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In sociology and other social sciences, social stratification refers to the hierarchical arrangement of individuals into divisions of power and wealth within a society. The term most commonly relates to the socio-economic concept of class, involving the "classification of persons into groups based on shared socio-economic conditions ... a relational set of inequalities with economic, social, political and ideological dimensions."[1]

The term stratification derives from the geological concept of strata - rock layers created by natural processes. In modern Western societies, stratification is typically described as a composition of three main layers: upper class, middle class, and lower class. Each class may be further subdivided into smaller classes (e.g. occupational).[2] These categories are particular to state-level societies as distinguished from, for instance, feudal societies composed of nobility-to-peasant relations. It is debatable whether the earliest hunter-gatherer groups may be defined as 'stratified', or if such differentials began with agriculture and broad acts of exchange between groups. To this extent social stratification may or may not start with society itself, and vice versa.

Contents

Sociological overview

Social stratification is interpreted in radically different ways according to the major theoretical perspectives of sociology. Proponents of structural-functionalism have suggested that since social stratification is commonly believed to exist in all societies, hierarchy must be necessary in order to stabilize the social structure. Talcott Parsons, an American sociologist, asserted that stability and social order are achieved by means of a universal value consensus, satisfying the functional prerequisites of a society. By contrast, conflict theories, such as Marxism, have scrutinized the inaccessibility of resources and lack of social mobility in stratified societies. Many sociological theorists have criticised the extent to which the working classes are unlikely to advance socioeconomically; the wealthy tend to hold political power which they use to exploit the proletariat generation after generation. Theorists such as Ralf Dahrendorf, however, have noted the tendency toward an enlarged middle-class in modern Western societies due the necessity of an educated workforce in technological and service economies. Various social and political perspectives concerning globalization, such as dependency theory, suggest that these effects are due to the shift of workers to the third world.

Karl Marx

In Marxist theory, the capitalist mode of production consists of two main economic parts: the Base and the Superstructure. The base comprehends the relations of production — employer-employee work conditions, the technical division of labour, and property relations — into which people enter to produce the necessities and amenities of life. In the capitalist system, the ruling classes own the means of production, which essentially includes the working class itself as they only have their own labour power ('wage labour') to offer in order to survive. These relations fundamentally determine the ideas and philosophies of a society, constituting the superstructure. A temporary status quo is achieved by various methods of social control employed, consciously or unconsciously, by the bourgeoisie in the course of various aspects of social life. Through the ideology of the ruling class, false consciousness is promoted both through ostensibly political and non-political institutions, but also through the arts and other elements of culture. Marx believed the capitalist mode would eventually give way, through its own internal conflict, to revolutionary consciousness and the development of egalitarian communist society.

According to Marvin Harris[3] and Tim Ingold [4], Lewis Henry Morgan's accounts of egalitarian hunter-gatherers formed part of Karl Marx and Engels's inspiration for communism. Morgan spoke of a situation in which people living in the same community pooled their efforts and shared the rewards of those efforts fairly equally. He called this "communism in living." But when Marx expanded on these ideas, he still emphasized an economically-oriented culture, with property defining the fundamental relationships between people.[5] Yet, issues of ownership and property are arguably less emphasized in hunter-gatherer societies.[6] This, combined with the very different social and economic situations of hunter-gatherers may account for many of the difficulties encountered when implementing communism in industrialized states. As Ingold points out: "The notion of communism, removed from the context of domesticity and harnessed to support a project of social engineering for large-scale, industrialized states with populations of millions, eventually came to mean something quite different from what Morgan had intended: namely, a principle of redistribution that would override all ties of a personal or familial nature, and cancel out their effects."[4]

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Max Weber

Max Weber was strongly influenced by Marx's ideas, but rejected the possibility of effective communism, arguing that it would require an even greater level of detrimental social control and bureaucratization than capitalist society. Moreover, Weber criticized the dialectical presumption of proletariat revolt, believing it to be unlikely.[7] Instead, he developed the three-component theory of stratification and the concept of life chances. Weber supposed there were more class divisions than Marx suggested, taking different concepts from both functionalist and Marxist theories to create his own system. He emphasized the difference between class, status, and party, and treated these as separate but related sources of power, each with different effects on social action. Working around half a century later than Marx, Weber claimed there to be in fact four main classes: the upper class, the white collar workers, the petite bourgeoisie, and the manual working class. Weber's theory more-closely resembles modern Western class structures, although economic status does not seem to depend strictly on earnings in the way Weber envisioned.

