Appendix B: texts and summaries

This is a list of readily available classic and seminal texts that will help introduce students to sociology, stimulate their 'sociological imagination' and develop their ability to compare and contrast different sociological perspectives.

These are not the only texts that can be studied. We encourage teachers to discuss examples of more up to date research with their students whenever possible, but it's not expected.


Delphy C and Leonard D, Familiar Exploitation, Cambridge, Polity Press, 1992

Writing from a feminist perspective Delphy and Leonard emphasise the importance of work. In their view it is men, rather than capitalists as such, who are the prime beneficiaries of the exploitation of women’s labour. They believe that the family has a central role in maintaining patriarchy; the family is an economic system involving a particular set of labour relations in which men benefit from and exploit the work of women. Women are oppressed because their work is appropriated within the family eg when wives have paid employment outside the home they still have to carry out household tasks which are not equally shared with their male partners.

Oakley A, ‘Conventional families’ in Rapoport et al. (eds), Families in Britain, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1982

Writing from a feminist perspective, Oakley addresses the idea of the conventional family which she defines as ‘nuclear families composed of legally married couples, voluntarily choosing the parenthood of one or more children’. She explores the power of this idea, including its origins and explanations; reviews contemporary research; examines the ‘strains’ of being conventional and social control. Her paper predates civil partnerships and same sex marriages; however, she concludes that ‘there are signs that official stereotypes are being felt to be increasingly archaic and that ... certain groups in the community may be moving towards a more open appraisal of other ways of living – both in and without families’.

Parsons T, ‘The social structure of the family’ in Anshen R N (ed.), The Family: its Functions and Destiny, New York, Harper and Row, 1959

Writing from a functionalist perspective Parsons held the view that the American family retained two basic and irreducible functions which are common to all families in all societies, these are the primary socialisation of children and the stabilisation of adult personalities eg to give and receive emotional support. Later authors have criticised his work as presenting an idealised picture of family life centred on the middle-class experience.

Rapoport R and Rapoport R N, ‘British families in transition’ in Rapoport et al. (eds), Families in Britain, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1982

Pioneering family researchers working in both Britain and America, they described five different aspects of family diversity: organisational (eg internal divisions of domestic labour), cultural (beliefs and values), class (eg how the family’s position in the social class system affects the availability of resources), life course (stage in the family life cycle) and cohort (historical period). Their work predates the emergence of gay and lesbian households as a more open and accepted feature of society.

Willmott P and Young M, The Symmetrical Family, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1973

Writing from a functionalist perspective and based on a large scale social survey (nearly 2,000 people were interviewed in Greater London and surrounding areas) Young and Wilmott used the term symmetrical family to describe the Stage 3 (home centred) nuclear family. In such families ‘symmetry’ refers to the similar contributions made by each spouse to the running of the household eg shared chores and shared decisions. Conjugal roles are not interchangeable but they are of equal importance, an arrangement that they found to be more common in working class families; they advanced the theory that this reflected the nature of work as often boring and uninvolving leading manual workers to focus on family life. The ‘Principle of Stratified Diffusion’ is the theory that what happens at the top of the stratification system today will diffuse downwards tomorrow. The ‘managing director family’ (Stage 4) cited in their research was work-centred rather than home-centred, with the wife responsible for home and children. The theory has been criticised by feminists who saw little evidence of either ‘symmetry’ or a move towards Stage 4 amongst working class families.

Zaretsky E, Capitalism, the Family and Personal Life, London, Pluto Press, 1976

Writing from a Marxist perspective Zaretsky takes the view that modern capitalist society has created an illusion that the ‘private life’ of the family is separate from the economy. Zaretsky does not believe that the family is able to provide for the psychological and social needs of the individual. Whilst cushioning the effects of capitalism it perpetuates the system and cannot compensate for the general alienation produced by such a society. He believes that the family has become a prop to the capitalist economy (eg the system depends on the domestic labour of housewives who reproduce future generations of workers) whilst also serving as a vital unit of consumption. In his view only socialism will end the artificial separation of family and public life, and make possible personal fulfilment.


Ball S J, Beachside Comprehensive. A Case Study of Secondary Schooling, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1981

Ball gives an account of the experience of schooling based on three years fieldwork as a participant observer in a south coast comprehensive school; this is a participant observation study in the tradition of Colin Lacey’s Hightown Grammar and David Hargreaves Social Relations in a Secondary School. The study, based on Ball’s doctoral thesis, describes a school in the process of change and raises questions about the selection and socialisation experienced by two cohorts moving through the school, one banded by ability and the other taught in mixed ability classes.

