Chapter 7: Class

Additional Content

Discussion Questions

  1. Some sociologists have argued that inequality has positive functions for society. Do you agree?
  • What are some social costs of economic inequality?
  • Weber makes a distinction between three kinds of social groups: classes, status groups, and parties. How would you define your own social position with respect to these three categories?
  • What is cultural capital? How can somebody use cultural capital to achieve success?
  • Can you give some examples of class stereotypes? How do certain classes use these ideas to maintain their class power?


  • Market economy: An economic system in which decisions about the exchange of goods and services are made by private individuals and businesses, rather than a central authority. Economic decisions in market economies are typically made in accordance with the logic of supply and demand.  
  • Great transformation: a term coined by Polanyi to describe the social and political changes associated with the rise of modern market societies. 
  • Production: The provision of goods or services.
  • Consumption: The utilization of goods or services.
  • Class: categorizations of individuals based on economic status. Members of a class will generally be similar in wealth, occupational type, and lifestyle.
  • Socio-Economic Stratification: An aspect of social organization, describing the degree to which individuals are organized into distinct categories or classes based on economic factors (such as wealth or occupation).
  • Functional Necessity: A social phenomena considered to be necessary for society to exist or function properly.
  • Meritocratic: A system is which power or privilege is afforded to individuals on the basis of merit.
  • Equality of opportunity: Used to describe a situation in which individuals can compete on the same terms, or on a ‘level playing field’.
  • Class ceiling: A term used to describe the collection of barriers which impede upward class mobility.
  • Wealth: income from investments, ownership of productive assets, salaries, bonuses, shares and property.
  • Transnational capitalist class: A global social class which is thought to control supranational corporations, organizations, and other such institutions.
  • Bourgeoisie: In Marxism, the class which owns and controls the means of production within the capitalist system.
  • Proletariat:  In Marxism, the class which does not own and control the means of production within the capitalist system. To subsist, members of the proletariat must sell their labour power to the bourgeoisie for a wage. 
  • Surplus value: In Marxism, the difference between the amount of money that a product is sold for and the amount of money the product costs to make. Surplus value is thought to be ‘created’ by the worker and ‘appropriated’, or taken, by the capitalist.
  • Reserve army of labour: In Marxism, the unemployed population, whose presence is thought to depress working conditions and wages.
  • Petty Bourgeoisie: In Marxism, a sub-class of the bourgeoisie made up of small scale merchants, businessman, and largely autonomous peasantry.
  • Market situation: In Weber, the various possibilities that exist for a good to be exchanged for money.
  • Status: In Weber, social ranks determined by positive or negative estimations of honour.
  • Party: In Weber, a group oriented to the acquisition of power. Parties are always directed towards the accomplishment of a particular goal.
  • Occupation: a person’s principle job or profession, the activity by which they earn their means of subsistence.
  • Field: In Bourdieu, a system of social positions organized around particular stakes. Individuals occupy these positions and ‘compete’ over the stakes of the field, following the particular rules and norms of the field to advance their position. For example, individuals in the ‘art’ field compete for status, prestige, and recognition.
  • Illusio: In Bourdieu, an individual’s commitment to participating in a particular field and their belief that the stakes of the field are worth competing over.  
  • Cultural capital: In Bourdieu, non-economic resources that allow one to advance their position on a field. Such resources include dispositions, tastes, behaviours, credentials, skills, and so on.
  • Distinctions: In Bourdieu, the means by which groups differentiate themselves from others, typically to establish their own superiority.
  • Habitus: In Bourdieu, a set of dispositions, tendencies, and preferences, through which we understand and participate in the world. 
  • Social capital: In Bourdieu, resources which arise from social networks and relationships.
  • Strength of weak ties: A term, coined by Granovetter, to refer to the importance of social networks between acquaintances.
  • Bonding social capital: Networks of individuals who are similar in some important way. Bonding social capital typically unities people within some specific group.
  • Bridging social capital: Networks of individuals who are dissimilar in some important way. Bridging social capital typically relates people within a group to those outside of this group.
  • Symbolic violence: In Bourdieu, the acceptance, among dominated groups, of their lower social position as natural, legitimate, or deserved.
  • Network capital: In Urry, resources that allow individuals to obtain greater mobility.
  • Precariat: A social class comprised of people in precarious forms of employment.
  • Sharing economy: An economic model in which private individuals rent out assets to others, typically on a peer-to-peer basis.
  • Gig economy: An economic model in which short-term, temporary, or freelance work is commonplace.


