Social stratification and social class

Published: 2021-07-01 02:10:04
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Today,stratification, a system by which society ranks its members in a hierarchy, is the norm throughout the world. All societies stratify their members. A stratifiedsociety is one in which there is an unequal distribution of society’s rewards and in which people are arranged hierarchically into layers according to how much of society’s rewards they possess. Historical Stratification Systems Slavery is a system of stratification in which one person owns another, as he or she would own property, and exploits the slave’s labor for economic gain.
Slaves are one of the lowest categories in any stratification system, as they possess virtually no power or wealth of their own. Slavery’s Global History Many Americans view slavery as a phenomenon that began with the colonization of the New World and ended with the Civil War, but slavery has existed for a very long time. Slavery appears in the Old Testament of the Bible, as well as in the Qur’an. It was common practice in ancient Greece and Rome . The Causes of Slavery A common assumption about slavery is that it is generally based on racism.
Though racism was the primary cause of slavery in the United States, it was not the main reason that people in other areas were enslaved. Reasons for slavery include debt, crime, war, and beliefs of inherent superiority. Debt: Individuals who could not pay their way out of debt sometimes had to literally sell themselves. If a slave’s debt was not paid off before his or her death, the debt was often passed down to his or her children, enslaving several generations of the same family. Crime: Families against whom a crime had been committed might enslave members of the perpetrator’s family as compensation.
Prisoners of war: Slaves were often taken during wartime, or when a new territory was being invaded. When Rome was colonizing much of the known world approximately 2,000 years ago, it routinely took slaves from the lands it conquered. Beliefs of inherent superiority: Some people believe that they have a right to enslave those who they believe are inherently inferior to them. Slavery in the United States Slavery in the United States was unique for several reasons. First, it had a fairly equal male-to-female ratio. Slaves also lived longer than in other regions. They often reproduced, and their children were born into slavery.
In other countries, slavery was not permanent or hereditary. Once slaves paid off their debts, they were set free. In the United States, slaves were rarely freed before the Civil War. The Estate System An ancient stratification system that no longer exists today was the estate system, a three-tiered system composed of the nobility, the clergy, and the commoners. During the Middle Ages, much of Europe was organized under this system. Nobility Members of the nobility had great inherited wealth and did little or no discernible work. They occupied themselves in what we would term leisure pursuits, such as hunting or riding.
Others cultivated interests in cultural pursuits, such as art and music. To ensure that their inherited wealth passed smoothly from one generation to the next without being dispersed to members of the extended family, the nobility of the Middle Ages practiced the law of primogeniture. The word primogeniture comes from Latin and means “first born. ” The nobility’s law of primogeniture stipulated that only a first-born son could inherit his father’s wealth. Members of this stratum developed an ideology to justify their privileged positions, the divine right of kings, which posited that the authority of the king comes directly from God.
The king delegated authority to the nobles. Because the king and the nobles were God’s representatives, they had to be obeyed. Clergy The eldest son was guaranteed a healthy income upon the death of his father, but other sons had to find their own means of income. Few, if any, were trained for work, so many became members of the Roman Catholic clergy, a body of religious officials. The clergy was very powerful in European society in the Middle Ages, and membership offered long-term job security and a comfortable living.
The higher up the ladder a priest went, the more power he had over the masses. Commoners The third tier of the estate system consisted of the masses of people known as thecommoners. They spent their lives engaged in hard physical labor, with virtually no chance of moving up in society. Indentured Servitude Some commoners, searching for a way out of their situation, found it by agreeing to indentured servitude, in which one individual agrees to sell his or her body or labor to another for a specified period of time. Once the time period is over, the individual may leave.
Indentured servitude differs from slavery in that the individual chooses to enter into the agreement, while slaves have no say in deciding the course of their lives. In today’s world, three main systems of stratification remain: slavery, a caste system, and a class system. Slavery Slavery still exists today. As many as 400 million people live under conditions that qualify as slavery, despite laws prohibiting it. In Mauritania, the Sudan, Ghana, and Benin, slavery exists much as it did 800 years ago. In other parts of the world, including Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan, debt slavery is common.