Ball S J, Bowe R and Gerwitz S, ‘Market forces and parental choice’ in Tomlinson S (ed.), Educational Reform and its Consequences, London, IPPR/Rivers Oram Press, 1994

A study of fifteen schools in neighbouring LEAs with different population profiles (eg class and ethnicity). The study evaluates the impact of parental choice and the publication of league tables, eg the pressure to reintroduce streaming and setting and the tendency for some schools to focus on the more able.

Bowles S and Gintis H, Schooling in Capitalist America, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1976

Writing from a Marxist perspective Bowles and Gintis argue that the major role of education in capitalist societies is the reproduction of labour power. They argue that there is a close correspondence between the social relationships which govern interactions in the work place and social relationships in the education system eg the creation of a hardworking, docile, obedient, and highly motivated workforce, which is too divided to challenge the authority of management. They reject the view that capitalist societies are meritocratic and believe that class background is the most important factor influencing levels of attainment.

Durkheim E, Moral Education, Glencoe, Free Press, 1925 (republished 1973)

Durkheim saw the major function of education as the transmission of society’s norms and values. He believed that it is a vital task for all societies to weld a mass of individuals into a united whole. Education, and in particular the teaching of history, provides the link between the individual and society – children will come to see that they are part of something larger than themselves and will develop a sense of commitment to the social group. He believed that the school provides a context in which children learn to cooperate with those who are neither their kin nor their friends, in his view rules should be strictly enforced in order for children to learn self-discipline and to see that misbehaviour damages society as a whole.

Halsey A H, Heath A and Ridge J M, Origins and Destinations, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1980

Based on a sample of over 8,000 males born between 1913 and 1952 the authors found evidence of clear class inequalities in education. The sample was divided into three main groups (based on the father’s occupation):
  1. the service class (professionals, administrators and managers)
  2. the intermediate class (clerical or sales workers, the self-employed and lower grade technicians and foremen)
  3. the working class including manual workers in industry and agriculture.

The authors found that an individual from the service class, as compared to one from the working class, had four times as great a chance of being at school at 16, eight times the chance at 17 and ten times the chance at 18. Whilst the chance of an individual from the service class attending university was eleven times greater than one from the working class. It should be noted that the research excluded females and this might have made a significant difference to the findings.

Parsons T, ‘The school class as a social system’ in Halsey et al., Education, Economy and Society, New York, The Free Press, 1961

Writing from a functionalist perspective Parsons believed that the school acts as a bridge between the family and society, taking over as the main agency of socialisation and preparing children for adult life. Parsons argued that the schools operate on meritocratic principles: status is achieved on the basis of merit. In this way the school represents the wider society where, Parsons believed an individual is judged on universalistic standards, which are applied to all members regardless of kinship ties (within the family particularistic standards apply – the child is not judged on standards that can be applied to every individual in society). He believed that schools socialise children into the basic values of the wider society, maintaining a value consensus that emphasised achievement and equality of opportunity. Moreover, Parsons believed that schools functioned as an important mechanism for the selection of individuals for their future role in society. His functionalist perspective has been criticised by those who argue that the values of the education system may simply be those of the ruling elite, or that equality of opportunity is an illusion in an unequal society where wealth and privilege are more important than individual merit.

Willis P, Learning to Labour, Farnborough, Saxon House, 1977

Writing from a Marxist perspective, Paul Willis focused on the existence of conflict within the education system. He rejects the view that there is a direct relationship between the economy and the way that the education system operates. Unlike Bowles and Gintis he believes that education is not a particularly successful agency of socialisation, he also holds the view that education can have unintended consequences that may not be beneficial to capitalism. His book is based on a study of a school in the Midlands situated in a working class housing estate; he used observation and participant observation, recording group discussions, informal interviews and diaries. Willis attempts to understand the experience of schooling from the students’ point of view. He described the existence of a counter culture, which was opposed to the values of the school. The members of this counter culture felt superior both to the teachers and to conformist students. Their main objective was to avoid attending lessons and they resented the school's attempts to control their time. They neither deferred to authority nor were they obedient and docile. However, Willis concluded that their rejection of the school made them suitable candidates for male dominated, unskilled or semi-skilled manual work (relatively easily obtained in the 1970s).

