Three Approaches to Social Class & Meritocracies

Three Approaches to Social Class & Meritocracies

Three approaches to social class

Once again the functionalist approach focuses on the positive uses of the class system. Membership of the highest social classes involves the highest rewards. This encourages the most talented to work towards them and ensures that society makes best use of the most able people.

Karl Marx (1828-1883) was a hugely influential thinker who divided capitalist society into two classes – the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. He saw capitalism as a conflict in which the wealthy owners (the bourgeoisie) make money by exploiting the labouring classes (the proletariat). His system is difficult to apply to modern capitalist societies where social class has become a more complex issue.

Max Weber (1864-1920) divided society into four classes. Each class has different life chances because of differing levels of wealth, status and power. The four classes consist of property owners, professionals, the petty bourgeoisie and the working class.


What is a meritocracy?

A meritocracy is a system in which people are able to move up and down the social scale according to ability, although discrimination can still act as a barrier to social progress. The term social mobility refers to mobility up or down the social ladder.

Upward social mobility may be achieved through educational qualifications, the earning or inheritance of large sums of money and the growth of opportunities in the middle class occupations. Those who are born into the middle classes are more likely to receive the kind of education and financial support required to move up the ladder. Those who lack the necessary skills or education are unlikely to climb through the class system.