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commentary on “an austrian approach to class structure” by jayme s. lemke

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I saw a link to an article called “An Austrian Approach to Class Structure.” It attracted my interest since it is rare for economists to delve into theories of social class. In this article, Lemke offers a theory of social class based on Austrian economics. It is an interesting choice given that Austrians are committed methodological individualists, and class analysis (usually) relies on holism.

So what does the paper offer? The core of the paper is an attempt to rebuild social in terms of methodological individualism. Class (page 179) emerges when:

  • Rules and norms apply to some people and not others.
  • Group membership is sticky.
  • Some people hold authority over people in other groups.

There are a few things happening in this definition. First, it doesn’t match up terribly well with traditional notions of social class, which are usually economic. For example, an ethnic group is a “class” in this definition. However, an ethnic group is usually not considered a class in the Marxian or Weberian sense of the word (“position in the mode of production” or “market position”). I think in Lemke’s definition is closer to Weber’s notion of status group, but adds the idea that that rules are not uniformly applied in society. It’s a bit closer to Shils’ notion of deference or DuBois’ analysis of Black/White inequality, which focused on the forms of privilege that White people enjoy.

Second, the definition is especially suited to the issues that Austrian might care about, such as how states grant benefits to specific people and not others. Sadly, the traditional sociological literature on class and status more generally treats this as an after thought. Lemke’s definition works well, for example, if you want to talk about people in the state, or those who enjoy favors (special interest groups, lobbyists). This does come up in neo-Marxist political economy, but I don’t think it has much of an impact in the broader world of sociology.

Interesting read for anyone interested in the contact point between sociology and heterodox economics.

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Written by fabiorojas

February 17, 2017 at 12:48 am

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