Crime and deviance

Becker H S, Outsiders, New York, The Free Press, 1963

Writing from an interactionist perspective Becker argued that an act only becomes deviant when others define it as such. Whether the ‘label’ of deviancy is applied depends on who commits the act, when and where it is committed, who observes the act, and the negotiations that take place between the various actors involved in the interaction. If, for example, the actions of young people are defined as delinquent and they are convicted for breaking the law, those young people have been labelled. The agents of social control, for example the police and the courts, have the power to make the label stick. The label applied to the individual becomes a master status; the young people have become criminals and this label will affect how others see them and respond to them. Assumptions will be made that the individuals concerned have the negative characteristics normally associated with the label. As a consequence the individuals will begin to see themselves in terms of the label, producing a self-fulfilling prophecy. The individual who has been publicly labelled as deviant is rejected from certain social groups on the basis of various negative assumptions about their future behaviour; this may well encourage further deviance, which in turn begins what Becker describes as the deviant career. This career is completed when the individual joins an organised deviant group which develops a deviant subculture, this subculture develops beliefs and values which rationalise, justify and support deviant identities and behaviours.

Carlen P, Women, Crime and Poverty, Milton Keynes, Open University Press, 1988

Written from a feminist perspective, Carlen studied a group of mostly working class women aged between 15 and 46 who had been convicted of one or more crimes. She carried out in-depth, unstructured interviews with each of the women, a number of whom were in prison or youth custody at the time. Carlen uses control theory as the basis for her approach, this starts from the assumption that human beings are neither naturally good nor bad but will make a rational decision to turn to crime when the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. In Carlen’s view, working-class women have been controlled through the promise of rewards. They make a class deal which offers respectable working class women consumer goods in return for their wage. They make a gender deal for the psychological and material rewards offered by male breadwinners in return for their love and domestic labour. When these rewards are not available or prove to be illusory, then criminality becomes a viable alternative. Carlen’s work was based on a relatively small sample (39 women) but it supports the view that criminal behaviour becomes more likely when social control breaks down.

Cohen A, Delinquent Boys, Glencoe, The Free Press, 1955

Writing from a functionalist perspective Cohen argues that working class boys hold the same success goals as the wider society, but that as a consequence of educational failure and poor employment prospects, they have little or no opportunity to realise those goals. Cohen holds the view that cultural deprivation accounts for working class boys’ lack of educational success. They become stuck at the lowest level of the stratification system and as a consequence of their lack of opportunity, they suffer from status frustration. They turn to criminality as an alternative route to success, becoming members of a criminal subculture which values activities such as stealing, vandalism and truancy. Those who perform well, in terms of the values of the subculture (the successful thief for example), are rewarded by recognition and prestige in the eyes of their peers. Cohen’s ideas have been criticised by, for example, those who hold the view that working class youths do not necessarily accept mainstream success goals, but rather that they exhibit delinquent behaviour out of resentment against those whose values they do not share eg teachers and successful middle class students.

Heidensohn F, Women and Crime, London, Macmillan, 1985

Writing from a feminist perspective Heidensohn also uses control theory (see above) as the basis for her explanation of why women commit fewer crimes than men. She argues that male-dominated patriarchal societies control women more effectively than men, making it difficult for women to break the law. Women in such societies are closely controlled in the home, where they are expected to spend the majority of their time on housework and childcare. Women who challenge these assumptions risk male violence as an assertion of patriarchal authority. Men as the main or sole breadwinner also have financial power over their wives. Daughters are more closely controlled than sons, they have more limits on when they may leave the home and they are expected to contribute more time to domestic tasks. In public, women are controlled by the threat of male sexual violence and by the idea that inappropriate behaviour may bring loss of reputation and shame upon their families. The idea of separate spheres emphasises women’s place as being in the home, those who attempt to raise concerns in public are subject to ridicule and told to return to where they belong. At work women are controlled by male-dominated hierarchies and workers organisations. They are subject to intimidation by various forms of sexual harassment. Heidensohn has been criticised for making generalisations that do not apply to all women and for not always supporting her claims with strong research-based evidence.

