To answer this question I am going to look at the traditional concepts of class and see if any of them still have any relevance in contemporary society.
I believe that social class is still very much a part of today's culture; I am following the assumption that the question is referring to western society. I will be looking mostly at British social structure in this essay.Social stratification is defined by S Edgell: "Max Weber is credited with developing Marx's theory of class in the broader context of what has since become known as social stratification i. . the division of a society into a number of hierarchically arranged strata"(Edgell, 1994,p11) In simple terms, that there is a difference between what people have, in terms of both money (and the possessions that come there after) and political power, and these differences stem, at least in part from a persons position (socially speaking) at birth.
To begin I want to examine some of the more traditional concepts of class.Once society had moved away from the rigid feudal system into the era of 'social class' there were traditionally three main 'classes', they were: * The Upper class: mainly the remnants of the old feudal system, the royalty, and the 'old blood' landowners. * The middle class: In the pre-industrial years merchants, while able to gain money still had to marry into the upper class to gain prestige, due to the changes in society that came from the industrial revolution the 'middle class' gained recognition as a class of its own.The Working Class: this group is usually the biggest numerically yet the smallest when it comes to actual power and influence, the name says it all they are the ones that do the work, the factory workers, the miners etc. There are many different views on class structure, some with more categories some with less, but for the most part they all come down to one simple thing, a difference in the amount of money/political influence based on birth right, some groups will have more others will have less.
If we were living in a truly 'classless' society then everyone would be equal (i. e. communism, an equal share for all) or we would be in a meritocracy, where everyone is rewarded based on his or her own merit irrelevant of the situation they are in at birth. Now despite the fact that every prime minister in this country since WWII has claimed that Britain has become a classless society, there are some blatant indications that this is not the case.The example that I feel is the most obvious one, the Monarchy, how can it be that class is an out dated concept when there still exists in this country a group of people that gain title from birthright? However some would be quick to point out that the royal family (in the larger sense) is far more open in modern society, and it is possible to marry into this class, or even to buy titles, this is true, but in order to be King/Queen of this country the person must be born to it.
I would argue that at least in this one example society has become more rigid, centuries ago if you wanted to be king (and had the man power to do it) you could at least go to war and try and take power by force, in modern times that option is no longer available, and while it is theoretically possible to marry into the position, the person who's birthright it is has the power.The issue with Social Class is mainly its rigid nature, and while that I would agree with R Miller when he says, "the class groupings that grew out of the first Industrial Revolution are being destroyed by the social and economic consequences of the second" (R Miller, 1966, p13) in that the general increase in prosperity has blurred the lines of class and has given impetus to the notion of a classless society it is pointed out by R Whitley that "it appears that very large industrial and financial firms do recruit their Board members from a narrow segment in the population.These directors undergo a remarkably similar educational experience and, to some extent, have similar social circles as evidenced by club membership and kinship links. " (Stansworth & Giddens, 1974, p80). This is just an example of what I believe to be the main problem with proving one way or another if Social Class still exists, while the law does not allow for people to be penalised by class there are many ways in which this is circumvented.Education is one of them, a person born into a rich family can have their education privately funded, thus they gain access to social circles that a child in state funded education cannot.
This extends onto university and even post educational 'clubs' that a person must apply to gain access to. Class is something that seems to be becoming increasingly hard to define in contemporary society, most people have a notion of what class they are in and also have some mechanism for defining their own and others class, however upon giving various individuals examples of well known people (e. . Camilla Parker Bowles, Bill Gates, Tom Cruise, David and Victoria Becham) different people had contradicting ideas about which class these examples were in.This seemed to indicate that while individuals have a sense of 'class' there were variations in how the labels were applied. There is a certain feeling that Social Class exists (to a certain extent) irrespective of financial situation; Worsley states, "Social classes, though they certainly arise from and reinforce economic divisions, are not confined to directly economic relationships such as work relationships.
They condition behaviour in every sphere of life, from the ways in which parents bring up their children to attitudes and religion" (P Worsley, 1992, p348). If we are to view Social Class in these terms it gives a good example of why its existence (or lack of) is so hard to pin point, if it is something that is instilled into us from a young age then to the majority of people it is something that comes as naturally as breathing.After all its not as if children in school can be expected to understand the social values instilled in other educational facilities, it is this that I would argue makes class so hard to pin point, the fact that it starts in closed places (the family home, school, clubs) as children will be taken to places and mix with people associated with their own class, there is no way for the mind set or 'social programming' to be questioned by comparison with others of their own age.In modern society there has been created a whole new 'class' of people that arguably only exist due to their own merit, and they are: celebrities. This is a group of people within most cultures that because of their high profile and status are afforded special treatment by the rest of society, they are both idolised and resented (to a greater or lesser degree) by the vast majority of people, in some cases even given more leeway within the law because of 'who they are'.
However it even spreads down to getting preferable treatment in restaurants and shops.While this group is technically a meritocracy, they are one of the biggest groups the public shows an interest in, this acts as a distraction from the other unequal statuses within society, and so it is easier for the remaining 'upper classes' to continue with their life styles unopposed. In Marsh (2001, p321) he refers to this: "Houtt et al. reject the arguments of Clark and Lipset that the concept of class has been rendered obsolete by the fragmentation of stratification in the work place, government and family life.They argue that Clark and Lipset have confused social class with social status, which diverts our attention away from the enduring inequalities of wealth and power with vague references to the decline of hierarchy. " For the most part I would say that Social class is not an outdated concept, so much that it does need some revising to bring it up to date with contemporary society, but it is still a part of life today.
People still gain advantage from birth position, even if these advantages must now be kept discrete to stop our new 'politically correct' ideas from stopping it.In the same way that it is impossible to prevent someone from helping out a friend it is impossible to know the motivations for every action taken by people thus it is hard to prove beyond a doubt that social class still exists in the world today. Giddens sums it up well: "Although the traditional hold of class is most certainly weakening in some ways, particularly in terms of people's identities, class divisions remain at the heart of core economic inequalities in modern societies.Class continues to exert a great influence on our lives, and class membership is correlated with a variety of inequalities from life expectancy and overall physical health to access to education and well paid jobs" (Giddens, 2001, p304). Class is something that is so ingrained in our minds, even if it was in reality gotten rid of, I belive it would still exist within our minds as a part of our self awareness, it would remain present in history, in television (if they repeat old shows such as 'To the manor born'), and will probably exist etched in our minds like that forever.