SOC 885 Study Guide - Final Guide: Alain De Botton, Social Inequality, Meritocracy
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SOC Week 10 1
Chapter 10: Social Inequality
The term used to talk about social inequality is Social Class
Order Theorists: Social inequality is inevitable.
Biological Determinist Argument
Change Theorists: More important question is how inequalities become structured.
Link inequalities of wealth and income to the economic structure and class relationships.
They accept differences of ability among people.
Emphasize forms of social inequality in the capitalist economic system.
Expansion of globalization and neoliberalism has increased the divide between the haves and have-nots
POINTS TO PONDER
Most of us connect inequalities of wealth and power not to structural arrangements but to individual characteristics.
Inability to succeed is seen as a result of failure on the part of individual.
Unconsciously, most people adhere to liberal notions of inequality
Biological Determinists: underdevelopment of some nations is a proof that certain groups are biologically inferior.
Liberal Argument: Global inequality is a result of some inherent disadvantage that keeps certain countries from fairly
competing. E.g., overpopulation, corruption, low levels of technology. If given help in these areas, they will develop and
Change Theorists: Problems noted by liberals are the result, not the cause, of underdevelopment. E.g., capitalism grew
because of European expansion.
LIBERALISM & INEQUALITY
Essence of liberalism is fairness, equal ability to compete.
There are winners and losers in a race.
Structured inequality is acceptable as long as the ‘race’ for positions within the hierarchy appears to be reasonably fair.
o Liberalism, like capitalism is full of contradictions. It goals are of equality, democracy, and individual human rights
and freedoms, but helps mask structural basis that sets limits to aspirations.
o ‘Race for life’ under the conditions of capitalism is never truly fair.
o Race of life is set up to prevent most people from winning.
o Liberalism masks structural inequality.
o Any failure appears to be the fault of the individual
MARKERS OF SOCIAL INEQUALITY
o External markers-housing and manner of dress, speech, mannerism, hobbies.
Markers are socially created and can change over time
According to Veblen, markers:
o Style or taste
o Both leisure and the consumption of conspicuous goods.
Alain de Botton (2004):
o Humans need affirmation from others, wealth and material objects in today’s world are things that are valued
o However, underlying basis of structural inequality is more than style
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SOC Week 10 2
o Unequal allocation of resources is the result of private appropriation of surplus value.
o Dominant world view of capitalism directs attention to individual differences rather than structural basis of
SOCIAL INEQUALITY IN CANADA
1997-2007: Top ten CEO’s in Canada saw salary increase by 444%
1976-2009: The earning gap between the lowest 20% and top 20% of earners grew from $92,300 to $177,500.
By end of 2009: 3.8% of Canadian households controlled $1.78 trillion of financial wealth or 67% of the total
Everybody except the richest 10% of families have seen their work time in paid workforce increase.
Younger workers are consistently on lower earning track than older, more experienced workers (men divide occurred at age
40 years; for women at 30 years.
Meritocracy: A society where advancement is based on individual ability or achievement is commonly referred to as
o Capitalist societies are based on meritocracies
o Functionalism: certain components of a society serve particular functions
o There are no sharp cleavages such as classes but simply differences of ranking or privilege
o Social stratification is so prevalent, it must serve an essential social function.
Davis-Moore looked at division of labor to explain inequality:
o Unequal allocation of societal rewards, both material and social, is both universal and functionally necessary in all
o unequal rewards, ensure that all jobs ‘functionally necessary’ are filled
o e.g., medical doctor should be paid more than a hospital orderly because it is more specialized and important.
o Critique: jobs termed as ‘women’s work’ e.g., childcare worker, nurses, social worker are undervalued and
underpaid, even though they require high level of training and are functionally important.
Canadian society is only ‘partial meritocracy’
Stresses the privileges of those at top of social hierarchy e.g., best education, connections for jobs
These individuals have easier access to money that gives them a head start
One’s structural position is as much determinant of success as inherent capabilities
In current capitalist societies, everyone does not have equal opportunity to achieve wealth and power. Certain status
groups are consistently disadvantaged e.g. poor, immigrants, Aboriginal people, women, disabled, people of color
SOCIAL MOBILITY IN CANADA
o Canadian society is only ‘partial meritocracy
o Stresses the privileges of those at top of social hierarchy
o e.g., best education, connections for jobs
o These individuals have easier access to money that gives them a head start
o One’s structural position is as much determinant of success as inherent capabilities
o In current capitalist societies, everyone does not have equal opportunity to achieve wealth and power. Certain
status groups are consistently disadvantaged e.g. poor, immigrants, Aboriginal people, women, disabled, people of
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