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Leading sociologist examines how different readings of class enrich our understanding of capitalism
Few ideas are more contested today than “class.” Some have declared its death, while others insist on its centrality to contemporary capitalism. It is said its relevance is limited to explaining individuals’ economic conditions and opportunities, while at the same time argued that it is a structural feature of macro-power relations. In Understanding Class, leading left sociologist Erik Olin Wright interrogates the divergent meanings of this fundamental concept in order to develop a more integrated framework of class analysis. Beginning with the treatment of class in Marx and Weber, proceeding through the writings of Charles Tilly, Thomas Piketty, Guy Standing, and others, and finally examining how class struggle and class compromise play out in contemporary society, Understanding Class provides a compelling view of how to think about the complexity of class in the world today.
state tried to create the public goods and regulatory environment that would be congenial to capital accumulation, but it generally did not attempt to nurture noncapitalist sectors and practices. The mainstream Left throughout the developed capitalist world broadly supported these priorities. It is uncertain whether it will be possible to reconstruct a political-economic equilibrium in which positive class compromise within capitalism could once again govern the terms in which the social surplus
(Weber, Economy and Society, p. 938). Table 2.1. Theoretical Location of the Concept of Class in Weber’s Explicit Formulations in Economy and Society Within this analytical schema, class is defined within the sphere of economic interaction and involves no necessary subjective identity or collective action. An individual can be in a specific kind of class situation without this generating a specific form of identity or participation in collective action: “In our terminology, ‘classes’ are not
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), unidimensional versus multidimensional (Burris, “Neo-Marxist Synthesis”; Scott, Stratification and Power); and dichotomous versus pluralistic class concepts (Giddens, Class Structure of Advanced Societies). Other authors who discuss the life chances/exploitation contrast include Rosemary Crompton and John Gubbay, Economy and Class Structure, London: Macmillan, 1977, 3–20. Derek Sayer also identifies the problem of exploitation as the central
defined as a grouping of technically similar jobs that is institutionalized in the labor market through such means as (a) an association or union, (b) licensing or certification requirements, or (c) widely diffused understandings (among employers, workers, and others) regarding efficient or otherwise preferred ways of organizing production and dividing labor. The unit occupations so defined are often generated through jurisdictional struggles between competing groups over functional niches in the
class.15 This does not mean that there are no divisions within the precariat. In the second decade of the twenty-first century, Standing argues, the precariat in the developed capitalist world is internally divided into three main subcategories. The first are people who were previously firmly within the working class but have been marginalized by the trajectory of capitalist development. They are “people bumped out of working class communities and families. They experience a sense of relative