Weber derived many of his key concepts on social stratification by examining the social structure of Germany. He noted that contrary to Marx's theories, stratification was based on more than simply ownership of capital. Weber examined how many members of the aristocracy lacked economic wealth yet had strong political power. Many wealthy families lacked prestige and power, for example, because they were Jewish. Weber introduced three independent factors that form his theory of stratification hierarchy; class, status, and power:

  • Class: A person's economic position in a society. Weber differs from Marx in that he does not see this as the supreme factor in stratification. Weber noted how managers of corporations or industries control firms they do not own; Marx would have placed such a person in the proletariat.
  • Status: A person's prestige, social honor, or popularity in a society. Weber noted that political power was not rooted in capital value solely, but also in one's individual status. Poets or saints, for example, can possess immense influence on society with often little economic worth.
  • Power: A person's ability to get their way despite the resistance of others. For example, individuals in state jobs, such as an employee of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or a member of the United States Congress, may hold little property or status but they still hold immense power.[8]

Anthropological overview

Anthropologists have found that social stratification is not the standard among all societies. John Gowdy writes, "Assumptions about human behaviour that members of market societies believe to be universal, that humans are naturally competitive and acquisitive, and that social stratification is natural, do not apply to many hunter-gatherer peoples."[9] Non-stratified egalitarian or acephalous ("headless") societies exist which have little or no concept of social hierarchy, political or economic status, class, or even permanent leadership.

Kinship-orientation

Anthropologists identify egalitarian cultures as "kinship-oriented," because they appear to value social harmony more than wealth or status. These cultures are contrasted with economically-oriented cultures (including states) in which status and material wealth are prized, and stratification, competition, and conflict are common. Kinship-oriented cultures actively work to prevent social hierarchies from developing because they believe that such stratification could lead to conflict and instability. Reciprocal altruism is one process by which this is accomplished.

A good example is given by Richard Borshay Lee in his account of the Khoisan, who practice "insulting the meat." Whenever a hunter makes a kill, he is ceaselessly teased and ridiculed (in a friendly, joking fashion) to prevent him from becoming too proud or egotistical. The meat itself is then distributed evenly among the entire social group, rather than kept by the hunter. The level of teasing is proportional to the size of the kill. Lee found this out when he purchased an entire cow as a gift for the group he was living with, and was teased for weeks afterward about it (since obtaining that much meat could be interpreted as showing off).[10]

Another example is the Indigenous Australians of Groote Eylandt and Bickerton Island, off the coast of Arnhem Land, who have arranged their entire society, spirituality, and economy around a kind of gift economy called renunciation. According to David H. Turner, in this arrangement, every person is expected to give everything of any resource they have to any other person who needs or lacks it at the time. This has the benefit of largely eliminating social problems like theft and relative poverty. However, misunderstandings obviously arise when attempting to reconcile Aboriginal renunciative economics with the competition/scarcity-oriented economics introduced to Australia by Anglo-European colonists.[11] See also the Original affluent society.

Social impact

Social stratification has been shown to cause many social problems. A comprehensive study of major world economies revealed that homicide, infant mortality, obesity, teenage pregnancies, emotional depression and prison population all correlate with higher social inequality.[12]

Power distribution

  • Autocracy: One individual retains complete and absolute power over others. This is also known as despotism.
  • Monarchism: A king or queen has ultimate control over the power, but does share it with other individuals. Power is usually transmitted by heredity— in the primogeniture system, for example, the eldest son of a king will ascend to that position when the current king dies or resigns.
  • Oligarchy: Political power is vested in a few individuals, who usually pass power by a hereditary[citation needed] system.
  • Republic: Voting citizens elect representatives who propose, make, and enforce laws instead of citizens directly affecting the government. Also known as representative democracy.
  • Democracy: Citizens directly vote in lawmaking. In contrast to representative democracy, this is sometimes known as a direct democracy.
  • Anarchism: An absence of hierarchy in economic and political relations—a decentralized participatory system of councils, assemblies and federations.
  • Ochlocracy: What some argue to be the end product of an unstable lawless system, is absolute power and a system known as "rule by organized crime". Such a system emerges when powerful gang-like organizations arrogate power and develop a semi-legitimate status.
  • Plutocracy: A society in which power is distributed according to wealth or the ability abstain from relations for exchange of cash or property.

Three Characteristics of Stratified Systems

1) The rankings apply to social categories of people who share a common characteristic without neccarily interacting or identifying with each other. The process of being ranked can be changed by the person being ranked.

  • Example: The way we rank people differently by race, gender, and social class.

2) People's life experiences and opportunities depends on their social category. This characteristic can be changed by the amount of work a person can put into their interests

  • Example: A son or daughter of a king has a greater advantage of having a successful life than a son or daughter of a minimum wage factory worker because the King has a greater amount of resources than the factory work The use of resource can influene others.

3)The ranks of different social categories change slowly over time. This has been occurring frequently in the United States ever since the it's revolution. The U.S. Constitution has been altered several times to contain rights for everyone.

