Max Weber’s Theory of Class, Status, and Power

Sociologists love to cite and discuss Max Weber.  Weber wrote a famous essay called, “Class, Status, and Party.” Weber designed the essay to set him apart from Karl Marx, who had a unidimensional view of classes, inequality, and society. Max Weber had a multidimensional view of classes, inequality, and society.

Two main differences between Weber and Marx:

  1. Weber read Marx and sought to elaborate on some of his ideas.  Weber had many ideas of his own, though.
  2. Weber attributed social change much more to changes in the ideological superstructure. Many of Weber’s theories have an ideological conception of history.

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

Weber’s multidimensional view of stratification

Marx conceived of stratification in a unidimensional way: as based on economic resources, and especially, the means of production.

Weber argued that not only should we redefine Marx’s conception of class, but that we should consider status and power as useful dimensions of stratification in their own right.

Weber: Social Class

Social class, according to Weber, is a grouping in which… 

  • “A number of people have in common a specific causal component of their life chances,
  • Insofar as this component is represented exclusively by economic interests in the possession of goods and opportunities for income,
  • And is represented under the conditions of the commodity or labor market.”

What does this mean?

  • Class position has an economic basis for determining, a la Marx.
  • However, Weber’s class Includes position in the labor market, unlike Marx.
  • Weber argues that property are both your material goods AND your labor skills.  So, like Marx, Weber believes that class position is dependent on ownership and control of “property.”  
  • Class position is determined by position in the occupational structure and the property structure.

Weber: Social Status

Social status is the degree of deference (respect) accorded to an individual or group.

Weber thought of status as “social honor”:

  • Your status situation is related to your class position, but is not a necessary condition.
  • Both the propertied and the non-propertied may enjoy a similar status situation.  For example, both high professional basketball players and nuclear physicists have high prestige, yet they are in different class positions (see Weber’s definition of class).
  • Status inconsistency is when your class position is not in-line with your status position.  For instance, when you have a lot of money but are not treated as a “member” of the upper class by the upper class. Or, you are African American middle class and are discriminated against by realty companies and subtly barred from buying a home in a white neighborhood.
  • Status position may preclude entry into a class position. 

Weber: Party, which are organizations within the Halls of Power

Power is the probability a person or a group has to realize their will despite the resistance of others.

See: What is Power? What is a Power Structure?

Weber discusses parties because parties are social groups that share similar power capacities.

  • To Weber, parties represent the interests of those with similar class and/or status situations.
  • Parties act to acquire more power or influence the actions of others.
  • Parties, then, live within the “Halls of Power”

This may be hard to grasp. Here’s a couple of examples:

When business professionals in a capitalist society vote for certain political parties in a certain way, they constitute a “party.”  

When parents in a middle class suburb argue that creationism and evolution should be taught in high school biology classes, they constitute a “party.”

Deeper into Power: Legitimation of Authority 

Let’s go deeper into Weber’s conception of power by discussing the legitimation of authority.

Power is the ability to make decisions.  Sometimes the capacity for power stops an act of power by the opposition.  The capacity for power fosters a “non-decision” on those who would challenge the person with power.  In a sense, they go along with the program.  Weber referred to this as “domination.” Authority is domination.

Weber’s Three Ideal Types of Authority

Weber argued that there are three ideal types of authority.  In other words, the following legitimates authority:


Authority entirely comes from the fact authority has always rested in that person or position.  The kingly ruler is a perfect example.  Heredity.


Contrasted with traditional authority.  The authority of charismatics resides entirely in their personal attributes.  Weber argues that these are people who present themselves as people who possess “special gifts,” almost or exactly supernatural.  Prophets and cult leaders.  King Solomon of the Old Testament, Jesus Christ of the New Testament.  In modern times, Hitler and Ghandi.  A charismatic person’s position is based on the continuing proof of their “special powers.” 


Authority by codified law.  Whomever holds the position is entitled to authority and carries with them the capacity for power.  Usually held in bureaucracies.

Summing Up

Max Weber thought that Karl Marx was right in that economic resources are important for society. But, Max Weber believed that there are more and other aspects that divide society. Weber put these ideas into an essay called Class, Status, and Party.

Class is about occupations and position in the labor market. Status is the degree of deference one gets from others. Parties are organizations that wield power. A main source of that power is legitimation of authority.

Joshua K. Dubrow is a PhD from The Ohio State University and a Professor of Sociology at the Polish Academy of Sciences.

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