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Class In Contemporary New Zealand Society

1459 words - 6 pages

When asked to describe contemporary New Zealand society, class is not a term that will occur to most people. The word conjures up Dickensian images of factories and poverty, haves and have-nots; and radicalism such as the works of Marx. Certainly, not today's modern society. If asked, most people would probably hold the view that it is a “relic of a vanishing industrial capitalism and a vestige of outmoded social theory, with little relevance in a world whose novelty has been variously signalled by the prefix of 'post' (Ongley, 2013). This is especially true in New Zealand, a country widely believed to have been class-less from the beginning. However, as will be shown, these beliefs, this source of national pride is based on a myth. Not only will class divisions in the form of social inequality be shown to exist today, but the theories of Marx can still be used in examining New Zealand society almost two hundred years after they were first put forth.

Karl Marx was writing at a time where issues of class, in particular the welfare of the working class was very much a prominent feature of social debate. The industrial revolution had just ended and the changes it had wrought in society were very much under the microscope. With this focus on working class conditions, Marx came to believe the working class would be the source of social revolution once they can to realize their situation and what he saw to be its cause. Therefore, they became a focus of his study. In his study of class, Marx came to define it in relation to the ownership of capital (McLennan, McManus, & Spoonley, 2010). He defined society (capitalist, industrial) as consisting of three classes. Capitalists (Bourgeoisie) live by investing capital and own the means of production (factories, land for example) and everything within (the economically dominant). Workers (Proletariat) sell their labour to capitalists and actually produce the goods capitalists sell to give them the capital to invest and use to keep a head of their competition. Lastly, the unemployed (Lumpen Proletariat) whom the capitalist class keeps as such to ensure they have a 'reserve workforce' that they can use to ensure the wages and other demands of workers do not get out of hand (by reminding them they are replaceable) (Open Polytechnic, 2014).

Marx saw capitalism as a means by which the working class is exploited by the capitalist class. The working class work under conditions that lead to the alienation of labour as workers become increasingly divorced from the products of their labour (McLennan et al., 2010). They become impoverished in terms of the return they might expect from their labour and satisfaction they might derive from the work that they do (McLennan et al., 2010). Marx believed as workers developed awareness of their situation, class conflict would occur between the workers and those in power as workers sought to improve their condition through political activity (McLennan et...

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