1. For the designation of social strata, which component the special "open" system of social stratification, characteristic for an industrial society. The main characteristics of such system, unlike the "close" caste and estate systems of stratification are
3. As the theoretical (analytical) concept underlying in the basis of class theories of society. In classical and modern sociology there are two most influential class theories - the theory of Marx and the theory of Weber.
In Marxism the class is used as the most general concept describing the place of individuals and social groups in society system, first of all in the system of social production. As the basic criterion of allocation of classes this theory considers property of production means. All class systems are characterized by the presence of two basic classes - exploiter class and exploited class. The relations between these classes are of antagonistic character. Class struggle is considered as a determinative power of social changes. The basic classes of a capitalist society are the bourgeoisie and proletariat.
Marx distinguished the terms 'class in itself' as a class, which members yet have not realized their common class interests, and 'class for itself' as a class, which has already developed its class consciousness. ...
Thus, in Marxism classes are not simply descriptive concepts, but real social communities and real social forces, capable to change a society. The Marxist tradition of the class analysis even now remains one of the most influential.
The theory of a class developed by Weber is alternative to Marxism. Weber considered classes as the social groups allocated in the economic hierarchical structure, i.e. as well as Marx Weber considers classes as "economic classes". However the attitude to the property in Weber's concept becomes private criterion. The leading role is allocated to distinctions in market positions. The belonging to a class predetermines the different chances in a commodity market and a labour market. According to Weber, a class is the category of people dividing similar opportunities of life, first of all prospects of social mobility, an opportunity of promotion for higher statuses. One of the bases of a market position is the capital; another one is qualification and education.
Weber "recognizes four classes (Hamilton, 1991, p. 126):
1. The working classes;
2. The petty bourgeoisie;
3. The intelligentsia, as far as its members do not own substantial property, as well as highly qualified specialists and white-collar workers and
4. The class of property owners, including those groups privileged by higher education".
According to Weber, the class conflict can arise between any of these groups, and not just between workers and capitalists. Besides economic forces Weber also marked out other factors leading to social inequality. In particular as the major factors he marked authority and prestige. Therefore besides economic classes and class structure there may existence other