Sociology studies all factors and fundamental problems of human relations in society. Some of these factors are fundamental while others are relatively less important factors. It is concerned with the unchanging factors inherent in the human nature.
Such factors are universally operative and influence the entire social organization of mankind. Other factors react upon the fundamental factors. One of these factors is the systems of stratification occurring naturally in all human societies. Each society is essentially and universally characterised by social classes.
Since ancient times, social thinkers have recognised the reality of social classes. While the precise term had a later origin, the essence of class in terms of privileged and unprivileged, higher and lowers social status signifying differential social ranking dates back to very ancient times. Social stratification has been a universal system. Social stratification of communities or of the society as a whole occurs due to many reasons.
Social classes refer to the horizontal division of society in which the divisions are graded in order of higher and lower strata. Other forms of social stratification may be termed as vertical division of the society which refers to occupational distinctions, for example, the college professors, physicians, office clerks, shop-keepers and so on which fall into distinct occupational divisions.
But such division is not arranged socially in the same manner in which the class division is. We cannot, for example, say that the profession of a college professor is socially higher than that of a physician or vice versa. The very system of the grading of classes into higher and lower classes imply that a hierarchy of status groups exist where classes exist.
Maclver and Page observe “The understanding of social class as a distinct status group provides us with a precise concept, and are generally applicable to any system of class stratification, wherever found.
It regards those social differentiations which arise out of language, locally, function or specialization as significant class phenomena only when these become closely associated with a status hierarchy.”
The factor of social status in a manifestation of group attitudes is always related to such differences in the society as income levels, occupational distinctions, and distinctions of birth, race, education, and so forth. But these differences, apart from recognized orders of superiority and of inferiority, do not establish cohesive groups.
It is the sense of status, sustained by economic, political, or ecclesiastical power, and by the distinctive modes of life and cultural expressions corresponding to them, that draws in class apart from class, gives cohesion to each class, and stratifies a whole society”.
1. “A social class is any portion of the community marked off from the rest by social status.” -Maclver and Page
2. “Class is a group of individuals who share a similar economic position which influence both the material standard of their existence and the sort of personal life they are able to enjoy”. -Max Weber
3. “A social class is a category or group of persons having definite status in society which permanently determines their relation to other groups”. -P.Gisbert.
4. “The fundamental attribute of a social class is thus its social position of relative superiority or inferiority to other social classes”. -Ogburn and Nimkoff
All sociologists agree that basic human nature plays its part in the stratification of society into classes and social hierarchy of classes’ superiority gives to an individual a sense of pleasure whereas social recognition of inferiority gives him pain.
Thus by Class is meant two or more orders of people who are believed to be distinct, and are accordingly ranked by the members or the community, in socially superior and inferior positions. Superiority and inferiority do not come into being unless men come together or unless they live socially.