Outline and Assess Whether stratification is either inevitable or beneficial to individuals and society?
Sociology homework:-essay questions
Outline and Assess Whether stratification is either inevitable or beneficial to individuals and society?
Functionalism would argue that stratification is both inevitable and beneficial to individuals and society. Functionalist theorist such as Davies and Moore say that stratification is a permanent and universal feature of human societies, and this is because it is functionally necessary. They go on to say that stratification is inevitable because every society faces the task of ‘placing’ people, i.e. putting people in jobs that they are suited to and are able to carry out efficiently. In order for society to motivate these people to carry out these important jobs respectably they offer higher rewards, such as higher status and higher income. For example a company director supervises hundreds of employee’s while a bin man makes sure the bins are being emptied properly, the company director could easily do the bin mans job, however the bin man wouldn’t be able to do his job as it takes skills and the certain type of person to be in a job like his. This incorporates Davies and Moore second idea of the scarcity of personnel. This refers to the fact that not everyone has the talent or ability to become a lawyer or a doctor, or keep up with the long training of such careers. In order to tempt people to undergo these lengthy trainings they offer financial rewards and high social status at the end of the training period.
The New right perspective would argue with functionalists and say that social stratification is beneficial and fair, they would however dispute that it isn’t inevitable. Peter Saunders argues that stratification is a good idea because unequal rewards motivate people to work hard; this is because if all the rewards were equal some people wouldn’t pull their weight. Saunders says inequality promotes economic growth. Individuals are motivated to start business because of the possible financial reward , this in turn benefits society as it creates more jobs. This can be seen to be true as under Thatcherism in Britain, the government did motivate people to start up business by offering them all kind of help, such as tax relief etc. New right thinkers like Saunders believe in legal equality and equality of opportunity, rather then equality of outcome. They believe in the free market, which is where what people earn depends on the talents they have and the demand for that talent, i.e. electricians, if theirs loads of demand for electricians then they can earn a lot of money by putting their prices up, as they know people will pay them as there is a shortage for them. The new right says that governments shouldn’t intervene in the market or promote equality as this will take away what motivation the people have to make a living on their own, without relying on benefits. Saunders sees Britain as being close to meritocracy and having this free market as he thinks that the economic rewards match up with merit and ability.
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The New Right and Functionalism view of stratification has been heavily criticized by people such as Gordon Marshall and Adam Swift. They say that capitalists societies are not as meritocratic as the new right claim. They argue that the free market doesn’t offer everyone a fair chance at all, because if your born into a wealthy family then it is a lot easier to start a business as you don’t have to take out massive loans. Luck has a huge part to play in being successful as well. Gordon and Smith point out the fact that evidence shows that working class people have less chance of getting high paid jobs then the upper class even if they have the same qualifications. High paid jobs require the top qualifications from places such as Oxbridge, however to get in to these places you need to know the right people as it doesn’t matter how clever you are they are reluctant to take you unless you are upper class. Marshall and Gordon go on to criticize functionalists for ignoring social problems such as poverty which results form the stratification system. Another criticism of functionalism is that Davis and Moore assume there is a general consensus on the patterns of rewards, however there is a widespread resentment about unequal distribution of income and wealth, and inequality such as this is the reason why their so many conflicts in modern societies. The final criticism is that Davis and Moore paint a dismal picture of human nature, that suggests people will perform tasks only for monetary or status rewards, they fail to consider people who work because they enjoy their job, and do it because they feel their making a difference in the world such as charity work etc. Davis and Moore replied to this criticism and said that these motives are usually pretty weak.
Marxists are conflict theorists who believe that stratification is the cause of conflict and tension within society. This is the total opposite view of the functionalists who believe it is a good and positive thing. Karl Marx says that all stratified societies have two major classes, a ruling class and the subject class. In capitalists countries the ruling class are known as the capitalists or the bourgeoisie and the subject class are known as the workers or the proletariat. These classes are defined by their relationship to the means of production. Capitalists own the means of production such as factories while the workers do not own productive property’s like these and make a living by selling their labor power to employees. The ruling class use superstructure’s such as the legal and political systems to make sure they keep power and to prevent the working class from protesting. This basic stratifications system between the owners of capital and the workers which create the major conflicts. The bourgeoisie exploit the working class through the system of wage labor. Capitalists pay wages to the workers but make a profit because they pay the workers less then the value of what they produce. Karl Marx goes onto say that capitalism will be replaced by a communist society, where means of production are commonly owned. In evaluation of this we can see that this hasn’t happened like Karl Marx predicted. However he goes on to say that this transition to communism will not be straightforward because it requires revolutionary action by the proletariat. This isn’t going to be easy according to Marx as the bourgeoisie uses the media and education system to suppress the workers and to stop this from happening. They create false class consciousness i.e. the workers don’t know that they are being exploited. Eventually though Marxists believe that class consciousness will develop and that workers will relies they are being exploited and will rise up and change society for the better i.e. getting rid of capitalism. Marx believes class consciousness will develop for several reasons. Firstly there is a basic contradiction in capitalist societies between the interests of the workers and the capitalists. Secondly Workers will be concentrated in large factories so the ruling class can exploit them even more, on the other hand this will make it easier for the workers to communicate with one another and to organize a resistance. Another reason class consciousness will develop is because the inequalities will become more obvious as the rich will be continually getting richer while the poor get poorer as their being exploited more. Finally the workers will join together to form trade unions political parties and revolutionary movements as class consciousness grows, enabling them to overthrow capitalism and replace it with communism.