Sex slavery, the forcing of girls into prostitution, is prevalent in Asia. Caste System A caste system is a social system based on ascribed statuses, which are traits or characteristics that people possess as a result of their birth. Ascribed statuses can include race, gender, nationality, body type, and age. A caste system ranks people rigidly. No matter what a person does, he or she cannot change castes. People often try to compensate for ascribed statuses by changing their nationality, lying about their age, or undergoing plastic surgery to alter their body type. In some societies, this strategy works; in others, it does not.
India’s Caste System The Indian government officially outlawed the caste system in 1949, but vestiges of it remain today. The system originated with the Hindu religion, which subscribes to the concept of reincarnation, the belief that while the physical body dies, the soul of a person is immortal and goes on to be reborn into another body. People who are good in their current life will come back to improved circumstances in the next life, but if they are evil, they will be punished in the next one. Therefore, those who are poor or ill are suffering punishment for having done something wrong in a past life.
One should not interfere in the life of another person because that individual’s circumstances are the result of what he or she has done in a previous incarnation. Some might view reincarnation as religious tradition. Others might view it asideology, a set of values that people devise to rationalize a particular social custom. In the case of the caste system, the custom being rationalized is inequality. If an individual is poor, for example, blaming his or her circumstances on what he or she did in a past life absolves others in the society of the responsibility for providing any assistance.
Ideology also attempts to explain why some are in positions of wealth and power. Hindu tradition would say that the wealthy and powerful are being rewarded for what they did in a past life, and therefore they deserve every privilege they have. The Five Castes The Indian caste system has existed for about 3,000 years. There were four original castes, and one caste so low that it was not even considered to be part of the caste system: 1. The Brahman caste usually consisted of priests or scholars and enjoyed a great deal of prestige and wealth. 2.
The Kshatriya caste, or warrior caste, was composed of those who distinguished themselves in military service. 3. The Vaishva caste comprised two sets of people—business-people and skilled craftspeople. 4. The Shudra caste consisted of those who made their living doing manual labor. 5. The Harijan, Dalit, or Untouchable caste was thought to comprise only inferior people who were so repulsive that an individual who accidentally touched one would have to engage in extensive ritual ablutions to rid himself or herself of the contamination. There is no social movement in a caste system.
An individual born into the Harijan caste cannot change his or her fate. Nor can someone be demoted to a lower caste; the caste into which a person is born is the caste he or she will have for life. Castes and Work Caste dictates the type of work an individual is allowed to do. Members of the Shudra caste, for example, are relegated to performing hard physical work regardless of their skill, intelligence, or ambition. Those born into the Brahman caste must attend university or become a member of the clergy, even though they may show no interest or aptitude toward that end.
Castes and Marriage In a true caste system, societies practice endogamy, or marriage within one’s own group or caste, with marriage between castes strictly forbidden. Traditionally, love is not used as a basis for marriage in a caste system. Rather, parents arrange marriages, sometimes when the future bride and groom are still children. The Indian concept of marriage is that while love is wonderful, it is neither a necessary nor desirable condition of marriage. If the couple is considered compatible in terms of major demographic variables, then the marriage is considered appropriate.
Caste is one of the important variables, along with religion and educational level. Modern India’s caste system has many more than the original five castes. Because the distinctions between these numerous castes have blurred over time, some people marry outside their caste. In general, however, caste is still considered an important determinant of whom one will marry. When people do marry outside of their caste, they are likely to marry someone whose caste is only a few levels away from their own. Castes and Socializing One’s caste also determines social contact.
Friendships, and relationships in general, are rare among members of different castes. They neither live nor work near each other and rarely have any contact with one another. South Africa’s Apartheid System The apartheid system of South Africa is another example of a caste system. The term apartheid refers to the total separation of the races. White Europeans colonized South Africa starting in the seventeenth century, and the area remained part of the British Empire until its independence in 1961. The policy of apartheid, introduced in 1948, relegated black people to a caste far below that of whites.
Black people could not vote, receive an education, or mix with whites in any way. The work of Nelson Mandela and others who fought for black equality have made apartheid illegal in South Africa, but, like the caste system in India, some prejudice and discrimination remain. Class System In a class system, an individual’s place in the social system is based on achieved statuses, which are statuses that we either earn or choose and that are not subject to where or to whom we were born. Those born within a class system can choose their educational level, careers, and spouses.
Social mobility, or movement up or down the social hierarchy, is a major characteristic of the class system. Social class (attributes, categories). For centuries, sociologists have analyzed social stratification, its root causes, and its effects on society. Theorists Karl Marx and Max Weber disagreed about the nature of class, in particular. Other sociologists applied traditional frameworks to stratification. Karl Marx based his conflict theory on the idea that modern society has only two classes of people: the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.
