Friday, July 15, 2011

5. Stratification and Mobility:

5. Stratification and Mobility:


Social stratification is defined as the inequalities that exist between individuals and groups within human societies. Often we think of stratification in terms of assets and properties, but it can also occur because of other attributes gender, age, religious affiliation or military rank.

All socially stratified system has three basic characteristics.

1.The ranking apply to social categories of people who share a common characteristics without necessarily interacting or identifying with one another.

2.People,s life experiences and opportunities depend heavily on how their social category is ranked.

3.The ranks of different social categories tends to change very slowly over time.


Slavery is an extreme form of inequality, in which certain people are owned as property by others. The legal conditions of slave ownership have varied considerable from society to society. Sometimes slaves were deprived of almost all rights by law- as was the case on southern plantations in the united states- while in other societies, there position was more akin to that of servants. For example, in the ancient Greek City Athens, Some slaves occupied positions of great responsibility.


A caste system is a social system in which ones social status is given for life. In caste societies, therefore, different social levels are closed, so that all individuals must remain at the social level of their throughout the life. Everyone’s social status is based on personal characteristics – such perceived race or ethnicity (often based on physical characteristics such as colour of skin), parental religion or parental caste that are accidents of birth and are therefore not changeable. A person is born into a caste and remains there for entire life.

They have typically be found in agriculture societies that have not yet developed into industrialised capitalist economies, such as rural India or South Africa prior to the end of white rule.

Caste in India.

The few remaining caste system in the world are being seriously challenged by globalisation. The Indian caste system, for example reflect Hindu religious beliefs, there are four major castes, each roughly associated with broad occupational groupings. The four caste consists of Brahmins(scholars and spiritual leaders) on top, followed by the Kshatriyas(soldiers and rulers), the vaishyas(farmers and merchants) and the Shudras(labourers and artisans). Beneath the four caste are called untouchables or Dalits (oppressed people) who as their names suggests are to be avoided at all costs. Untouchables are limited to the worst jobs in society such as removing human waste and they often resort to begging and searching food in the garbage. In traditional areas of India, some members of higher caste still regard physical contact with untouchables to be so contaminating that a mere touch requires cleansing rituals, India made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of caste in 1949, but aspects of the system remain in full force today, particularly in rural areas.

As India’s modern capitalist economy brings people of different castes together, whether it be the same workplace, aeroplane or restaurant, it is increasingly difficult to maintain the rigid barriers required to sustain the caste system. As more and more India is touched by the globalisation, it seems reasonable to assume that its caste system will weaken further.


Class systems differ in many respects from slavery, castes or estates. We can define a class as a large scale grouping of people who share common economic resources, which strongly influence the type of life style they are able to lead. Ownership of wealth together with occupation are the chief bases of class differences. Classes differ from earlier forms of stratification in four main respects.

1. Class system are fluid the boundaries between classes are never clear cut. There are no formal restrictions on intermarriage between people from different classes.

2. Class positions are in some part achieved. An individual’s class is not simply given at birth as is the case in the other types of stratification systems social mobility- movement upward downward in a class structure- is more common than in other types.

3. Class is economically based classes depend on economic differences between group of individuals – inequalities in the possession of material resources. In other types of stratification systems, non economic factors such as race in the former (South African caste system) are generally most important.

4. Class system are large scale and impersonal. In other types of stratification systems, inequalities are expressed primarily in personal relationships of duty or obligation- between slave and master and lower and higher caste individuals class system by contrast operate mainly through large scale impersonal associations. For instance one major basis of class differences is in inequalities of pay and working conditions.

Theories of class and stratification

Karl Marx’s Theory

Most of the Marx’s works are concerned with stratification and above all with social class yet surprisingly he failed to provide a systematic analysis of the concept of class. The manuscript Marx was working on at the time of his death(subsequently published as part of its major work, Capital) break off just at the point where he posed the question “What constitute a class?” Marx’s concept of class has thus to be reconstructed from the body of his writings as a whole. Since the various passages where he discussed class are not fully consistent there have been many disputes between scholars about the ‘What Marx really meant’, The main outlines of his views are fairly clear.

