A Weberian Social Stratification Analysis of the American Capitalist Society
For centuries, Americans and immigrants alike have sought to pursue their life in accordance with the idea of the “American Dream.” So much so that they have fought to protect this image of obtaining a large, extravagant home, fully furnished with a family of a married couple with children, and pets. Nearly all anti-capitalistic memos are shooed away while the individuals that are able to achieve the American Dream are celebrated and idolized. While the pursuit of the American Dream is the very core of the consumer’s perspective of capitalism, media is the tool that connects both the consumer and the producer in the model of capitalism we follow today (Kaijar, 2019; Hermon & Chomsky, 1988). Those who are able to achieve large homes signify to the average American the large accumulation of wealth the homeowner has. The house itself, along with the neighborhood homeowners reside in, are also used as indicators by social scientists and researchers alike to predict their income, occupation, and political party affiliation.
But what does the size, detailing, and the overall “look” of the home have to do with anything? How are these seemingly superficial aspects of one’s home considered social markers of wealth and status? And what does political party have to do with all of that? Many of these questions are long sought to be answered by social scientists, as Americans within our capitalist society pursue their lives hoping that one day they will achieve the American dream, one that includes wealth, status, and power.
According to an essay titled Class, Status, Party, written by one of the most fundamental sociological theorists Max Weber, the above-mentioned domains of society are interlinked within each distinct aspect (p. 180-195). The notion of the interrelated nature between social class (wealth), social status (prestige), and political affiliation (power) is classified as the Weberian social stratification theory by recent scholars. Through this conceptual framework of the Weberian social stratification theory, I hope to demonstrate how intertwined each of these three components of class, status, and power resides within modern-day American capitalist society and how media is able to push the memo of the American dream. In my examination of the Weberian social stratification theory in American society, I will analyze a film and briefly analyze some popular social phenomena within media, which are some forms of modern-day popular culture. For further clarification, “wealth” will be used interchangeably with “economic power,” “social order,” or “social class”; “prestige” with “social status,” “honor,” “status order,” or “status groups”; and finally, “power” with “political party,” “political order,” or “political affiliation.” This is done to prevent repetition word order.
For instance, Weber argues that “‘classes,’ ‘status groups,’ and ‘parties’ are phenomena of the distribution of power within a community” (p. 181). Weber further contends that power can take a variety of forms. Where a man’s power can be shown through his social order as status, in his economic order through class, and finally in his political order through party. Each of these components is distinct ideal types, as a result, which means that these three components are not mutually exclusive.
Economic power (wealth) and social honor (prestige) are clearly two differentiated components of social stratification, for example, but both can overlap if an individual belonged to a “prestige status group” by financial means. Black cards, a modern-day example of the intersection of membership of a “prestige status group” via accumulated wealth show the interrelated nature between the two distinct ideal types. The black cards are a form of “monetary luxury” in the sense that one must either be invited by those black card credit card companies (which is selected based on an individual’s financial history) or pay high prices to have a membership to the prestigious black card. According to a 2019 article by Karen Doyle regarding the top 10 black cards “you [probably] didn’t know about,” the “Luxury Card: Master Card Black Card” requires an annual fee of $495 in order to obtain a Luxury Card in your hands. The benefits include perks that allure the elite status groups, such as VIP lounge access, 1.5x cash back, and for the Luxury Card, “access to a Luxury Card concierge who will make travel reservations and assist with personal requests” (Doyle, 2019).
Weber also distinguishes the difference between parties, and the two other distinct ideal types of class and prestige in the 10th section of his Class, Status, Party essay. Within this section, Weber describes parties as one of the ways in which power exists for status groups due to the need for social honor, societalization, and communal action. Also as a result of high levels of solidarity within these groups, the actions by parties which are planned to meet specific goals may or may not have a personal belief or political cause; but ultimately it does not matter, as the specific goals may be one of which aligns with the party’s identity. In order for these political parties to endure and sustain themselves for a long period of time, capital, rational thought on an organizational level, and legal order are all maintained. Claiming dominion among spheres of political influence requires the individualization of party members, as within the “frontier of politics,” a macro level of solidarity for the party’s interest must be present along with the ability to relate to individual voters (p. 195).
The Trump presidency is a present-day example of how economic forces integrate with power. While Donald Trump had no prior political experience during his run for presidency in the 2016 general U.S. election, he had received votes from Americans across the nation due to the class struggle coming from capitalism. The timing of the class struggle, along with the embodiment of the American dream Trump had possessed from his personal business ventures, as well as the symbolic support from the Republican party led to the winning of his presidential candidacy. As a result of his presidency, he put forth promised conservative values such as anti-immigration policies.
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