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SOC102H1 Study Guide - Final Guide: Anomie, Consumerism, Conditionality

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Social Inequality Exam Review
~LEC 1 ~
Introduction to Social Inequality
Max Weber: introduced term ‘life chances’ - recognizes the chancy, somewhat
uncontrollable nature of real life.
Life chances: depend most importantly on our social and economic background. Socio-
economic starting point depends on our parents’ class and status.
Economic capital
Cultural capital
Social capital
Rags to Riches: Some people in industrial societies overcome the odds against them,
rising from rags to riches, poverty and powerlessness to wealth and power.
Social inequality: receiving more or less of lifes rewards.
Sociologists & inequality:
How people dramatize or perform inequalities
How people view inequalities
How people explain inequalities
How people justify inequalities, and
How people invent or construct inequalities.
Multiplicative effects: people with two or more disadvantageous qualities are more than
twice worse off than people with only one.
Intersectionality: Disadvantageous qualities can interact with one another
Conditionality: The conditions under which particular traits or characteristics (e.g.,
gender, race) produce a significant social disadvantage.
Theory of Intersectionality: proposes that various biological and social categories such
as gender, race, class, ability, and sexual orientation interact on multiple levels to produce
systematic social inequality.
Gerhard Lenski: Introduced class consistency, which confirmed the importance of
Class consistency: the majority of people will be consistent in their class status (ex.
Lower class stay lower class, high class stay high class, and middle class sometimes

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Class inconsistency: ex. High education, low income -- feel uncomfortable about their
situation and often act on this in rebellious ways
Lives are complex, not unique: Sociologists cannot readily predict a person’s life
chances by merely averaging individual advantages and disadvantages.
People’s beliefs: Sociologists not only study objective social problems, where the harm
done is clearly evident we also study people’s beliefs and the social consequences of
these beliefs.
Claims making: A process by which people try to capture public attention and mobilize
opinion around particular problems and their possible solutions (seen in social
Social inequality: A social problem characterized by visible, measurable features that
threaten people’s well-being; and strong beliefs in inequality as a social problem that
warrants collective, remedial action.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau: French philosopher who offered the first theory about social
inequality over two hundred years ago.
Social inequality involves privilege: a right, advantage, favour, or immunity specially
granted to…a certain individual, group, or class, and withheld from certain others or all
others (according to JJR^)
Inequality: The unequal (and usually unjustifiable) privileges, rewards, or opportunities
that different people receive within a given society./unfairness
Inherited disadvantage: The disadvantage stemming from social inequality is usually
inherited. Those who inherit this disadvantaged status have little hope of escaping, and
will likely live their entire lives in this condition.
Capitalism: The global spread of capitalism, besides encouraging economic growth,
disperses and preserves social inequality to a previously unknown degree.
Ms. Jones: Imagine you are an elementary school teacher like Ms. Jones, who must
decide how to divide her time in helping her fourth grade students learn to read.
Christopher Jencks: Suggests 5 approaches to dividing equality 1) democratic equality,
2) moralistic justice, 3) weak humane justice, 4) strong humane justice, 4) utilitarianism

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John Rawls: Always benefit the disadvantaged. The unequal distribution of scarce goods
—like power, money, healthcare, and so on—is justifiable only when it increases the
advantage of the least advantaged groups in society. This principle of fairness is different
from the one put forward by Rousseau, because it makes need the criterion for all
decisions. If we all imagine ourselves in the position of the least advantaged person in
society, we will act (rationally) in the most just and equitable ways. This is not because
we are benevolent saints, but because we do not want to make our own position any
worse than it is already.
“Merit” is problematic: Far more familiar in our society is the notion of equality as
rewarding people according to their merit. But, do we deserve praise and rewards for
results we did not achieve by ourselves (e.g., through inheritance).
The functional theory of stratification (Kingsley Davis and Wilbert Moore): In all
human societies, some positions have more functional importance than others, and
deserve more rewards as a consequence. Because people who can hold these important
jobs are rare, society will have to persuade those with the necessary aptitude to learn
these special skills.
Flaw of “the functional theory of stratification”:
1) Ignores the (unearned) inheritance of wealth and status.
2) Ignores class conflict, gender conflict, and other disagreements about
society’s most important roles.
3) Fails to explain a wide range of anomalies: for example, why leading
figures in organized crime, sports, and entertainment are rewarded with high
wages and social prominence.
4) A select few members of society are rewarded far too much, while the
majority are rewarded far too little.
The role of education: Education is the single best resource you can use to improve your
status if you are poor or middle-class. But the social class into which we were born
predicts educational attainment.
Social development and social mobility: Social mobility based on equal opportunity
may not be able to solve the problems stemming from social inequality.
Hayek: Proposes that the poor are better off with this unequal distribution of rewards
than they would be under any other circumstances.
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