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Sociology (300)
01:920:101 (90)
Lecture 8

Lecture 8

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Rutgers University
Professor Wilhelms

Social Stratification C hapter 8 C Social Stratification I. Why Focus on the World’s Richest and Poorest? A. When sociologists study social stratification, they focus on the connection between social location and their life chances. B. Social location is a product of the categories humans have created. II. The Extremes of Poverty and Wealth in the World A. Absolute poverty is a situation in which people lack the resources to satisfy the basic needs no person should be without. 1. The United Nations has set the absolute poverty threshold in developing countries at the equivalent of US$1.00 per day. The World Bank (2009), on the other hand, believes that threshold should be set at US$1.25 per day. According to the United Nations (UN) threshold, 1.1 billion people live in a state of absolute poverty. Based on the World Bank threshold, that number is 1.4 billion people. B. Relative poverty is measured not by some objective standard, but rather by comparing a person’s situation against that of others who are more advantaged in some way. C. Extreme wealth – The most excessive form of wealth, in which a very small proportion of people in the world have money, material possessions, and other assets (minus liabilities) in such abundance that a small fraction of it (if spent appropriately) could provide adequate food, safe water, sanitation, and basic health care for the 1 billion poorest people on the planet. D. Core Concept 1: When sociologists study systems of social stratification, they seek to understand how people are ranked on a scale of social worth and how that ranking affects life chances. 1. Social stratification - the systematic process of categorizing and ranking people on a scale of social worth such that the ranking affects life chances in unequal ways. 2. Life chances - the probability that an individual’s life will follow a certain path and will turn out a certain way. 3. Social inequality - A situation in which these valued resources and desired outcomes (that is, a college education, long life) are distributed in such a way that people have unequal amounts and/ or access to them. III. Ascribed versus Achieved Statuses A. Ascribed statuses - Social positions assigned on the basis of attributes people possess through no fault of their own—those attributes are acquired at birth (such as skin shade, sex, or hair color), develop over time (such as height, weight, baldness, wrinkles, or reproductive capacity), or are possessed through no effort or fault of their own (such as the country into which one is 83 Chapter 8 born and religious affiliation “inherited” from parents). B. Achieved statuses - Attained through some combination of personal choice, effort, and ability. C. Ascribed and achieved characteristics may seem clearly distinguishable, but that is not always the case. 1. Status value -a level of respect or admiration for a status apart from any person who happens to occupy it. 2. Esteem - the reputation that someone occupying an ascribed or achieved status has earned from people who know and observe the person. B. Life Chances across and Within Countries a. The chance that a baby will survive the first year of life depends largely on the country where it is born. b. Life chances vary within countries as well. i. In the U.S., an average of 8 babies per 1,000 live births die before reaching age one. Of course, those chances vary by racial and ethnic classification. IV. Caste and Class Systems A. Core Concept 2: Caste and class systems of stratification are opposite, extreme points on a continuum. The two systems differ in the ease of social mobility, the relative importance of achieved and ascribed statuses, and the extent to which those considered unequal are segregated. B. Real-world stratification systems fall somewhere on a continuum between two extremes. 1. Caste system (or “closed” system) - people are ranked by ascribed characteristics (over which they have no control) 2. Class system (or “open” system) - people are ranked by merit, talent, ability, or past performance C. Within a class system, movement from one social class to another is termed social mobility V. Conceptualizing Inequality D. Core Concept 3: Functionalists maintain that poverty exists because it contributes to overall order and stability in society and that inequality is the mechanism by which societies attract the most qualified people to the most functionally important occupations. 1. Functionalist View of Social Inequality a. Davis and Moore argue that social inequality—the unequal distribution of social rewards—is the device by which societies ensure that the best-qualified people fill the most functionally important occupations. b. Functional importance is defined by: i. The degree to which the occupation is functionally unique (that is, few other people can perform the same function adequately) ii. The degree to which other occupations depend on the one in question 2. The Functions of Poverty 84 Social Stratification a. Herbert Gans (1972) said that poverty performs at least 15 functions including: i. Fill unskilled and dangerous occupations ii. Provide low-cost labor for many industries iii. Serve the affluent iv. Sustain organizations and employees serving the poor v. Purchase products that would otherwise be discarded 3. A Conflict View of Social Inequality a. Core Concept 4: Conflict theorists take issue with the premise that social inequality is the mechanism by which the most important positions in society are filled. i. Melvin M. Tumin (1953) and Richard L. Simpson (1956) point out that some positions command large salaries and bring other valued rewards, even though their contributions to society are questionable. ii. In societies characterized by a complex division of labor, it is very difficult to determine the relative functional importance of any occupation, as the accompanying specialization and interdependence make every position necessary to the overall operation. iii. How much inequality in salary is necessary to ensure that qualified people choose these positions over unskilled ones? 4. A Symbolic Interactionist View of Social Inequality a. Core Concept 5: Symbolic interactionists emphasize how social inequality is communicated and enacted in everyday encounters. i. When symbolic interactionists study social inequality, they seek to understand the experience of social inequality. ii. How is social inequality communicated and how does that inequality shapes social interactions—interactions that involve a self-awareness of one’s superior or inferior position relative to others? iii. Social inequality is also conveyed through symbols that have come to be associated with inferior, superior, and equal statuses. iv. There is a negotiation process by which the involved parties reinforce that inequality in the course of interaction or they ignore, challenge, or change it. VI. Explaining Inequality across Countries 1. Modernization Theory a. Core Concept 6: Modernization theory holds that poor countries are poor because they have yet to develop into modern economies and that their failure to do so is largely the result of internal factors such as a country’s resistance to free- market principles or to the absence of cultural values that drive material success. i. Modernization - a process of economic, social, and cultural transformation in which a country “evolves” from preindustrial 85 Chapter 8 or underdeveloped status to a modern society in the image of the most developed countries. 2. Dependency Theory a. Core Concept 7: Dependency theory holds that, for the most part, poor countries are poor because they are products of a colonial past. i. Colonialism - a form of domination in which a foreign power uses superior military force to impose its political, economic, social, and cultural institutions on an indigenous population so it can control their resources, labor, and markets. ii. Decolonization - a process of undoing colonialism such that the
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