Merton R K , Social Theory and Social Structure, New York, The Free Press, 1938 (republished in an enlarged edition in 1968)

Writing from a functionalist perspective Merton argued that deviance results from the culture and structure of society. He starts from the standard functionalist position of value consensus – all members of society hold the same values (see above). However, because members of society have different positions in the social structure, for example in terms of social class, Merton believed that they did not have the same opportunity to realise their shared goals. He also believed that American society was unbalanced because greater importance was attached to success, than to the ways in which that success was achieved. In the search for success by almost any means the danger is that the usual rules governing behaviour in society are abandoned, a situation of anomie results, where ‘anything goes’ in pursuit of wealth and material success.

He described five possible ways in which individuals could respond to success goals in American society.
  1. Conformity: this describes individuals who work towards achieving success by conventionally accepted means, eg by gaining educational qualifications which in turn give them access to secure, well paid employment. Other conventional routes to success include talent, hard work and ambition.
  2. Innovation: this describes individuals who are unable to succeed using conventionally accepted routes and turn to deviant means, usually crime. Merton believed that this route was most likely to be taken by individuals who came from the lower levels of society and who are denied the usual routes to success because they are, for example, less likely to gain the necessary educational qualifications.
  3. Ritualism: this describes middle class individuals who are deviant because they abandon conventional success goals. They are unable to innovate because they have been strongly socialised to conform, but they have little opportunity for advancement and remain stuck in low paid, low status ‘respectable' jobs where they may exhibit an enthusiasm for rules and petty bureaucracy.
  4. Retreatism: this describes individuals from any social class position who are deviant because they abandon both success goals and any means of achieving them. They ‘drop out’ of society; this response can be applied to explain the behaviour of social outcasts of all kinds including vagrants and drug addicts.
  5. Rebellion: this describes those individuals who reject success goals and the usual means of achieving them, but then replace those that they have rejected with different goals and means. They are deviant because they wish to create a new society, in Merton’s view they are typically members of a ‘rising’ social class who may well attempt to organise a revolution.

Merton has been criticised for not taking into account power relations in society, for example by failing to consider who makes the laws and who benefits from them. He has also been criticised for his assumption that there is such a thing as a ‘value consensus’ in American society. Furthermore, it has been suggested that his ‘deterministic’ view fails to adequately explain why only some individuals who experience anomie become criminals and that his theory exaggerates working class crime and underestimates middle class, ‘white collar’ crime.

Social stratification

Davis K and Moore W E, ‘Some principles of stratification’ in Bendix R and Lipset S M (eds), Class, Status and Power, 2nd edition, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1945 (republished 1967)

Writing from a functionalist perspective, Davis and Moore argued that social stratification was a ‘universal necessity’ for every known human society. They believed that for any society to survive and operate efficiently it was necessary for the following to happen:
  1. all roles must be filled
  2. they must be filled by those best able to perform them
  3. necessary training must take place
  4. roles must be performed conscientiously.

The ‘mechanism’ that allows these things to take place was, in their view, a system of social stratification that attached unequal rewards and privileges to the different positions in society. They believed that this system served to match the most able people with the functionally most important positions in society, those that required the highest levels of skill and/or the greatest responsibility to direct and organise others. By attaching the high rewards to those functionally important positions, those with ambition will be encouraged to compete for them with the most talented achieving success.

The theory is open to a number of criticisms, for example, occupations which carry less prestige or lower economic rewards can also be seen as functionally important to society (are lawyers more important than nurses?). Differences in status and pay between different occupational groups may be due to differences in their power (are Members of Parliament worth more than nurses?). Furthermore there is no proof that exceptional talent is required for important positions in society, nor for that matter is there an agreed method of measuring talent and ability, for example there is no formal educational requirement for Government ministers. The number of talented individuals in society may be far greater than Davis and Moore suggest and unequal rewards may not be the best method of harnessing that talent. The Prime Minister, for example, is paid far less than the chief executive of a typical major corporation.

Devine F, Affluent Workers Revisited, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 1992

Devine tested Lockwood’s idea that ‘privatized instrumentalism’ would become typical amongst the working class. This term refers to social relationships centred on the home with work only as a means to an end, when affluent workers joined with their workmates Lockwood believed that they did so as self-interested individuals to improve their wages and working conditions rather than as an act of collective solidarity.

