Weberian Theory and Stratification

Three main components of Weberian theory:

  • Class (economic relationships and forces)
  • Party (political influence and power)
  • Status (perceived social standing, prestige, culture)

Three main types of power according to Weber:

  • Economic power = realised through class
  • Political power = realised through political parties
  • Prestige power = realised through status

He argued that, amongst the property-less, some were able to sell their labour at a higher price.  Weber didn’t treat the proletariat as a homogenous group.  Instead, he believed there were different forms of stratification within these groups.


Weber argues that class divisions derive, not just from ownership of the means of production, but from economic differences that have nothing directly to do with property.  These include skills and credentials and qualifications, which affect the types of work that people, are able to obtain.

Market position strongly influences their life chances.


Status refers to differences between groups in the social honour or prestige they are accorded by others. Status came to be expressed through people’s styles of life. Markers and symbols of status include type of housing, dress, manner of speech and occupation.

Weber argued that status often varies independently of class. Possession of wealth can confer high status, but this is not universally the case. ‘Genteel poverty’ refers to people from aristocratic families who continue to enjoy considerable social esteem even when their fortunes have been lost. Conversely, many bankers today maybe wealthy, but their social status has rarely been lower.


If you can influence this process of law creation then you will be in a potentially powerful position. Thus, by your ability to influence a decision-making process you possess power, even though you may not directly exercise that power personally. ‘Party’ doesn’t have to be an formally organised, but it can be any group that is organised to influence the way in which power is exercised legitimately through the machinery of the State.

Status groups – political organisations that exist to protect the social status of a particular group within society (for example: The British Medical Association, BMA)

Interest groups – political organisations that exist to advance the interests of a particular section of society by attempting to influence the way decisions are taken by government.




What is the main reason why society in Britain is stratified? (Is it according to class, status or party?)

Marxists argue that Weber neglected the basic split between capitalists and workers, and argue that class and status are strongly linked – after all, the capitalist class has wealth high status and political power.

Is it really possible to stratify people based on their ‘status’? (i.e. what’s your status?)

Savage et al. (2001) takes issue with the importance of ‘status’ in terms of shaping people’s identity or giving us insight into the nature of inequality.  Savage notes that people rarely make status claims, and suggests that they are wary of appearing to demonstrate openly their cultural superiority.  Very few groups assert that they are a special case.


Why might Weber’s theory be described as ‘history proof’, unlike Marxist theory, to understand stratification in all societies?

Bottero concluded that Weber provides an adaptable ‘history-proof’ model of stratification which may be more valid than Marxism in analysing the variety of stratification arrangements that exist across the world.

How could it be easier to use Weber’s, rather than Marxists, theory to potentially explain why gender and ethnicity is stratified?

Unlike Functionalism and Marxism, Weber’s theory can be used to partly explain stratification by gender, ethnicity and age since these groups can be described in general terms relating to their market value, their status and their ability to organise in a party sense.