Why did the class society begin

German conditions. A social studies

Stefan Hradil

Stefan Hradil, born in Frankenthal (Palatinate) in 1946, was Professor of Sociology at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz from 1991 to 2011. After studying sociology, political science and Slavic philology at the University of Munich (1968-1973), he worked from 1974 to 1989 as a research assistant at the Institute for Sociology at the University of Munich. Doctorate in 1979 and habilitation in 1985 at the University of Munich. From 1989 to 1990 professor for social structure analysis at the University of Bamberg. Stefan Hradil received an honorary doctorate from the University of Economics in Budapest in 1994, was chairman of the German Society for Sociology from 1995 to 1998, has been chairman of the Schader Foundation in Darmstadt since 2001 and a member of the Academy of Sciences and Literature Mainz since 2006. The main focus of work is social structure analysis, also in an international comparison, social inequality, social milieus and lifestyles, social change.

The medieval class society was characterized by a complicated structure of social inequality. Ownership of land determined social status. With the industrial revolution, ownership of industrial means of production became crucial. Today the job is a crucial determinant of social inequality.

Hierarchical society

Both the main determinants and the central dimensions of social inequality were different in medieval and early modern class society than they are today. As in any agrarian society, the disposal of land brought power, prosperity and prestige. A graduated hierarchy of fiefs was the basis of the outstanding position of the king and the unequal positions in the nobility. Free peasants, tenants and dependent peasants had more or less extensive ownership rights to land. Overall, they made up the peasant class, which comprised around 80% of the population. The citizens' class was concentrated in the cities: it consisted of traders and craftsmen with smaller or larger opportunities to earn a living. Sub-class groups such as the "dishonest" professions, migrant workers, maids and servants, apprentices and journeymen formed the lowest area of ​​the class society.

Within these classes and their subdivisions, opportunities to earn income, taxes and the way of life were regulated in detail by legal provisions. While equal rights apply to all citizens today, unequal rights were an essential dimension of social inequality at the time. Who was allowed to practice a trade where, what prices he could charge, who had to pay how much taxes to whom, who was allowed to wear what clothes, who was allowed to sit where in the church, all of this was legally regulated in detail. The position of the individual in this complex structure of social inequality was primarily a question of origin. The "birth" in a family of the nobility, the bourgeoisie, the peasant class or from a "subordinate" family largely decided on status and life. Social advancement or descent beyond the boundaries of these classes was rare, even within the classes it was very difficult to move up. Social decline, however, was more common. So were z. B. many free to unfree peasants.

Class society

Early industrial society began in Germany in the first half of the 19th century. Numerous legal inequalities disappeared. Ownership, especially of the new industrial means of production, replaced origin as the dominant determinant of social inequality. The haves had many advantages. The new upper class of factory owners mimicked the nobility's way of life. Those who owned nothing, who could no longer cope with industrial competition with their previous trade, who could no longer keep their farms, often had to work as poor working conditions and wages. The "social question" arose. The class society became a class society.

In the course of the late 19th and 20th centuries, more and more people were employed as non-self-employed. After all, nine out of ten workers worked as blue-collar workers, employees or civil servants. Many civil servants and employees achieved a much higher status as skilled workers and even more so as unskilled workers. The social inequalities within the employed became more important than inequalities between them and the self-employed. The social stratification running along the occupational hierarchy pushed itself as the dominant structure of social inequality over the class structure based on property.

Layered society

The most important determinant of social inequality therefore increasingly emerged as the profession. "Tell me what your job is and I will tell you what social position you have": This could be the motto of the industrial society. The most important dimensions of social inequality (qualifications, professional position, income) are all closely related to the profession.

In the stratified society, social advancement and descent are much easier possible than in the class society of the 19th century. Vertical mobility, however, never became as common as the stratified ideal of the "open society" envisages. According to him, promotion and relegation should only be a question of individual performance and no longer of origin, property or skin color or gender.

New structures of social inequality

Since around the last third of the 20th century, when more than half of the workforce has been working in the service sector, Germany is no longer an industrial society, but a post-industrial information and service society. With the shrinking of industry and the emergence of the service sector, as well as the increasing importance of information, knowledge and qualifications, many hopes were linked. The service sector seemed to offer pleasant, intellectually demanding jobs for an increasing number of people, safe because of the insatiable demand for services and, as a result of high productivity, well-paid jobs.

This was often linked to the hope that the increase in equality of distribution and equal opportunities in the course of industrialization, as demonstrated by the growth of the middle class in the course of the 20th century, would also continue in post-industrial society. These expectations have not yet been met. The continuing shrinkage of industry has cost many workers jobs and leaves them with no prospects.

Huge new inequalities are emerging within the service sector. Highly qualified people in productive industries are hardly aware of the risk of unemployment and have excellent earning potential. They are increased by the globalization of labor markets and by the shortage of skilled workers in the course of demographic change. Low-skilled workers in less productive industries (e.g. cleaning workers) have to compete with many applicants for their poorly paid job. Fears are growing in the shrinking middle classes, a few decades ago still a zone of prosperity and security. The extent to which the stratification structure will fundamentally change in the course of this worsening of social inequality and to what extent other social structure models will apply cannot yet be foreseen. What is certain, however, is that a marketable (education) education shapes individual life chances more than ever.