  • Example:

-Thirteenth Amendment: The end of slavery in The United States.

-Fourteenth Amendment: Gives African-Americans citizenship in The United States.

-Fifteenth Amendment: Ending the denial of Suffrage based on race

-Nineteenth Amendment: The United States Government's recognition of women's suffrage

-The Civil Rights Act of 1964: It ended racial segregation in public places in The United States. It also extended the rights to vote.

See also

References

  1. ^ Barker, Chris. 2005. Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. London: Sage. ISBN 0-7619-4156-8 p 436
  2. ^ Saunders, Peter (1990). Social Class and Stratification. Routledge. http://books.google.com/books?id=FK-004p0J_EC. 
  3. ^ Harris, Harris (1968). The Rise of Anthropological Theory: A History of Theories of Culture. Routledge. ISBN 0-7591-0133-7. http://books.google.com/books?id=TlgVAAAAIAAJ. 
  4. ^ a b Ingold, Tim (2006) "On the social relations of the hunter-gatherer band," in Richard B. Lee and Richard H. Daly (eds.), The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Hunters and Gatherers, p. 400. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-60919-4
  5. ^ Barnard, Alan (2006) "Images of hunters and gatherers in European social thought," in Richard B. Lee and Richard H. Daly (eds.), The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Hunters and Gatherers, p. 379. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-60919-4
  6. ^ Gowdy, John (2006) "Hunter-gatherers and the mythology of the market," in Richard B. Lee and Richard H. Daly (eds.), The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Hunters and Gatherers, p. 393. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-60919-4
  7. ^ Holborn, M. & Langley, P. (2004) AS & A level Student Handbook, accompanies the Sixth Edition: Haralambos & Holborn, Sociology: Themes and perspectives, London: Collins Educational
  8. ^ Stark, Rodney (2007). Sociology, Tenth Edition. Thompson Wadsworth. 
  9. ^ Gowdy, John (2006) "Hunter-gatherers and the mythology of the market," in Richard B. Lee and Richard H. Daly (eds.), The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Hunters and Gatherers, p. 391. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-60919-4
  10. ^ Lee, Richard B. (1976), Kalahari Hunter-Gatherers: Studies of the !Kung San and Their Neighbors, Richard B. Lee and Irven DeVore, eds. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  11. ^ Turner, David H. (1999), Genesis Regained: Aboriginal Forms of Renunciation in Judeo-Christian Scriptures and Other Major Traditions, pp. 1-9, Peter Lang.
  12. ^ "Inequality: The Mother of All Evils?". The Guardian. http://image.guardian.co.uk/sys-files/Guardian/documents/2009/03/13/inequality.pdf. Retrieved 2010-01-16. 

Giddens, Duneier, Appelbaum, and Carr. (2009). Introduction to Sociology, Seventh Edition. New York, London: W. W. Norton. Pg. 206-207

External links


Social stratification: Social class
Bourgeoisie Upper class Ruling class Nobility White-collar
Petite bourgeoisie Upper middle class Creative class Gentry Blue-collar
Proletariat Middle class Working class Nouveau riche/Parvenu Pink-collar
Lumpenproletariat Lower middle class Lower class Old Money Gold-collar
Slave class Underclass Classlessness
Social class in the United States
Middle classes Upper classes Social structure Income Educational attainment

Social hierarchy is a multi-tiered pyramid-like social or functional structure having an apex as the centralization of power. The term can also be applied to animal societies, but the term dominance hierarchy is preferred most times. Typically, institutions such as businesses, churches (such as the Catholic Church hierarchy), armies and governments, etc., are structured hierarchically.

Many social criticisms include a questioning of social hierarchies seen as being unjust. Feminism, for instance, often discusses a hierarchy of gender, in which a culture sees males or masculine traits as superior to females or feminine traits. In these terms, some criticize a hierarchy of only two nodes, "masculine" and "feminine", connected by the asymmetrical relationship "is more valuable to society".

In this context, and in other social criticisms, the word hierarchy usually is used as meaning power hierarchy or power structure. Feminists may not take issue with inanimate objects being organized in a hierarchical fashion, but rather with the specific asymmetrical organization of unequal value and power between men and women and, usually, other social hierarchies such as in racism, anti-gay bias, and bullying.