During the late 1980s Devine interviewed a sample of male manual workers employed at the Vauxhall car plant in Luton and their wives. By returning to Luton she was able to make a direct comparison with the work of Goldthorpe and Lockwood in the 1960s (The Affluent Worker in the Class Structure, 1969). She did not find evidence to support the idea of ‘privatized instrumentalism’, whilst the lifestyle of her sample was not as communal as that of the traditional working class neither was it as home centred and privatized as had been predicted. She also rejected the idea of the ‘new working class’ and denied that affluent workers had been persuaded to accept capitalism uncritically. Amongst her sample she found evidence of rising living standards and of aspirations as consumers, but many of those she interviewed continued to resent the privileges of inherited wealth and held a sense of injustice at the existence of extreme class inequalities. However, whilst they retained many of the values of the traditional working class her respondents had generally lost faith in the ability of the Labour Party to deliver a more just and equal society.

Marx K, (selected writings 1857–1867) in McLellan D, Karl Marx Selected Writings, 2nd edition, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000

Marx saw social stratification as a mechanism which allows a privileged few to exploit the many. Marx believed that systems of stratification arose from the relationships of social groups to the means of production (land, capital, labour power, buildings and machinery). His theory of history described Western society as developing through four main epochs: primitive communism, ancient society, feudal society and capitalism. Marx believed that as agriculture developed it produced surplus wealth and the accumulation of private property, the precondition for the emergence of a class of non-producers (a ruling class) who gained control of the means of production thereby obliging others to work for them (a subject class).

Marx held the view that political power came from economic power, the power of the ruling class is rooted in its ownership and control of the means of production. Ruling class ideology seeks to justify ruling class domination through the use of ideas such as ‘the free market’ which distorts reality to create a positive image of capitalism as normal and natural. To a Marxist those members of the subject class who accept this status quo are victims of false class consciousness. Marx believed that class struggle was the driving force for social change. Furthermore he believed that capitalist society was by its very nature unstable, as at its heart lay a basic conflict of interest between the workers whose labour is exploited and the capitalists who exploit that labour.

Marx believed that as a consequence of the natural development of capitalism, the gap between the workers (the proletariat) and the capitalist class (the bourgeoisie) would become greater and the differences more extreme (polarisation). Writing in 19th-century Britain, Marx hoped that this process would produce a proletarian revolution and an ideal communist society. Some sociologists believe that his theories still provide the best explanation of the nature of capitalist society. Alternatively New Right theorists are critical of Marxist theory and emphasise, for example, the benefits of capitalism and the opportunities for social mobility.

Murray C, Losing Ground, New York, Basic Books, 1984

Murray argued that American society had a growing underclass. He believed that government policies have encouraged the members of this underclass to become dependent on benefits. In his view American welfare reforms which resulted in increased levels of benefit, discouraged self-sufficiency and led a growing number of single parents and young people to lose interest in getting jobs. According to Murray the growing membership of the underclass posed a threat to the economic and social fabric of American society because its members were a burden on tax payers and responsible for a rising crime rate.

Murray visited Britain at the end of the 1980s (after the publication of this book) and argued that Britain too was developing an underclass. He identified rising rates of illegitimacy, a rising crime rate and an apparent unwillingness amongst some of Britain’s youth to seek employment as signs of the development of an underclass. He believed that traditional values such as honesty, family life and hard work were being undermined by the members of the underclass, to be replaced by an alternative value system that tolerated crime and various forms of anti-social behaviour.

Murray’s cultural definition of the underclass (in terms of their behaviour) largely ignores any economic reasons that may create such a class. His work has been criticised for its poor evidence base, for example, much of the research evidence suggests that the benefit system does not have the effect that he claims and that many of the so-called underclass actually have conventional attitudes and want stable relationships and paid employment. Viewed more sympathetically members of the underclass can be seen as the victims of social inequality rather than the cause of social problems. Murray’s analysis of the underclass is closely associated with New Right theories which also blame the benefits system for producing groups who are unable or unwilling to earn their own living.

Townsend P, Poverty in the United Kingdom, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1979

Townsend identified three ways of defining poverty:
  1. The state’s standard of poverty on which official statistics are based. This was calculated on the basis of an individual entitlement to claim certain benefits and Townsend believed this to be arbitrarily determined by the government of the day.
  2. The relative income standard of poverty based on identifying those households whose income falls below the average for similar households. Again he believed this measure to be arbitrary, potentially misleading (it did not account for the level of welfare payments available) and inadequate (it did not account for the lifestyles available to those who are relatively materially disadvantaged).
  3. Relative deprivation, his preferred measure. Townsend believed that individuals, families and groups fall into relative poverty when they lack the resources to obtain the types of diet, participate in activities and have the living conditions that are widely available in the society in which they live.