Marxism has been heavily criticized for a number of reasons. When Karl Marx was writing about his theories in the 1900 he predicting a lot change in society with the rise of the workers and the fall of capitalism, however these things have failed to happen, and in fact it is communist regimes who have changed to capitalism. Marx has been accused of being to economic determinist by some sociologists. This is because all of his major ideas are based on the economic relationship between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. However many conflicts based on nationalism ethnicity and gender cannot be explained solely in economic terms. Another reason while Marx has been heavily criticized is that he totally underestimated the importance of the middle class. They have grown as a group in society and not faded away into the working class like Marx predicted. He didn’t explain the different circumstances within the proletariat or those of the growing middle class. The main criticism of Marxism is the idea that the working class are falsely conscious. In fact many sociologists argue that the working class know what’s going on but have decided to side with capitalism because even though some capitalist systems e.g. Nazi Germany have displayed appalling levels of cruelty, most western liberal democracies have a strong track record in terms of material progress, political freedoms and civil liberties, so the worker are being perfectly sensible and not falsely conscious.
Max Weber accepted some of Marx’s idea’s but rejected other. Weber did not believe that a revolution by the proletariat was likely. He disagreed with the view on the inevitability of class conflict. Weber also rejected the Marxist emphasis on the economic dimension as the sole determinant of inequality. Weber believed in 3 main things that contribute to inequality and which effect people’s life chances. Class, status and power are the three things Weber believed in, he treated these as separate but related sources of power.
Weber like Marx treated social class as an economic matter. He agreed that ownership of productive property an non ownership is an important basis for class formation but Weber moved away from this 2 class model. He chose to define class in terms of position in the market place. Positions vary from the amount of income and the occupational skills and qualifications needed. Thus there are a number of finally graded occupational classes. The people within each class share broadly similar life chances. Weber went on to say that in terms of class there is always conflict and that it isn’t very functional. When Weber talks about status he refers to the degree of honor or prestige which is attached to social groups in society. Different status groups compete with each other for a greater share of social esteem. The members of status groups tend to share command values and lifestyles and form a community. For example the rich have their own clubs an bars which are all really expensive that other status groups cant afford. People can belong to different classes but belong to the same status groups. When Weber mentions party he is talking about the exercise of power by pressure groups and political parties. These parties form around social classes. Weber’s ideas have influenced the way in which social class is operationalised by sociologists such as Goldthorpe and by the government through the recent NS-SEC scale.
In evaluation of Weber’s theory Marxists argue, that they neglected the basic split between capitalists and workers and argue that class and status are strongly linked after, the capitalists class has wealth and a high status and political power. However this can not be seen as a real criticism of the Weber theory as they did recognize this and say that all these overlap with each other.
Post-modernists believe that stratification isn’t inevitable as its dead, they don’t believe in class as they don’t think it’s very important as it’s not functional anymore. They believe that cultural differences are a lot more important. Post-modernists such as Pakulski and Waters say class is losing its significance because people no longer feel that they belong to classes because these supposed classes include a big variety of people i.e. some low paid jobs have higher status than better paid jobs. They explain the death of class in the terms of the increasing importance of educational qualifications in shaping your status. This is because they are saying everyone starts out the same at school so if you work had and obtain the qualifications then you can be anything you want to be. Pakulski and waters argue that people now exercise more choice about what type of people they want to be, i.e. gender, ethnicity, age and religion and family role interact and the impact with consumption and media images to construct post-modern culture and identity.
The problem that can be seen with this theory is that it all sounds correct in theory however when it come to real life, it doesn’t work out like this. This is because you can choose what type of person you want to be i.e. eating caviar for lunch and driving fast cars however all these thing cost money and so if you haven’t got the money to do these things you cant live the lifestyle you want. Another criticism that Gordon Marshall points out is that post-modernists lack empirical evidence i.e. if they looked at the evidence they would see that in fact class is quite a potent force. Mike savage agrees with this and although he does think that traditional theories of class such as Marxism and Weber are outmoded he does believe that class remains massively important.
In conclusion there are some points to suggest that stratification is inevitable such as functionalism and that it is beneficial such as functionalism and New right perspective . However there are also points from other theories that it isn’t inevitable i.e. Marxists and Weber and that it doesn’t benefit society i.e. Marxists.