Contents

Distribution of power within political systems

  • Autocracy: One individual retains complete and absolute power over others. This is also known as despotism.
  • Monarchism: A king or queen has ultimate control over the power, but does share it with other individuals. Power is usually transmitted by heredity— in the primogeniture system, for example, the eldest son of a king will ascend to that position when the current king dies or resigns.
  • Oligarchy: Political power is vested in a few individuals, who usually pass power by a hereditary[citation needed] system.
  • Republic: Voting citizens elect representatives who propose, make, and enforce laws instead of citizens directly affecting the government. Also known as representative democracy.
  • Democracy: Citizens directly vote in lawmaking. In contrast to representative democracy, this is sometimes known as a direct democracy.
  • Anarchism: No laws and no government rule whatsoever. A decentralized grassroots participatory system of free associations and institutions where there is an absence of hierarchy.
  • Ochlocracy: What some argue to be the end product of an unstable lawless system, a system known as "rule by organized crime". Such a system emerges when powerful gang-like organizations arrogate power and develop a semi-legitimate status.
  • Plutocracy: A society in which power is distributed according to wealth.

Classical Viewpoint

In the aristocratic world of pre-Christian classical Europe, philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle did not share the modern egalitarian, humanist identification of justice with linear social equality. As British philosopher Bertrand Russell points out, "Under the influence of democratic theory, we have come to associate justice with equality, while for Plato it has no such implications ... Plato's definition of justice makes it possible to have inequalities of power and privilege without injustice. The guardians are to have all the power, because they are the wisest members of the community." [1] Similarly, in his Politics, Aristotle argues that some men are marked out by their inherent virtues for subjection, others for rule; "the man who is by nature not his own but another man's is by nature a slave." Aristotle states that tame animals are better off when ruled by man, and so are those who are naturally inferior and materialistic when ruled by their superiors.

Distribution of wealth

Distribution of wealth is often used as a measure of the progressiveness and social justice of a society. The Gini coefficient measures the economic equality within a society. Developed societies generally vary between 0.2 and 0.5, with welfare states, like Denmark scoring on the lower end and purer free markets like the United States scoring on the higher end.

Critics of capitalism describe it as a system wherein wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few people, the bourgeoisie, who own the means of production and where the majority of people, the proletariat, have none, i.e. a form of informal plutocracy. Others argue that this model is inaccurate, since human and cultural capital are also important in predicting an individual's leverage, autonomy, and eventual fortune, and are more equitably distributed. In the developed world, particularly in materialistic societies like the United States and Japan, have large amounts of wealth tied up in personal possessions like homes, cars, and electronics. People in these societies tend to value these possessions highly, and thus are quite happy with their financial situation.

Opposite to the capitalist system are socialist systems wherein wealth is often distributed from the rich to the poor in order to narrow inequality, and communist systems wherein it is distributed according to necessity. Examples of societies nearing these ideals are the Israeli kibbutzim and the anarchist collectives of the Spanish Revolution.

Karl Marx argued that it was the goal of the proletariat itself to displace the capitalist system with socialism, changing the social relationships underpinning the class system and then developing into a future communist society in which: "..the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all." Communist Manifesto.

Anarchists maintain that inequalities are artificially magnified in our society, and point out that for most of human history humans lived in much more egalitarian societies. Noam Chomsky believes that egalitarian sentiments are "just below the surface"[2], and has used the militant history of labor movements, Bakunin's theories about an "instinct for freedom", Kropotkin's mutual aid evolutionary principle of survival and Marc Hauser's evidence supporting an innate and universal moral faculty[3], to explain the incompatibility of hierarchy with certain aspects of human nature. [4]

On the other hand, some sociologists insist that hierarchical social stratification is normal and inherent to all societies. Sociologist Pierre van den Berghe believes that the predominating liberal-Marxist obsession with linear equality is dysfunctional: "That all men are created equal may have seemed a self-evident truth to the amiable optimist who signed the United States Declaration of Independence, but it flies in the face of all evidence ... Egalitarianism may be good rhetoric, but is bad sociology, and empirically, rank nonsense ... A hierarchical order is evident in the human family, the smallest and most universal form of human social organization." [5] Sociologist Joseph Fichter argues, "The aspiration for complete democracy or for perfect equality among people is without scientific validity. Similarly, the promotion of an ideal of a classless society is both unrealistic and impossible." [6]

Social status

Social status represents an individual's overall ability to control or influence other people and institutions. Unlike economic status, it is difficult to quantify social status.

Social status is recognized officially by notions of rank, religious title, or academic title, and informally by notions such as reputation and mind share.

References

  1. ^ A History of Western Philosophy, Simon and Schuster, 1972, p. 114.
  2. ^ A Revolution is Just Below the Surface, Venezuela Analysis, Noah Chomsky interviewed by Eva Golinger, September 28 2007
  3. ^  
  4. ^ [1]http://www.chomsky.info/interviews/20040714.htm[2]
  5. ^ Man in Society: A Biosocial View, New York: Elsevier, 1978, pp. 137-8
  6. ^ Sociology, Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1957, p. 49

See also


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