Choosing Concepts: An Application of Gerring’s Typology to Max Weber’s Class, Status, and Party

In a previous article, we discussed John Gerring’s (1999) typology of how to choose a concept. In this article, we apply this to a famous set of concepts by sociologist Max Weber.

Class, Status and Party

Let’s apply what we have learned about concepts to a classic, German sociologist Max Weber’s “Class, Status, and Party” using a newer translation by Waters et al (2010).

Weber argues that stratification is multidimensional. It has three parts: class, status (or stande), and party. It is a classification system through which one can analyze inequalities in society. 

Let’s apply Gerring’s criteria to Weber:

Familiarity: This is difficult to assess because (a) this was written a hundred years ago and has heavily influenced how we understand these concepts today, and thus understanding familiarity would require us to go through how these terms were understood then and now; and (b) it is a translation from the German, and, as the footnotes attest, the common definitions that we can draw depend on how the terms are translated (see Footnote 1, for example).

Resonance:  The “this is a classic” aspect makes “resonance” difficult to assess. It has resonated to the point where it is a classic.

Parsimony: Weber attempted to place boundaries between the concepts, such that class would differ from Stande which would differ from party. How well did Weber do? Well, for one, in order to understand the tripartite stratification system, the term “power” is crucial and is a key part of class, status/Stande, and party. Plus, we must also understand “legal order.” The legal order provides guarantees and security. The “social order” is another concept that is somehow separate from “legal.” 

Thus far, we have various concepts: class, stande, party, social honor (or prestige), power, economic power, legal order, social order, economic order. Some concepts are defined, others are not.  Perhaps we can turn to “class.”

Coherence: Are the attributes pleasantly related? Well, to understand class, we have to add in life chances, market (“class situations”), economic interests, gemeinschaft and gesellschaft.  But there is not “class is defined as…” or “life chances are defined as…”  It is from the economic relations that we can identify class categories. 

Differentiation: Class is economic (of the economic order), stande is “honor” (of the social order), and party is in “the sphere of power.” However, outside of the idea that parties organize interests (they can be class or status/stande based), “party” is not well defined, here. Thus, it is not clear where it belongs, as to understand it, one must read “social domination.”

Depth: The concepts are deep, but perhaps because they are vague.

Theoretical utility: This is hard to tell because this is a classificatory effort, not a theory effort.

Field utility: Weber’s class, for example, has been the basis of class measurements across the decades. The concept has been used to justify measuring class with occupational characteristics.


Weber’s piece, short as it is, has attained “classic” status. But, the concepts are not clear. There are problems with parsimony and coherence. The essay also meanders quite a bit, making it hard to read (even now). Still, it has many of the other qualities that are desirable for a statement of concepts: there is differentiation, depth, and field utility. Perhaps why Weber’s Class, Status, and Party is a classic goes beyond these criteria. Perhaps it has something to do with who controls science.


Translated by Dagmar Waters, Tony Waters, Elisabeth Hahnke, Maren Lippke, Eva Ludwig-Glück, Daniel Mai, Nina Ritzi-Messner, Christina Veldhoen and Lucas Fassnacht. “The distribution of power within the community: Classes, Stände, Parties by Max Weber.” Journal of Classical Sociology 10, no. 2 (2010): 137-152.

Notā bene

Who Controls Science? An article from The New York Times’s book review of The New Politics of Science by David Dickson, October 1984:

“David Dickson, a respected British science journalist, has written a radical critique of American science policies and institutions that is sprinkled with provocative but unproven ideas. He contends that science is being used by corporate, banking, military and scientific leaders to keep control of the nation’s future in the hands of a narrow elite that felt threatened by an upsurge of ”grass-roots democracy” during the 1970’s.

Over the past 40 years, Mr. Dickson says, advanced technology has become the key to both economic and military power, and science has become the key to advanced technology. Thus control of scientific knowledge is crucial to control of the economy, and it reinforces other vehicles of political control as well. These trends have accelerated in recent years, he says, because a ”new politics of science” has used tax, patent and regulatory policy and other governmental mechanisms to spur technological innovation and reduce social controls over new technologies. The result, he says, is that ”planning for science is now almost exclusively based . . . on the needs of the military and the marketplace.” Broader social benefits like health, nutrition, safety and a clean environment are largely neglected.”

Was it true then? Is it true today?

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