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Social Classes Of The 19th Century Sociology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 1172 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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What would it be like to live in a world where everyone is put into separate groups based on nothing more than gender, what family you were born into and how much money you make (Victorian England: An Introduction 3-4)? Theories of social class were not fully recognized until the nineteenth century from that point forward the idea of social classes has been discussed by many famous philosophers and theorists (Social Class 1). In England, long before the Victorian Age, Aethelberht set down a “code of laws” known today as social class (United Kingdom 1). In many parts of the world throughout history social classes have been commonly broken down into three groups, but in the British Empire of 1814 there were as many as eight (Jane Austen’s World 1-2). Social groups were usually divided by race and stereotypical by gender (Turpin 1). One of the most common means of dividing people into social class is financial income (Scott 2). All social groupings regardless of location and era are based to some degree upon gender, kinship and economic status.

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The history of social class in England began before England was even a country when Aethelberht reigned over the Anglo-Saxons (United Kingdom 1). He set down a “code of laws” where the most important bond was kinship; every freeman depended on his kin for protection (United Kingdom 1). Since then philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau further elaborated on the idea by discussing the issues of social inequality and stratification (Social Class 1). These ideas were later passed on to Henri de Saint-Simon, who put forth the argument that a state’s form of government corresponds to the system of economic production (Social Class 1). Later his successors introduced the theory of the proletariat, or working class, as a major political force, which greatly influenced the development of Karl Marx’s theory of class, which has dominated later discussions of the topic (Social Class 1).

Social class has been divided into three different groups in many countries and governments throughout history (Victorian England: An Introduction 3). Those three are usually upper, middle and lower or working class (Victorian England: An Introduction 2). The upper class in the Victorian Age were the royalty, lords spiritual and temporal and great officers of state many of whom did not work and received most of their wealth from there inheritance (Victorian England: An Introduction 4 and Jane Austen’s world 1). Middle class men did most of the “white collar work” such as business, commerce, and politics they were paid monthly or annually (Victorian England: An Introduction 4). Now, last and unfortunately least, the lower class men and women did the physical labor and were paid daily or weekly wages (Victorian England: An Introduction 3). Men and women were also separated in society (Victorian England: An Introduction 4). The women were assigned the private ‘sphere’ and the men were assigned the public sphere of business and commerce (Victorian England: An Introduction 4).

A majority of the time there are three social groups but some have found there to be up to eight specific groups in England during the nineteenth century (Jane Austen’s World 1-2). There were the highest orders which are put into the generic upper class of royalty and the rich, the second class which seems to be a mix between the upper and the middle class in that they are prestigious but not of royal blood (Jane Austen’s World 1). Also the third class which contained the doctors, clergy and merchants which can be put into the middle class, the fourth class consists of many of the same people as the third class just on a lesser scale (Jane Austen’s World 1). Fifth class is where the shopkeepers were placed along with the publicans and people with miscellaneous occupations (Jane Austen’s World 1). The sixth class is where the lower or working class of people are found (Jane Austen’s World 2). Members of this class included working mechanics, artists, craftsmen and farmers or agricultural laborers (Jane Austen’s World). The people that were in the seventh group were either a paupers, vagrants, gypsies and criminals (Jane Austen’s World 2). The army and the navy had their own social class, which includes officers, soldiers, marines and pensioners (Jane Austen’s World 2).

Economic status also played a big part in the development of the social classes because of the economy the people were grouped by their income (Victorian England: An Introduction 4). The upper class or aristocrats usually had about 30,000 pounds of annual income, which is around 41,000 dollars in America (Victorian England: An Introduction 4). Bankers and merchants made around 10,000 pounds a year while the middle class including doctors made anywhere from 300 to 800 (Victorian England: An Introduction 4). Head teachers, journalists and shopkeepers who were considered to be lower class at this point in time only made 150 to 300 pounds per year (Victorian England: An Introduction 4)! Skilled workers and domestic staff made even less than the teachers with only 40-75 pounds a year and soldiers scraped the bottom of the barrel with a grand total of 25 pounds annually and that rounds out the list (Victorian England: An Introduction 4).

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From the late eighteenth century, class has been seen as the key to understanding modern society (Scott 1). This idea went virtually unchallenged, despite the fact that people have been arguing what defines it ever since it was introduced, until the last third of the twentieth century (Scott 1). Challenges to the class system have grown even stronger due to the fact that some have argued that social class was made extinct by the postmodern social process (Scott 1). Nevertheless some have interpreted social class to be a powerful and active variable today but a common factor is found in both sides of this argument (Turpin 1 and Scott 1). Both agree that the social class analysis is not thorough enough and that it should be based on more specific things than just money and gender (Scott 1 and Turpin 1). Apparently the social system wasn’t perfect then and it isn’t perfect now because it is a futile human attempt to categorize people by trivial earthly possessions (Turpin 2).

So what would it be like to live in a world where everyone is put into separate groups based on nothing more than gender, what family you were born into and how much money you make (Victorian England: An Introduction 3-4)? Other than the obvious, like technology and entertainment, the same way it was in the Victorian Era, everyone would be separated into groups by things that don’t necessarily matter and that wouldn’t change until someone questioned it (Victorian England: An Introduction 3-4 and Scott 1).


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