Classes, by Erik Olin Wright, Verso 1985 (new paperback edition 1997)

Class analysis and class struggle are central concepts in Marx’s social theory yet, notoriously, Marx never wrote a systematic exposition of these terms during his lifetime, and succeeding generations have had to piece together interpretations from his many scattered references and discussions. The problem of trying to develop a Marxist class analysis on this basis has been made all the more acute by changes in the class structure of advanced capitalism, for these have thrown up a bewildering range of new social strata which seem to be difficult to reconcile with many traditional understandings of class.

In Classes Erik Olin Wright, one of the foremost Marxist sociologists and class theorists, rises to the twofold challenge of both clarifying the abstract, structural account of class implicit in Marx, and of applying and refining the account in the light of contemporary developments in advanced capitalist societies. Recentring the concept of class on the process of exploitation, Wright discusses his famous notion of ‘contradictory class locations’ in relation to the empirical complexities of the middle class, and he provides an analysis of class structure in ‘post-capitalist’ societies. Wright then goes on to draw out the implications of his approach and to submit it to detailed empirical testing with the use of a trans-national survey of class structure and consciousness.

“The most impressive book on class I have read in some years.”—Michael Mann, Contemporary Sociology

“An empirically supported reformulation of class theory that achieves exemplary standards of critique, complexity and clarity.”—Claus Offe

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NB: the following materials refer to the 1985 edition; the title was re-issued as part of Verso’s Classics series in 1997, though without significant changes to content.



Chapter 1. Posing the Problem: the Agenda of Class Analysis

Part One: Conceptual Issues

Chapter 2. The Biography of a Concept: contradictory class locations

Chapter 3. A General Framework for the Analysis of Class

Chapter 4. Implications and Elaborations of the General Framework

Part Two: Empirical Investigations

Chapter 5. Empirically Adjudicating Contending Class Definitions

Chapter 6. Class Structure in Contemporary Capitalism

Chapter 7. Class Structure and Class Consciousness in Contemporary Capitalist Society