The bourgeoisie are the owners of the means of production: the factories, businesses, and equipment needed to produce wealth. The proletariat are the workers. According to Marx, the bourgeoisie in capitalist societies exploit workers. The owners pay them enough to afford food and a place to live, and the workers, who do not realize they are being exploited, have a false consciousness, or a mistaken sense, that they are well off. They think they can count on their capitalist bosses to do what was best for them. Marx foresaw a workers’ revolution.
As the rich grew richer, Marx hypothesized that workers would develop a true class consciousness, or a sense of shared identity based on their common experience of exploitation by the bourgeoisie. The workers would unite and rise up in a global revolution. Once the dust settled after the revolution, the workers would then own the means of production, and the world would become communist. No one stratum would control the access to wealth. Everything would be owned equally by everyone. Marx’s vision did not come true.
As societies modernized and grew larger, the working classes became more educated, acquiring specific job skills and achieving the kind of financial well-being that Marx never thought possible. Instead of increased exploitation, they came under the protection of unions and labor laws. Skilled factory workers and tradespeople eventually began to earn salaries that were similar to, or in some instances greater than, their middle-class counterparts. Max Weber took issue with Marx’s seemingly simplistic view of stratification.
Weber argued that owning property, such as factories or equipment, is only part of what determines a person’s social class. Social class for Weber included power and prestige, in addition to property or wealth. People who run corporations without owning them still benefit from increased production and greater profits. Prestige and Property Weber argued that property can bring prestige, since people tend to hold rich people in high regard. Prestige can also come from other sources, such as athletic or intellectual ability. In those instances, prestige can lead to property, if people are willing to pay for access to prestige.
For Weber, wealth and prestige are intertwined. Power and Wealth Weber believed that social class is also a result of power, which is merely the ability of an individual to get his or her way, despite opposition. Wealthy people tend to be more powerful than poor people, and power can come from an individual’s prestige. Sociologists still consider social class to be a grouping of people with similar levels of wealth, prestige, and power. Davis and Moore: The Functionalist Perspective Sociologists Kingsley Davis and Wilbert Moore believed that stratification serves an important function in society.
In any society, a number of tasks must be accomplished. Some tasks, such as cleaning streets or serving coffee in a restaurant, are relatively simple. Other tasks, such as performing brain surgery or designing skyscrapers, are complicated and require more intelligence and training than the simple tasks. Those who perform the difficult tasks are therefore entitled to more power, prestige, and money. Davis and Moore believed that an unequal distribution of society’s rewards is necessary to encourage people to take on the more complicated and important work that required many years of training.
They believed that the rewards attached to a particular job reflect its importance to society. Melvin Tumin Sociologist Melvin Tumin took issue with Davis and Moore’s theory. He disagreed with their assumption that the relative importance of a particular job can always be measured by how much money or prestige is given to the people who performed those jobs. That assumption made identifying important jobs difficult. Were the jobs inherently important, or were they important because people received great rewards to perform them?
If society worked the way Davis and Moore had envisioned, Tumin argued, all societies would be meritocracies, systems of stratification in which positions are given according to individual merit. Ability would determine who goes to college and what jobs someone holds. Instead, Tumin found that gender and the income of an individual’s family were more important predictors than ability or what type of work an individual would do. Men are typically placed in a higher social stratification than women, regardless of ability. A family with more money can afford to send its children to college.
As college graduates, these children are more likely to assume high-paying, prestigious jobs. Conversely, people born into poverty are more likely to drop out of school and work low-paying jobs in order to survive, thereby shutting them off from the kinds of positions that are associated with wealth, power, and prestige. 3. Elite theory (value, altimetry approach). Elite theory developed in part as a reaction to Marxism. It rejected the Marxian idea that a classless society having an egalitarian structure could be realized after class struggle in every society.
It regards Marxism as an ideology rather than an objective analysis of social systems. According to Elite theory man can never be liberated from the subjugation of an elite structure. The term Elite refers to those who excel. The classical elite theorists identify the governing elite in terms of superior personal qualities of those who exercise power. However later versions of elite theory places less emphasis on the personal qualities of the powerful and more on the institutional framework of the society. They argued that the hierarchical organization of social institutions allows a minority to monopolize power.