The nature of class

For Marx a class is a group of people who stand in a common relationship to the means of production – the means by which they gain a livelihood. Before the rise of modern industry, modern industry, the means of production consisted primarily of land and the instruments used to tend crops or pastoral animals. In pre industrial societies , therefore the two main classes consisted of those who own the land(aristocrats, gentry or slave holders) and those actively engaged in producing from it(serfs, slaves and free peasantry). In modern industrial societies, factories, offices, machinery and the wealth or capital needed to buy them have become more important. The two main classes consists of those who own these new means of production – industrialist or capitalists – and those who earn their living by selling their labour to them- the working class or in the now some what archaic term Marx some times favoured, the Proletariat.

According to Marx the relationship of class is an exploitative one. In feudal societies exploitation often took the form of the direct transfer of procedure from the peasantry to the aristocracy. Serfs were compelled to give a certain proportion of their production to their aristocratic master or had to work for number of days each month in his fields to produce crops to be consumed by him and his retinue. In modern capitalist societies the source of exploitation is less obvious and Marx devoted much attention to trying to clarify its nature, In the course of the working day, Marx reasoned, workers produced more than is actually needed by employers to repay the cost of hiring them. This surplus value is the source of the profit which capitalists are able to put their own use.

Marx was struck by the inequalities created by the capitalist system. Although in earlier times aristocrats lived a life of luxury, completely different from that of the peasantry; agrarian societies were relatively poor. Even if there had been no aristocracy standards of living would inevitably have been meagre. With the development of modern industry, how ever wealth is produced on a scale far beyond anything seen before but workers have little access to their wealth. They remain relatively poor while the wealth accumulated by the propertied class grows Marx used the term Pauperization to describe the process by which the working class grows increasingly impoverished in relation to the capitalist class. Even if workers become more affluent in absolute terms the gap separating them from the capitalist class stretch ever wider .These inequalities between the capitalist and the working class were not strictly in nature. Marx noted how the development of modern factories and the mechanisation of production means that work frequently becomes dull and oppressive in the extreme. The labour which is the source of our wealth is often both physically wearing and mentally tedious – as in the case of a factory hand whose job consists of routine tasks carried on day in. Day out in an encouraging environment.

Max Weber’s theory

Weber’s approach to stratification was built on the analysis developed by Marx, but he modified and elaborated it. Like Marx, Weber regarded society as characterized by conflicts over power and resources. Yet where Marx saw polarized class relations and economic issues at the heart of all social conflict, Weber developed a more complex, multi dimensional view of society. Social stratification is not simply a matter of class, sccording to Weber but is shaped by two further aspects; status and party. These three overlapping elements of stratification produce an enormous number of possible positions within society, rather than the more rigid bipolar modal which Marx proposed.

Although Weber accepted Marx’s views that class is founded on objectively given economic conditions, he saw a greater variety of economic factors as important in class formation than were recognised by the Marx. According to Weber, class divisions derive not only from control or lack of control of the means of the production, but from economic differences which have nothing to directly with the property. Such resources include especially the skills and credentials, or qualifications, which effect the types of job people are able to obtain, Weber believed that an individual’s market position strongly influences his or her overall life chances. Those in managerial or professional occupations earn more and have more favourable conditions of work, for example, than the people in blue collar jobs. The qualifications they posses, such as degrees, diplomas and skills they have acquired, make them more ‘marketable’ than others without such qualifications. At a lower level among blue collar workers, skilled craftsmen are able to secure higher wages than the semi skilled or un skilled.

