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Chapter 2

Sociology 2R03 Chapter 2.docx

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Augie Fleras

Chapter 2: Conceptualizing Social Inequality Introduction: problematizing social inequality  Patterns of inequality pertaining to power, privilege or property are the rule rather than the exception  People should be rewarded differently because of their importance to a free market society with a complex division of labour  Inequalities are known to reflect patterns of social stratification that partition society into unequal layers based on criteria such as class, race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, or disability  The subject matter of social inequality is expansive, fundamentally different perspectives yield wildly diverse answers, inequality itself is partially concealed by the founding assumptions and foundational structures of a society’s constitutional order, and nobody iss sure of what a perfectly equal society would look like even if attainable o People’s vision of society, people’s responses will reflect their social location in society, a preferred model of society (functionlist, conflict, etc.), and debate over “what society is for” with respect to what kind of inequality is tolerable and how much of it  Social inequalities are socially constructed conventions created and enforced by those in positions of privilege or power, they are deeply embedded in the principles, institutional design, and operations of society Deconstructing Social Inequality: The social matters  Inequality refers to the unequal access people have to a wide range of material and non material resources, supports, provisions, and opportunities that are widely held as valued and desirable in society and are consequential to our lives; it also refers to the asymmetrical distributions that this unequal access fosters and perpetuates across many sites and spheres  Inequality is about the politics of entitlements in regards to who gets what, how, and why; it reflects conditions and processes in which preferential access to the good things in life are not randomly distributed, rather they are patterened around those human differences defined as sociallt significant for purposes of reward and recognition Social inequality as social stratification  All human societies are unequal and stratified to some extent on the basis of: material resources distribution, biological traits that are imbued with cultural meanings, and groupings of persons based on shared characteristics  Only agricultural-industrial societies can support extremes of structured inequality that rank groups of similarly placed individuals into different layers according to shared commonalities in occupation, income, wealth, and race or ethnicity  Stratification can refer to the differential allocation of scarce resources among social significant groups based on class, race, gender, ethnicity, aboriginality and so on; it can also refer to the differential alignment of persons or groups in relation to scarce resources such as income or educational levels  For Marxists: patterns of stratification reflect an economic dimension involving class relations vis-à-vis relations to the means of production  For Weberians: theories of stratification are multidimensional, including economic class, political power, and status groups related to race and gender  A society is stratified when socially significant groupings of individuals differ as a group vis-à-vis other groups in the amount of valued resources they possess, they are then ranked from highest to lowest  Differential access to valued goods tends to cluster around certain groups of people on the basis of achieved and ascribed status What’s so Social about Social Inequality?  Includes differences in income and wealth as well as dimensions such as discrimination, exclusion, and individual rights such as exposure to violence  Inequality is social and amenable to sociological analysis when it meets four criteria: origin, definition, impact, and treatment o Origin: when perceived to originate in a society or a social context, society takes the blame; socially constructed but ideologically maintained o Definition: social when defined as an issue or concern by society o Inequality is amenable to reform through government action or institutional reform, focus is aimed at root causes o Impact: inequality is social when it exerts a negative impact on society and harms segments thereof, extreme patterns of social inequality may also threaten to undermine the social fabric of society by eroding the trust and predictability that underpins social existence Insight, The social matters: the social determinants of health inequality  According to this model, inequalities in health outcomes arise when one or all of these dimensions are out of whack  Less attention is paid to social and environmental factors that influence health  Sociologists challenge this approach because of its tendency to neglect the social constituents of health  Some determinants play a more obvious role in generating options and outcomes  Insufficient health care for Aboriginals in Canada o Live 10 years less than average Canadians  Alcohol and substance abuse are widely regarded as the foremost problem on most reserves with alcohol related injuries, including suicides and sexual violence (almost 80% of all fatalities on reserves)  Low income or living in poverty tend to have poorer health because: unequal access, lack of information, higher stress levels with poorer coping skills, increased exposure to workplace risks because of precarious jobs, riskier lifestyle choices, and low socioeconomic status  40% of Aboriginal children live in poverty (third world stat in a first world country)  Only 25% of a populations health can be attributed to health care; the remaining 75% reflects socioeconomic conditions, biology, prevention, and the physical environment What’s the Inequality in Social Inequality?  Social inequality becomes analytically interesting under five circumstances: when patterned, pervasive and persistent, punishing, resistant to reform, and socially constructed Material/Objective  Refers to the expression of social inequality at the level of power, privilege, and property o Since 1980, real median family income has barely budges while the top earning 1% almost doubled their share of Canada’s national income (7.7% to 13.8%) o Women in full time, full year work are paid 70% of their male counterparts o Racialized minorities account for only 7% of councilors in the 25 municipal regions comprising the GTA o Winnipeg (suicide capital of the world), 96 lives (under 15) were lost to suicide over a 20 year period, 2 students graduated from high school in 2011, and 3600 lockups occurred and 5000 calls for police services Born in the USA: Life, liberty, and the pursuit of inequality  Between 2002 and 2007 65% of all income growth in the USA went to the top one percent  Americans pay some of the lowest taxes in the developed world  One of the worlds rickets countries but tolerates the highest rates of poverty  If Americans using food stamps (46.3 million) constituted a country, it would be the worlds 27 largest  Real wages have flatlined, but worker productivity has increased  According to the Tax Justince Network (2012), the holdings of 92 000 high net worth individuals in tax havens around the world amount to $21 trillion tax free or a sum equal to the GNP of the USA and Japan combined Continued  Income refers to a flow of money over time; wealth is a stock of assets owned at a particular tine  Income is what people earn from work or receive from government transfers; wealth is what people own  There is more inequality in wealth than in income  3.8% of Canadian households account for 67% of the total financial wealth of all Canadian households Ideological support:  Patterns of material inequality are justified and secured by the ideas and ideals expressed in formal laws, public policies, and dominant discourses  Ideologies serve three functions: to conceal the social constructedness of inequality, to rationalize or justify the prevailing patterns of power and privilege, and to secure the dominant groups dominance at the expense of the less fortunate Insight box: Income mobility in Canada: Fact or fiction?  Ideological commitment to the principle of social and income mobility  The lowest quintile of Canadians (bottom 20%) experienced the highest relative income increase, including 87% in the nineteen year period moving to higher income groups, with 21% making it into the top income quintile group  Other Canadians experienced a decline in income including 36% who moved downwards of at least one income group over the 19 year period  64% in the top bracket remained there, suggesting the rich stay rich  T
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