Another criticism of the elite theories against the Marxian view of distribution of power is that the ruling class too large and amorphous a group to be able to effectively wield power. In their view power is always exercised by a small cohesive group of the elite. Elite theory argues that all societies are divided into two main groups a ruling minority and the ruled. This situation is inevitable. If the proletarian revolution occurs it will merely result in the replacement of one ruling elite by another. Classical elite theory was propounded by Pareto and Mosca.
Social mobility (vertical, horizontal) Social Mobility Individuals are recognized in society through the statuses they occupy and the roles they enact. The society as well as individuals is dynamic. Men are normally engaged in endless endeavor to enhance their statuses in society, move from lower position to higher position, secure superior job from an inferior one. For various reasons people of the higher status and position may be forced to come down to a lower status and position. Thus people in society continue to move up and down the status scale.
This movement is called social mobility. The study of social mobility is an important aspect of social stratification. Infact it is an inseparable aspect of social stratification system because the nature, form, range and degree of social mobility depends on the very nature of stratification system. Stratification system refers to the process of placing individuals in different layers or strata.
According to Wallace and Wallace social mobility is the movement of a person or persons from one social status to another. W.P Scott has defined sociology as the movement of an individual or group from one social class or social stratum to another. Types of Social Mobility Horizontal And Vertical Social Mobility A distinction is made between horizontal and vertical social mobility. The former refers to change of occupational position or role of an individual or a group without involving any change in its position in the social hierarchy, the latter refers essentially to changes in the position of an individual or a group along the social hierarchy.
When a rural laborer comes to the city and becomes an industrial worker or a manager takes a position in another company there are no significant changes in their position in the hierarchy. Those are the examples of horizontal mobility. Horizontal mobility is a change in position without the change in statue. It indicates a change in position within the range of the same status. It is a movement from one status to its equalivalent. But if an industrial worker becomes a businessman or lawyer he has radically changed his position in the stratification system.
This is an example of vertical mobility. Vertical mobility refers to a movement of an individual or people or groups from one status to another. It involves change within the lifetime of an individual to a higher or lower status than the person had to begin with. Forms Of Vertical Social Mobility The vertical mobility can take place in two ways – individuals and groups may improve their position in the hierarchy by moving upwards or their position might worsen and they may fall down the hierarchy.
When individuals get into seats of political position; acquire money and exert influence over others because of their new status they are said to have achieved individual mobility. Like individuals even groups also attain high social mobility. When a dalit from a village becomes an important official it is a case of upward mobility. On the other hand an aristocrat or a member of an upper class may be dispossessed of his wealth and he is forced to enter a manual occupation. This is an example of downward mobility. Inter-Generational Social Mobility Time factor is an important element in social mobility.
On the basis of the time factor involved in social mobility there is another type of inter-generational mobility. It is a change in status from that which a child began within the parents, household to that of the child upon reaching adulthood. It refers to a change in the status of family members from one generation to the next. For example a farmer’s son becoming an officer. It is important because the amount of this mobility in a society tells us to what extent inequalities are passed on from one generation to the next. If there is very little inter-generational mobility .
inequality is clearly deeply built into the society for people’ life chances are being determined at the moment of birth. When there is a mobility people are clearly able to achieve new statuses through their own efforts, regardless of the circumstances of their birth. Intra-Generational Mobility Mobility taking place in personal terms within the lifespan of the same person is called intra-generational mobility. It refers to the advancement in one’s social level during the course of one’s lifetime. It may also be understood as a change in social status which occurs within a person’s adult career.
For example a person working as a supervisor in a factory becoming its assistant manager after getting promotion. Structural mobility Structural mobility is a kind of vertical mobility. Structural mobility refers to mobility which is brought about by changes in stratification hierarchy itself. It is a vertical movement of a specific group, class or occupation relative to others in the stratification system. It is a type of forced mobility for it takes place because of the structural changes and not because of individual attempts.
For example historical circumstances or labor market changes may lead to the rise of decline of an occupational group within the social hierarchy. An influx of immigrants may also alter class alignments -especially if the new arrivals are disproportionately highly skilled or unskilled. Social Classes in the United States Socioeconomic status is just a way of describing the stratification system of the United States. The class system, also imperfect in classifying all Americans, nonetheless offers a general understanding of American social stratification.

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