Subjective definitions of Social Class

Those who read in the literature of social class wish, from time to time, that the use of terms were more consistent, so confusing are the many distinctions. But there is little agreement. Each writer seems to go out into his social world with his categories and to divide the people into classes. Hence there are hundreds of formulations and many distinct approaches. In social theory there might be more progress were more attention given to concepts.

Geiger, the one authority on the subject of classes who surveys the various definitions for the reader before announcing his own, points out that sections of the populations (Bevölkerungsmassen) are not classes or status groups. "Which persons go to make up a stratum is determined by themselves. The concept of stratum must be achieved autogenetically, not subsumptively." 81 This definition, if not complete, is beyond doubt a good starting point toward a deep understanding of the concept social class.

Max Graf Solms aus Assenheim finds within a class the congenial atmosphere, "whereas occupation, income, and so forth, vary." 82

Common ways and common ideals. A synthetic definition, including many factors of a subjective nature, would include many of the following ideas: Classes are inevitable in every complex society. They are a result of intellectual, moral, and economic differentiation. In its present form a social class is a group of persons conscious of having a common way of life, of having similar needs and aspirations and similar ideals and possess a comparable degree of culture. The individuals in the group judge by the same scale the values of life, and therefore tend to have the same moral ideals and to be the same social type, the same idea of honor, and consequently with a certain feeling of solidarity toward similar groups of other nations as well. 83

Max Weber distinguishes between class as category and social class. He emphasizes the personal choice element in the formation and maintenance of social classes: "There are ownership classes and occupational classes and social classes: social classes are determined by the totality of those class positions between which a personal exchange is easily possible and, generation after generation, is found typically to take place." 84 This definition intimates that the social classes are made up of families, not of individuals, that a certain amount of social class rigidity or continuity is necessary to the formation of a true social class, and that social class rests upon a foundation of exclusiveness based upon the standard of values of the participants themselves. Traditional personal exchange, then, becomes the hallmark of social class.

Social class standing a birthright. Schumpeter states definitely: "We said that for the individual his membership in a definite class is a given fact -- he is born into a certain class position." 85 This emphasis upon the conditions of birth is to be commended, for obviously the secret of achieving a particular class standing with the greatest chance of success list most dependably in making a judicious choice of parents -- not from the biological standpoint, but from the standpoint of the end desired, social standing. Social classes are based on human intercourse and association, and it is very much to anyone's advantage to find himself early in life among the right people.

A full and adequate definition of social class, in fact, will take this into consideration. As Ross says: "Social strata there will no be unless there is some kind of inheritance -- of occupation, of prestige, of office, of authority, of property on the one hand; of lowly calling, of unfreedom, of disability on the other." 86

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81. Theodore Geiger, Die Soziale Schichtung des Deutschen Volkes (Stuttgart, 1932) pp. 125-126; translation ours.
82. Max Graf Solms aus Assenheim, Gestalt und Gerüst der Menschenwelt (Kiel, 1927) p. 66.
83. René Gonnard, op. cit., pp. 66-68.
84. Taken from Geiger, op.cit., p.9; translation ours.
85. Schumpeter, op. cit., p. 3; translation ours.
86. Ross, op. cit., p. 283.