Townsend used his preferred definition to measure the extent of poverty in the UK. His research was based on questionnaires issued to over 2,000 households and more than 6,000 individuals located in various geographical areas in the UK. He devised a deprivation index covering a large number of variables including diet, fuel, clothing, housing conditions, working conditions, health, education and social activities. Each household was given a score on this deprivation index and Townsend then calculated a threshold for levels of income below which the amount of deprivation rapidly increased. On this basis he believed more than 22% of the population to be living in poverty in 1968–69, this compared to just over 6% using the state standard and a little over 9% using relative income.

Townsend’s methods and conclusions have been criticised by those who argue that his index was inadequate and produced potentially misleading results, for example the absence of fresh meat and cooked meals might not be an indicator of poverty but of individual choice.

Walby S, Theorizing Patriarchy, Oxford, Blackwell, 1990

Writing from a feminist perspective Walby argued that the concept of patriarchy is central to our understanding of society. She described six patriarchal structures which restrict women and help to maintain male domination of society:
  1. Paid work: whilst in theory the state supports equality between men and women (the Equal Pay and Sex Discrimination Acts) women continue to be disadvantaged in the labour market with their opportunities restricted by cultural values (eg expectations regarding the roles of wives and mothers).
  2. Patriarchal relations of production: men exploit women by gaining benefit from their unpaid labour in the home.
  3. Patriarchal culture: whilst women have gained more freedom they continue to be subject to social expectations which apply different standards to the behaviour of men and women.
  4. Sexuality: whilst women have greater freedom to express their sexuality they do so whilst subject to double standards (for example men with multiple partners are often admired by other men whilst women with multiple partners are frequently condemned).
  5. Male violence towards women: the use or threat of violence discourages women from challenging patriarchal authority.
  6. The state: whilst the state is not as patriarchal as it used to be it continues to do relatively little to protect women from patriarchal power in society eg women still generally receive lower wages than men and equal opportunities laws are seldom enforced.

Walby argued that the nature of patriarchy in Western society has changed, in the past private patriarchy involved the direct control of women by their fathers or husbands. Whilst in contemporary Western society a form of public patriarchy exists, women have access to public life but they are generally segregated into low paid, low status jobs where they are collectively exploited by male-dominated society.

Weber M, The Theory of Economic and Social Organizations, New York, Free Press, 1947 (republished 2012)

Weber provides a more complex picture of social stratification than Marx. Writing in the early part of the 20th century (the book was translated into English after his death in 1920) Weber argued that classes develop in market economies in which individuals compete for economic gain. He defined a class as a group of individuals who share a similar position in a market economy (their market situation) and he believed that those who share a similar class situation also share similar life chances.

Like Marx, Weber argued that the major class division lay between those who owned the forces of production and those who did not. However, Weber also saw important differences between the various groups who lacked control of the forces of production, for example professionals who received higher salaries because of the demand for their services. He also differed from Marx in that he saw no evidence to support the polarisation of classes; he argued that the middle class expands rather than contracts as capitalism develops. He rejected the view that a proletarian revolution was inevitable and that political power derives only from economic power. Weber distinguished between three different sources of power: charismatic (devotion to a leader who has exceptional qualities), traditional (based on established customs and inherited status) and rational legal (based on the acceptance of shared impersonal rules).

Collective action, Weber argued, was not only possible as a consequence of class but could also result from a shared status situation (level of prestige or esteem) resulting from individuals shared occupations, ethnicity, religion or lifestyles. Weber also described the process of social closure whereby some individuals can be excluded from membership of a status group (eg the caste system). When groups are specifically concerned with the acquisition of political or social power Weber defined them as parties (he used this term to include groups who could be defined as pressure or interest groups as well as political parties). He did not see the relationship between political groups and class and status as simple and clear cut, party membership he believed could cut across and divide classes and status groups.

There is a longstanding debate between those sociologists who adopt a Marxist perspective on class and those who follow Weber. Both groups have been criticised by New Right theorists who accuse them of bias, ignoring the social mobility and opportunities created by capitalist societies.