Social classes are the hierarchical arrangements of people in society as economic or cultural groups. Class is an essential object of analysis for sociologists, anthropologists, political economists and social historians. In the social sciences, social class is often discussed in terms of 'social stratification'.
In sociology and political philosophy, the most basic class distinction is between the powerful and the powerless. In Marxist theory and historical materialism, social class is caused by the fundamental economic structure of work and property.
For Marx, class involves two factors:
A class shares a common relationship to the means of production. That is, all people in one class make their living in a common way in terms of ownership of the things that produce social goods. A class may own things, own land, own people, be owned, own nothing but their labour. A class will extract tax, produce agriculture, enslave and work others, be enslaved and work, or work for a wage.
Subjective factors:The members will necessarily have some perception of their similarity and common interest. Marx termed this Class consciousness. Class consciousness is not simply an awareness of one's own class interest (for instance, the maximisation of shareholder value; or, the maximisation of the wage with the minimisation of the working day), class consciousness also embodies deeply shared views of how society should be organised legally, culturally, socially and politically.
The first criteria divides a society into the owners and non-owners of means of production. In capitalism, these are capitalist (bourgeoisie) and proletariat. Finer divisions can be made, however: the most important subgroup in capitalism being petite bourgeoisie (small bourgeoisie), people who possess their own means of production but utilise it primarily by working on it themselves rather than hiring others to work on it. They include self-employed artisans, small shopkeepers, and many professionals.