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The term is used in various ways in sociology. It usually implies a group of individuals sharing a common situation within a social structure, usually their shared place in the structure of ownership and control of the means of production. Karl Marx (1818-1883), for example, distinguished four classes in capitalist societies, a bourgeois class who own and control the means of production, a petite bourgeoisie of small business and professionals, a proletariat of wage workers and a lumpenproletariat of people in poverty and social disorganization who are excluded from the wage earning economy. In land based economies, class structures are based on individual's relationship to the ownership and control of land. Class can also refer to groups of individuals with a shared characteristic relevant in some socio-economic measurement or ranking (for example all individuals earning over $50,000 a year): it then has a statistical meaning rather than being defined by social relationships. While class is extensively used in discussing social structure, sociologists also rely on the concept of status, which offers a more complex portrait in which individuals within a class can be seen as having quite differentiated social situations. See: LUMPENPROLETARIAT / PETITE BOURGEOISIE / PROLETARIAT / STATUS / .

Last updated 2002--0-9-

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Athabaca University ICAAP

© Robert Drislane, Ph.D. and Gary Parkinson, Ph.D.
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