SOC 101 Lecture Notes - Social Stratification, Conspicuous Leisure, Social Inequality

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16 Oct 2011

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Social Inequality
4:31 PM
Social Stratification
Social stratification: society's hierarchical ranking of people into social classes
Social class: group of individuals sharing a position in a social hierarchy, based on birth and
Social status: individual's position within the class structure.
Based on a few key principles:
o All societies redistribute materials and social rewards to individuals. Material resources always
in short supply, stratified system ensures that people who do more or are more capable
receive more material wealth and social recognition.
o For this system to work, people must believe they can achieve wealth and status
o Meritocracy: system of rewards based on personal attributes and demonstrated abilities.
Based on the principle that people achieve what they deserve
o System is relatively stable over time as it transcends any single generation.
o Social mobility: movement between social classes. Few people actually move out of their
social class, our social class is relatively stable. Measured by comparing children's status to
that of their parents (intergenerational mobility); or by comparing an individual's status
position over her or his lifetime (intragenerational mobility). Also used to measure society's
equality of opportunity
o Social class varies in how it presents itself: income vs. prestige. Class is attitudes, values,
prestige, income
o Stratification present in all known human societies, just different in how it is expressed.
o Criteria by which wealth and prestige are granted are considered fair and just by the majority
of the population. Acceptance often grounded in dominant ideology
Social Inequality
Results from collective decisions about what is important in evaluating a person or a group
Results from a system that ranks people from high to low. Considered subjective as they have no
material influence on how well a person can actually perform a particular job
Supported by dominant ideology rather than individual capability
Classism: belief that people's relative worth is at least partly determined by social and economic
Legitimates economic inequality
Constitutes certain perspectives that explains why people are poor:
o Blaming the victim: assumes the poor are responsible for their poverty.
(Oscar Lewis)Culture of poverty: fatalistic belief system held by the poor as an
adaptation to systemic discrimination. Poor people feel marginalised, helpless and
inferior; fatalistic in their view of the future. Suggested that the poor are socialised to
view the world in a certain way; do not appreciate value of deferred gratification: ability
to forgo immediate pleasures in the interest of achieving greater rewards in the future.
o Blaming the system: perspective that holds that systemic discrimination exists within social
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Argues that larger socio economic systems impose certain restrictions of certain
members of society
Deindustrialisation: transformation of an economy from one based on manufacturing to
one based on services. Influences unemployment and poverty levels; the poor lack the
skills needed to compete for new, highly skilled jobs that replace industrial jobs
Closed and Open Social Systems
Closed systems: social system in which status is based on attributes ascribed at birth. "Closed"
because innate attributes can't be changed and allow for little social mobility
o Caste system: ascribed systems of hereditary class designation. Virtually no social mobility.
Determines everything in their lives. Can only change caste through reincarnation: belief
associated with Easter religions that one's essence does not die and instead is reborn in
another form.
Open system: social system in which status is based on achieved attributes. Social mobility is easy
o Class structure: economic hierarchy that categorises groups based on their socio economic
status: social position, based on income, occupational prestige and education.
Property and Occupational Prestige
o Important indicator of where someone is in the class structure
o Divided into income and wealth
o Income: money received annually from all sources. Wealth: net accumulated assets including
homes, land and stocks. Income is what you earn, wealth is what you have.
o Quintiles: a measure that divides population into five categories, each representing 20%.
Occupational prestige
o Income generally correlated to occupational prestige
o People generally agree on what makes a prestigious occupation
o Prestigious occupations generally require university education
Sociological Approaches to Social Stratification
o Davis Moore Thesis: social stratification is functional for society because it ensures that key
social positions are held by the most capable people.
o Social elites have the ability to help their children assume the same social benefits although
there is no guarantee that the children are as capable or skilled as their parents, but they
maintain upper class status
o Ignores discrimination based on gender and race
o Capitalist economy determines the salary of a given occupation is not based on work's value
but market forces
o Ignores impact on poorer classes
Conflict Theory
o Society with social classes is a manifestation of competition between those who have social
power and those who do not.
o Marx: social stratification as a mechanism that institutionalises inequality and promotes social
stability over time. Proletariat's must overthrow the bourgeoisie and capitalism in order to
eliminate social stratification
o Weber: believed Marx's focus on economic production was overly simplistic and failed to
appreciate the multi dimensional nature of social class, inequality and role of cultural values.
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