Status in Weber’s theory refers to differences between social groups in the social groups honour or prestige they are accorded by others. In traditional societies, status was often determined on the basis of a person gained through multiple interactions in different context over a period of years. Yet as societies grew more complex, it become impossible for status always to be accorded in this way, Instead, according to Weber, status came to be expressed through people’s style of life . Markers and symbols status – such as housing, dress, manner of speech and occupation- all help to shape an individuals social standing in the eyes of others. People sharing the same status for the community in which there is a sense of shared identity.

While Marx believed that status distinction are the result of class divisions in society. Weber argued that status often varies independently of class divisions. Possessions of wealth normally tends to confer the high status, but there are many exceptions. The term ’genteel poverty’ refers to one example. In Britain, Individuals from aristocratic families continue to enjoy considerable social esteem even when there fortunes have been lost. Conversely, ‘new money’ is often looked on with some scorn by the well established wealthy.

In modern societies, Weber pointed out, party formation is an important aspect of power formation is an important aspect of power, and can influence stratification independently of class and status. Party defines a group of Individuals who work together because they have common backgrounds, aims or interests. Often a party works in an organized fashion towards a specific goal which is in the interest of the party membership. Marx tended to explain both status differences and party organisation in terms of class.

Neither in fact can be reduced to class divisions, Weber argued, even though each is influenced by them; both can in turn influence the economic circumstances of individuals and groups, thereby affecting class. Parties may appeal to concerns cutting across class differences; for example, parties may be based on religious affiliation or nationalist ideals. A Marxist might attempt to explain the conflicts between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland in class terms, since more Catholics than Protestants are also working clas in Background. The parties to which people are affiliated express religious as well as class differences.

Weber’r writing on stratification are important because they show that other dimensions of stratification besides class strongly influence people’s lives. While Marx tried to reduce social stratification to class divisions alone, Weber drew attentions to the complex interplay o class, status and party as separate aspects of social stratification creating a more flexible basis for analysing stratification than that provided by Marx.

Social Mobility

In studying stratification, we have to consider not only the differences between economic positions or occupations, but also what happens to the individuals who occupy them. The term ‘social mobility’ refers to the movement of individuals and groups between socio economic positions. Vertical mobility means movements up or down the socioeconomic scale. Those who gain in property, income or status are said to be upwardly mobile while those who move in the opposite direction are downwardly mobile, In modern societies there is also a great deal of lateral mobility, which refers to geographical movements between neighbourhoods, towns or regions. Vertical and lateral mobility are often combined. For instance someone working in a company in one city might be promoted to a higher position in a branch of the firm located in another town, or even in a different country.

There are two ways of studying social mobility. First, we can look at individuals own careers – how far they move up or down the social scale in the course of their working lives. This is usually called intra generational mobility. Alternatively, we can analyse how far children enter the same type of occupation as their parents or grand parents. Mobility across the generations is called intergenerational mobility

Conclusion: the importance of class

Although the traditional hold of the class is most certainly weakening in some ways, particularly in terms of people’s identities, class divisions remain at the heart of core economic inequalities in modern societies. Class continues to exert great influence on our lives and class membership is correlated with a variety of inequalities from life expectancy and overall physical health to access to education well paid jobs.

Inequalities between the poor and the more affluent have expanded in Britain over the last three decades. Is growing class inequality a price that has to be paid to secure economic development? This assumption was particularly prominent during the period of the Thatcher government after 1979. The pursuit of wealth, the reasoning was, creates economic development because it is a motivating force encouraging innovation and drive. Many argue that in the present day, globalisation and the deregulation of economic markets are leading to a widening of the gap between rich and poor and a ‘hardening’ of class inequalities.

Yet it is possible to remember that our activities are never completely determined by the class divisions: many people experience social mobility. The expansion of higher education, the growing accessibility of professional qualification and the emergence of the Internet and the ‘new economy’ are all also presenting important news channels for upward mobility. Such developments are further eroding old class and stratification patterns and are contributing to a more fluid, meritocratic order.


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