SOC102H1 Lecture Notes - Victim Blaming, Social Inequality, Imagined Communities
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What is Social Inequality? 11/21/2011 12:57:00 PM
Life is a stacked deck
Life is a gamble – everybody knows that.
In that sense, this course is also about “heavy odds” – the chances against
most people winning.
People who start life rich, powerful or famous are more likely to finish life
Life is a poker game – a game of skill and cunning -- played with a stacked
Inequality: why some people always win
The dictionary defines inequality as the quality of being unequal or uneven
Inequality is about hierarchical (i.e., better-worse) differences between
any two people (or things), A and B.
Sociology is dedicated to explaining how this inequality “game” works and
the reasons most people face heavy odds
It also means showing social inequality leads to crime, sickness, addiction,
violence and sometimes-even war for society as a whole.
Our personal experience tells us there are many natural inequalities
We know that simply by looking around us and talking to other people.
The question for sociologists is, how do these natural inequalities become
social inequalities, and with what results?
Finally, sociologists are interested in how people invent or construct
The example of beauty
Consider for example the staging or performance of inequalities in
connection with physical beauty.
Why do some societies reward beauty – especially in women – more highly
than they reward, say, intelligence?
Flipped around, what are the unwelcome consequences of being plain
To explain the creation, performance, and preservation of social inequalities,
we need to develop some sociological concepts.
The intersection of inequalities
In fact, the course is largely organized around understanding the key
processes of inequality
As we will see, a number of social characteristics – for example, class,
gender, race, and age – significantly affect people‟s well being.
Intersectionality makes it hard to predict the effects of inequality simply
adding together individual disadvantages.
Consider the status inconsistency of women
Though women tend to have lower status than men in most societies, each
“type” of woman will have a different experience
Around discrimination in the workplace or in respect to domestic violence,
Sociologist Gerhard Lenski showed that status consistency matters.
Status inconsistency has consequences for social action that we cannot
predict from the so-called dimensions of status alone.
Intersectionality also means that people in disadvantaged conditions (e.g.,
women, racial minorities, or poor people) may find it hard to share a
common identity and band together for political action.
However, this complexity does not mean that everyone‟s life is different and
sociologists cannot draw general conclusions or make general theories about
Habits of Inequality Theory
All societies display social inequality of varying kinds – for example, class
inequality, gender inequality, age inequality, racial or ethnic inequality.
These social inequalities are socially constructed: that is, collectively
imagined on the basis of a supposedly important natural difference (e.g.,
sex, skin color)
Inequality Has Harmful Consequences
All types of social inequality have negative consequences for the people
they disadvantage, and for society as a whole
The most extreme forms of inequality produce the most extreme
consequences, including poor mental and physical health, crime, and war
Societies vary in Social Inequality
Societies vary in the degree and kinds of social inequality they display.
The Scandinavian countries show least inequality
Less developed societies, and the US, show the most inequality
Canada falls somewhere near the middle of the pack
Societies with the widest variety and intensity of inequality are most likely to
display clear and long-lasting patterns we call “habits of inequality”
Correlates of the Inequality Habit
These habits of inequality are related to other cultural patterns: especially,
The Cultural Habits: S-N-P-N-S
All types of social inequality display similar patterns or cultural “habits” that
include the following (S-N-P-N-S):
o Social differentiation
o Narratives of blame
o Practices of oppression
o Narratives of validation
o Strategies of resistance
S = Social Differentiation
Social differentiation is the practice of identifying different “kinds” of people
who are assumed to be essentially and unchangeably different, and whose
difference is consequential for social and economic life
This process is the transformation of natural differences (for example, in skin
colour or sex) into socially important differences and inequalities.
N = Narratives of Blame
Narratives of blame are socially constructed accounts that attach social or
moral qualities to different groups to explain why advantaged people are
advantaged and disadvantaged people are disadvantaged.