Contemporary society of the 21st century is considered to be a new and very different from the one it was before. Social changes that have started about 300 years ago and have continued today evidently prove that traditional theories and assumptions are not working today in the developed countries, as well as in Australia. Thus, many sociologists consider that classes are no longer relevant in the twenty-first century (Bauman, 2000). The contemporary sociologists of postmodern society, such as Bauman, Lyotard, Beck and others, argue that people do not believe any more into social progress. They also consider that science and rational thought can make positive changes in today`s world. From this point of view, many postmodernists believe that the modern world believes that there is no longer exists the common understanding of classes. As this postmodern theory of society has become rather popular today, it captures the minds of sociologists, thinkers and historians in many countries.
Modern Class Relations in Australia
According to the research, people in the postmodern society do not believe in progress, they rather believe in negative effects of today`s societal development, such as environmental damage, overpopulation, pollution and others. They consider that these are consequences of today`s technology progress, which can be harmful to human population. Both modernists and post-modernists agree that today there is a split between past society and the modern society in Australia. This split may be explained as a result of changes that have been occurred in social relations, economic development, moral, cultural and ethical regulations, which have created a new type of society, where class is no longer relevant and has lost its value.
Scholars debate whether the concept of class in the postmodern Australian society has become irrelevant. It should be noting that class inequality has been the main issue of sociologists throughout the history of society. Karl Marx and Max Weber, who represented the modern theory of societal development considered class and power division to be the main structure in society. They used the concept of class structure to explain inequality in early industrial and capitalist society. According to their theories, there were two classes: the most powerful class of bourgeoisie, which owned most of the wealth and means of production, and the low class, proletariat, which worked for the upper class (Whitaker, 2006). Therefore, Marx and Weber, as the founding fathers of the concept of division society into classes, explained their theory as an economic necessity.
In the postmodern society, the concept of class has no longer relevant because of social, economic, technological and cultural changes that have captured all spheres of life in Australia. The postmodernist sociologists, such as Bordieu P., Bauman Z., Lewis, J, and others agree that changes, which can be overviewed in today`s society, have changed people`s attitude to classes. Thus, the majority of people in the postmodern Australian society are considered to be the middle class. Sociologists refer that economic relations are overviewed with cultural matters, such as status, identity and life-style, which determine people`s standing in society. In the past, class differences were obvious and clear, but today, people are prone to choose what they want to be despite of their ethnicity, religion, background, and culture. In the contemporary Australian society the old distinctions between classes are blurring. Thus, people no longer believe in the existence of classes. As old certainties have been disappeared, the new ones begin to develop. For example, the process of globalization brings with it integration and globalization of the world markets and economy, what leads to the blurring of traditional national boundaries. Today, McDonald`s and Coca-Cola can be found in any part of the world.
The Interconnections between Social Stratification and Classes
Many sociologists consider stratification to be a substitution of classes. Although, the research asserts that there are debates among scholars about inequalities of social stratification itself. The concept of social stratification is prone to divide individuals into layers. These levels or layers are a social hierarchy of people, which is based on their economic relations. American sociologist Peterim Sorokin was the founder father of the concept of social stratification. Due to the stratification of society, each stratum consists of certain groupings of people, who are interacting with each other through their economic and social relations, and who are able to reproduce themselves in the future (Lewis, 2010). People from the top strata enjoy life. On the other hand, people in the bottom strata are poor. Social stratification leads, therefore, to inequality, what is very similar to social class division, and passes from one generation to the next.
A class may be defined as a large grouping of people who occupies the same level of wealth, power, and prestige. Traditionally, it is considered that there are three main classes in society: the working class, the middle class, and the upper class. The research asserts that nowadays this division is rather controversial. The upper class in Australia consists of 5 to 10 percent of the population. This layer of people is the wealthiest one. Most Australians believe that mobility is available, what may prove that division into class is no longer relevant in Australia in the twenty-first century. In the postmodern society, division into layers or stratums is accompanied with different symbols, such as expensive motor vehicles, houses, expensive clothes and other items. However, class cannot always be evident from cars, homes or living conditions (Whitaker, 2006). Therefore, the culture of symbols is dominating in the postmodern society.
Contemporary Approaches to Class Division
As it stated above, the main social classes are the upper class, the middle class, and the working class. Though, many debates are in progress about the boundaries of this division. The wealth and control of property and capital compose the upper class. The middle class is defined as individuals, which are engaged into non-manual jobs. Manual workers form the working class, which consists of 20-40 percent and form the nucleus of this class. As a rule, non-manual workers earn more than manual workers. Thus, those who are in sale earn less money than trade`s people (Barber, 2008). Australians mostly believe that people can move from class to class due to their possibilities, education, professional skills and economic relations. Socioeconomic mobility ensures Australians to accept the reality as it is and agree that social class division is no more relevant in Australia.
The founding fathers of class classification (Marx and Weber) defined class relations from the point of view of distribution of property, products, labor markets, and other resources of capital. Thus, they consider that society is divided into two classes: the upper class and the proletariat, or the working class. The distribution of economic resources identified the social position of people. Nowadays, individuals from different backgrounds, ethnicity, gender, and origin can feel free to earn much money and be economically wealthy and independent. Therefore, everybody has a chance to change his/her position in a society (Bauman, 2000). It is worth mentioning that gender factor is no longer is a problem in Australia. Female can earn as much money as male, sometimes even more. The twenty-first century is a new era, where people can be what they really want to be, according to their skills, values, goals in life, efforts and many other factors that may be contributed to achieve their life-long goals.
The research asserts that social changes are possible in the highly developed industrial countries with the high standards in life and democracy (Humphery, 2009). Therefore, a person`s class situation has been changed during last decades, where irrelevance of social division into classes seemed to be evident. The postmodern society is not a perfect one, as any other society, which has ever existed. But its main value includes equal life chances and possibilities for people regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, cultural background and age. Australians should be really proud of this possibility. Not all countries in the world are giving such a possibility to their citizens. That is why Australia is one of the countries that attract many immigrants. The available information asserts that most Australians do not recognize the necessity to divide their society into classes (Shell, 2009). Therefore, contemporary class division has become very weak and practically useless.
The research asserts that status and authority are the values that are relevant in the contemporary Australian society, though they are the attributes of class division. Status is considered to be non-economic factor. Status may by be defined as reputation of a person in the eyes of others. A person`s status is an important issue in today`s Australian environment. It is commonly judged by person`s intelligence, education, wealth and lifestyle. Actually, status and style of life have similar meanings. It is worth mentioning that the meaning of status has been changed in the process of history. For example, such categories as gender, race, and ethnicity are no longer dominant today. On the other hand, types of dress, areas of residence, type and size of house, accent and others are still important in the Australian society.
Authority is another social attribute of the postmodern society, which is taken into consideration of sociologists. In the course of economic relations, people are supposed to be divided into leaders and subordinates. From this point of view, authority has a positive meaning. A command situation is rather common in many organizations and may be considered as a component of status situation in an organization.
Contemporary social situation in Australia has been evidently proved the idea that class is no longer relevant in the twenty-first century. Traditional division of people into the upper class, the middle class, and the working class has been changed and become useless. Postmodern society appreciates different social values, that changes people`s attitude to society, human relationships and future perspectives.