation tradition Modernization / customization Reorientation
Socially upscale milieus (30%) Conservative-established milieu (10%) Liberal-intellectual milieu (7%) Milieu of the performers (7%) / expeditive milieu (6%)
Middle milieus (30%) Middle class (14%) Adaptive-pragmatic milieu (9%) Socio-ecological milieu (7%)
Milieus of the lower middle / lower class (40%) Traditional milieu (15%) Precarious environment (10%) Hedonistic milieu (15%)

The differentiation of the milieus according to the degree of modernization is not congruent with the differentiation of the classes into different fractions according to the dominant type of capital.

See also


Introductions and overview presentations

  • Sven Ellmers: The form-analytical class theory of Karl Marx. A contribution to the “new reading of Marx”. 2nd, revised and supplemented edition. Duisburg 2009, ISBN 978-3-940251-49-7 .
  • Martin Groß: classes, shifts, mobility. An introduction. Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden 2008, ISBN 978-3-531-14777-2 .


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Aristotle: A Classical View. In: Reinhard Bendix , Seymour Martin Lipset (Ed.): Class, Status, and Power. Social Stratification in Comparative Perspective. 2nd Edition. Routledge Kegan Paul, London 1966, ISBN 0-7100-1073-7 (English).
  2. Joseph Maria Stowasser : The Little Stowasser . Oldenbourg, Munich 1979, p. 47.
  3. Sir Thomas Smith : DE REPVBLICA ANGLORVM. The maner of governement or policy of the Realme of Englande. 1562–1565 (first published in 1581; online at
  4. ^ The Federalist: Factions in American Society. In: Reinhard Bendix, Seymour Martin Lipset (Ed.): Class, Status, and Power. Social Stratification in Comparative Perspective. 2nd Edition. Routledge Kegan Paul, London 1966, ISBN 0-7100-1073-7 .
  5. David Ricardo : Principles of Political Economy and Taxation. Berlin 1959, p. 3; quoted from Jindřich Zelený: "The logic of science in Marx and Das Kapital ". Europäische Verlagsanstalt, Frankfurt / Wien 1969, p. 23 (translation from the Czech).
  6. ^ Ralf Dahrendorf : Social classes and class conflict in industrial society. Enke, Stuttgart 1957, pp. 1-2.
  7. ^ David Ricardo: On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation. John Murray, London 1821.
  8. ^ Ferdinand Toennies: Estates and Classes. In: Reinhard Bendix, Seymour Martin Lipset (Ed.): Class, Status, and Power. Social Stratification in Comparative Perspective. 2nd Edition. Routledge Kegan Paul, London 1966, ISBN 0-7100-1073-7 .
  9. ^ Joseph Schumpeter: The problem of classes. In: Reinhard Bendix, Seymour Martin Lipset (Ed.): Class, Status, and Power. Social Stratification in Comparative Perspective. 2nd Edition. Routledge Kegan Paul, London 1966, ISBN 0-7100-1073-7 .
  10. ^ Thorstein Veblen: The Theory of the Leisure Class. (German: The theory of the fine people . ) In: Reinhard Bendix, Seymour Martin Lipset (Ed.): Class, Status, and Power. Social Stratification in Comparative Perspective. 2nd Edition. Routledge Kegan Paul, London 1966, ISBN 0-7100-1073-7 .
  11. Georg Klaus, Manfred Buhr (ed.): Marxist-Leninist dictionary of philosophy. P. 619.
  12. ^ Friedrich Engels: Anti-Dühring . P. 224.
  13. Ernest Mandel: Marxist economic theory. Volume 2, p. 829 ff.
  14. Georg Klaus, Manfred Buhr (ed.): Marxist-Leninist dictionary of philosophy. P. 620.
  15. cf. Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels: Manifesto of the Communist Party , MEW 4, p. 462, Georg Klaus, Manfred Buhr (Hrsg.): Marxist-Leninist dictionary of philosophy. P. 625.
  16. Koch 1994, p. 14.
  17. Koch 1994, p. 22.
  18. ^ Max Koch: On the structural change of a class society. P. 42 ff.
  19. Data from: B. Erbslöh, T. Hagelstange and others: Class structure and class consciousness in the Federal Republic of Germany. Final report of a DFG research project, Duisburg 1987; quoted from Koch: On the structural change of a class society. P. 45. The decline in the capitalist class is due to statistical inaccuracies.
  20. ^ Koch: On the structural change of a class society. P. 46 ff.
  21. Mandel: Controversies about "Capital". Pp. 153-154.
  22. Reinhard Bendix : Max Weber. The work. Presentation, analysis, results. 1964, p. 69 (first edition 1960). Quoted from: Gregor Schöllgen: Max Weber. Munich 1998, p. 90.
  23. Groß 2008, p. 22.
  24. ^ Rainer Geißler: Facets of the modern social structure. Federal Agency for Civic Education, December 16, 2014, accessed on June 8, 2016 .
  25. ^ Christoph Lau: Society diagnosis without development theory. In: Wolfgang Glatzer (Ed.): The modernization of modern societies. Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen 1991, p. 374.
  26. Ulrich Beck: The age of side effects and the politicization of modernity. In: The same, Anthony Giddens , Scott Lash: Reflexive Modernization. A controversy. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 1996, pp. 40 and 45-46.
  27. Niklas Luhmann: On the concept of social class . In: Nioklas Luhmann (ed.): Social differentiation. To the story of an idea. Springer 1985, ISBN 978-3-531-11708-9 , pp. 149f.
  28. Pierre Bourdieu: Social Space and "Classes". Frankfurt 1985, p. 11.
  29. ^ Pierre Bourdieu: Social sense. Critique of Theoretical Reason. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 1993, p. 119.
  30. ^ Pierre Bourdieu: Economic Capital - Cultural Capital - Social Capital. P. 72.
  31. ^ Compare Pierre Bourdieu: Economic Capital, Cultural Capital and Social Capital. 2005. In: M. Steinrücke (Ed.): Pierre Bourdieu. The hidden mechanisms of power. In: Writings on politics and culture I. Hamburg, p. 55.
  32. ^ Pierre Bourdieu: Social sense. P. 208 ff.
  33. Pierre Bourdieu: The subtle differences. 1987, p. 175 ff; as well as Gerhard Wayand: Pierre Bourdieu: Breaking the silence of the Doxa . In: Peter Imbusch (ed.): Power and rule. Social science concepts and theories. Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden 1998, ISBN 3-663-10691-8 , pp. 221–237, here p. 223.
  34. Pierre Bourdieu: The subtle differences. P. 175 ff.
  35. The percentages indicate the proportion of class, value or milieu in the total population. These statements only apply to West Germany and not to the new federal states; compare Michael Vester among others: Social milieus. P. 16.
  36. The percentages indicate the proportions of the milieus in the total population; see Die Sinus-Milieus®: Update 2010. Background and facts about the new Sinus-Milieus model. ( Memento from September 22, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) Sinus Sociovision GmbH, Heidelberg 2010 (PDF file; 5.1 MB; 13 pages).
  37. Michael Vester et al.: Social milieus in social structural change. Bund, Cologne 1993, pp. 15-16.