In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Class

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks, Reviews, and Edited Collections
  • Politics
  • Culture
  • Education
  • Gender
  • Race and Ethnicity
  • Globalization and Class Inequalities
  • Critics of Sociological Class Analysis

Sociology Class
Jeff Manza
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 July 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 July 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0067


No concept is more widely used in sociology than that of “class.” Rooted in the writings of Marx and Engels, as well as Weber, Durkheim, Sorokin, and other classical social theorists, class has long been one of the key analytical concepts sociologists have deployed to explain a wide variety of outcomes. This wide usage does not, however, mean that “class” is always defined in consistent ways by sociologists, or that it is necessarily among the most important factors in accounting for any particular social phenomena. There are two features that all conceptualizations of class share. The first is that societies are organized unequally in a vertical fashion, with some people at the top possessing more power, income and wealth, and privileges than people at the bottom. These advantages (or disadvantages) are rooted (at least in part) in the economic relationships between individuals and households. Exactly how classes are defined and categorized, however, remains contested. Second, all class theories start from the proposition that the types of class relationships found in any society matter for other social processes. At the micro level, class location of individuals or households predicts such things as income and wealth, social and political attitudes, marriage, friendships and social networks, voting behavior, cultural consumption, and life chances. At the macro level, class power influences policy and political outcomes, as well as social movement organizations and capacities.

Textbooks, Reviews, and Edited Collections

Two textbook collections that contain a range of views on class and class analysis can be found in Grusky, et al. 2008 and Manza and Sauder 2009. Myles and Turegun 1994 provides a good summary of some of the comparative class literatures. The depth of the literature on class is revealed by the multiplicity of theoretical traditions that have emphasized class and class analysis. Wright 2005 is an excellent edited volume that contains essays by leading scholars on Marxist, Weberian, Durkheimian, and Bourdieuian approaches. The essays collected in Lareau and Conley 2008 provide recent and original contributions to the concept of class in contemporary sociology.

  • Grusky, David B., Manwai C. Ku, and Szonja Szelényi. 2008. Social stratification: Class, race, and gender in sociological perspective. 3d ed. Boulder, CO: Westview.

    The “bible” of stratification research, this mammoth reader contains much of the classical and contemporary works on class analysis (most in abridged form).

  • Lareau, Annette, and Dalton Conley, eds. 2008. Social class: How does it work? New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

    Excellent collection of essays by leading class theorists covering a wide range of topics in contemporary class analysis.

  • Manza, Jeff, and Michael Sauder, eds. 2009. Inequality and society: Social science perspectives on social stratification. New York: Norton.

    A collection of classical and contemporary scholarship on issues in class analysis and the politics of inequality; less comprehensive than Grusky, et al. 2008 but provides a wider range of writings on political inequality.

  • Myles, John, and Adnan Turegun. 1994. Comparative studies in class structure. Annual Review of Sociology 20:103–124.

    DOI: 10.1146/

    Excellent introduction to a variety of approaches to studying class structure, with a good sampling of the international literatures. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Wright, Erik Olin, ed. 2005. Approaches to class analysis. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511488900

    A collection of essays introducing the core theoretical claims by leading practitioners in the Marxist, Weberian, Durkheimian, and Bourdieuian traditions of class analysis.

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