  • Polanyi, K 1944, The great transformation, Farrar & Rinehart, New York.
  • Davis, K & Moore, W 1945, ‘Some principles of stratification’, American Sociological Review, vol. 10, no. 2. pp. 242-249
  • Sklair, L 2000, ‘The transnational capitalist class and the discourse of globalization’, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, vol. 14, no. 1, pp. 67-85. 
  • Marx, K & Engels, F 1983, The communist manifesto, Penguin, London.
  • Marx, K 1987, Capital: a critique of political economy, vol. 1, trans. Ben Fowkes, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth.
  • Weber, M 1978, Economy and society: an outline of interpretive sociology, University of California Press, Berkeley. 
  • Wright, EO 1985, Classes, New Left Books, London.
  • Goldthorpe, JH 2000, ‘Social class and the differentiation of employment contracts’ in On sociology: numbers, narratives, and the integration of research and theory, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 206-229.
  • Bourdieu, P & Wacquant, L 1992, An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
  • Bourdieu, P 1985, ‘Social space and the genesis of groups’, Theory and Society, vol. 14, no. 6, pp. 723-744
  • Bourdieu, P 2010, Distinction: a social critique of the judgement of taste, trans. Richard Nice, Routledge, London.
  • Granovetter, M 1973, ‘The strength of weak ties’, American Journal of Sociology, vol. 78, no. 6, 1360-1380.
  • Putnam, RD 2000, Bowling alone, Simon and Schuster, New York.
  • Reay, D, Crozier, G & Clayton, J 2009, ‘“Strangers in paradise”? Working-class students in elite universities’, Sociology, vol. 43, no. 6, pp. 1103-1121.
  • Sweetman, P 2003, ‘Twenty-first century dis-ease? Habitual reflexivity or the reflexive habitus’, The Sociological Review, vol. 51, no. 4, pp. 528-549.
  • Tyler, I 2013, Revolting subjects: social abjection and resistance in neoliberal Britain, Zed Books, London.
  • Skeggs, B and Wood, H 2012, Reacting to reality television: performance, audience, and value, Routledge, London.
  • Lawler, S 2005, ‘Disgusted subjects: the making of middle-class identities’, The Sociological Review, vol. 53, no. 3, pp.429–446.
  • Castells, M 2000, ‘Towards a sociology of the network society’, Contemporary Sociology, vol. 29, no. 5, pp. 693-699.
  • Bauman, Z 2004, Wasted lives: modernity and its outcasts, Polity, Cambridge.
  • Urry, J 2007, Mobilities. Polity, Cambridge.
  • Wacquant, L 2008, Urban outcasts: a comparative sociology of advanced marginality, Polity, Cambridge.
  • Cox, OC 1959, Caste, class and race: a study in social dynamics, Monthly Review Press, New York.
  • Federici, S 2004, Caliban and the Witch, Autonomedia, Brooklyn, NY.
  • Walby, S 1986, Patriarchy at work: patriarchal and capitalist relations in employment, Polity, Cambridge.
  • Standing, G 2011, The precariat: the new dangerous class, Bloomsbury Academic, London.
  • Piketty, T 2013, Capital in the twenty-first century, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.
  • Virdee, S 2019, ‘Racialized capitalism: An account of its contested origins and consolidation’, The Sociological Review, vol. 67, no. 1, pp. 3-27.

Contemporary Articles

  • Lahn, J 2012, ‘Poverty, work and social networks: the role of social capital for aboriginal people in urban australian locales’, Urban Policy and Research, vol. 30, 3, pp. 292-308. 

Presents the findings of an interview project with Indigenous Australians on the topics of poverty, social capital and social exclusion.

  • Stubbs, T, Cochrane, W, Uerata, L, Hodgetts, D, & Rua, M 2017 ‘The Māori precariat: A silhouette’, in S. Groot, C. Van Ommen, B. Masters-Awatere, & N. Tassell-Matamua (eds.), Precarity: Uncertain, Insecure and Unequal Lives in Aotearoa New Zealand, Massey University Press, Auckland, pp. 113-122,

Chapter applies the concept of the ‘precariat’ and attempts to understand the demographics and prevalence of the ‘Māori precariat’.

  • Savage, M, Devine, F, Cunningham, N, Taylor, M, Li, Y, Hjellbrekke, J & Miles, A 2013, ‘A new model of social class? Findings from the BBC’s Great British Class Survey experiment’, Sociology, vol. 47, no. 2, pp. 219-250.

Useful to demonstrate approaches to measuring class in the contemporary West.

  • Vincent, C & Ball, SJ 2007, ‘“Making up” the middle-class child: families, activities and class dispositions’, Sociology, vol. 47, no. 6, pp. 1061-1077.

Easy to follow example of class reproduction. Should be relatable for many students.

  • Sklair, L 1996, ‘Conceptualising and researching the transnational capitalist class in Australia’, The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Sociology, vol. 32, no. 2, pp. 1-19.

Sklair on the transnational capitalist class.

  • Wacquant, L 2013, Symbolic power and group-making: On Pierre Bourdieu’s reframing of class. Journal of Classical Sociology, vol. 13, no. 2, pp. 274-291.

A clear account of how Bourdieu develops on early class thinkers.

  • Ball, SJ, Davis, J, David, M, and Reay, D 2002, ‘“Classification” and “Judgement”: Social class and the “cognitive structures” of choice of Higher Education, British Journal of Sociology of Education, vol. 23, no. 1, pp. 51-72. 

Application of Bourdieu’s ideas to Higher Education, builds on the material discussed in the chapter.

  • Bathmaker, A, Ingram, N & Waller. R 2013, ‘Higher education, social class and the mobilisation of capitals: recognising and playing the game’, British Journal of Sociology of Education, vol. 34, no. 5-6, pp. 723-743.

Demonstrates many concepts discussed in the chapter.

  • Hawkins, RL & Maurer, K, ‘Bonding, bridging and linking: how social capital operated in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina’, The British Journal of Social Work, vol. 40, no. 6, pp. 1777-1793.

Qualitative study which deploys the concepts of bonding and bridging capital.

  • Allen, K & Mendick, H 2013, ‘“Keeping it real?” Social class, young people and “authenticity” in reality TV’, Sociology, vol. 47, no. 3, pp. 460-476. 

Study of reality TV and class perceptions, links to the discussion in the chapter.

  • Tyler, I & Bennett, B 2010, ““Celebrity chav”: Fame, femininity and social class’, European Journal of Cultural Studies, vol. 13, no. 3, pp. 375-393. 

Similar piece to the above looking at classed aspects of celebrity culture.

  • Acker, J 2004, ‘Gender, capitalism and globalization’, Critical Sociology, vol. 30, no. 1, pp. 17-41.

Discussion of the relationship between gender and multinational capitalism.

Kantola, A. 2020. Gloomy at the Top: How the Wealthiest 0.1% Feel about the Rest. Sociology. 54(5) 904–919.