Sociological theories of social inequaliy

Includes functionalist, marxist, neo-marxist, postmoderism, feminism and weberian theories.

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  • Created on: 23-01-14 17:18
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Sociological theories of social inequality
· Functionalists argue that inequalities have a purpose - they are functional for society.
· It is a structural theory based on the notion that society is based on shared values.
· Functionalism is a consensus theory arguing that the structures, systems and institutions all
serve a useful function in maintaining the healthy cohesion of society.
· Writing in the 19th Century, Durkheim argued that:
Industrialised societies are complex.
Society needs specialists to undertake the various jobs and roles required to make it run
This could be achieved by a division of labour whereby people have different jobs.
Some of the jobs would have a higher status than others and greater rewards and power
- people would accept this as long as they could see that the system was fair.
Some conflict could occur but it could be controlled by socialisation.
Disharmony might arise when people felt the system was not fair, for example, when
large bonuses are paid to bankers during a recession.
· Parsons (1940) argued that:
Social inequality and difference are functional and an inevitable features of social
Social systems need to be hierarchical to accomplish order and ranking - both key
elements of maintaining a healthy functional society to meet the needs of its members.
Evaluation of functionalism:
· Society is not harmonious - there is evidence of conflict between social groups in the form
of strikes as well as disaffection amongst, for example, young people who cannot get work.
· Some groups start with more power and status and are therefore able to ensure they and
their family get access to the education that will mean they then get a higher status job.
· Life chances are affected by status and wealth and the poor have less access to
opportunities to gain status and wealth.

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· Marxism is based on the writings of Karl Marx who argued that economic forces shape
· Marxists argue inequalities are a result of the economic arrangements people make to meet
their basic needs.
· A few wealthy and powerful people (bourgeoisie) owns the means of production and the
rest just own their labour power - this creates a major division in society between the
bourgeoisie and the proletariat and is a potential source of class conflict.…read more

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Technology has been one cause of this.
He also argues that the same thing has happened to some professions. For example,
teachers. They are increasingly regulated and inspected. They are told what to teach and
Evaluation of Marxism:
· The New Right and Functionalists argue that the bourgeoisie are not a united class.
· Postmodernists argue that class is dead and people make their eon lifestyle choices now.
· Feminists argue that traditional Marxists ignore the gender inequalities women experience.…read more

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He argues that the ruling class spread their ideas through social institutions such as education
and the media.
· He used the concept of hegemony to describe the ideological control the dominant class
have over the masses.
· He argues that the bourgeoisie control the working class by controlling ideas - the ideas of
the ruling class have become the dominant ideas.…read more

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Their academic success can then be translated into economic capital, for example, good jobs.
· The cultural capital they possess also allows them to introduce their children to the 'right' or
influential people in the job market.
The role of the media:
· The Neo-Marxists of the Frankfurt School, including Marcuse, argue that the media diverts
the attention of the working class from the inequalities they are experiencing and
encourages them to consume and become involved in a celebrity culture.…read more

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· Max Weber agreed with Marx that the ownership of property and capital were important
dimensions of privilege within society, but not the only dimensions.
· Weber argued that class, status and party are all linked to power. However, he accepted that
class is the most important factor in relation to life chances and inequality.
· Weber and Weberians argue that class is concerned with the production of goods.…read more

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Parties are groups or organisations such as political parties, trade unions of pressure groups
where people come together to either compete for power or influence those with it.
· The more power a person has the more they are likely to have access to better life chances,
but membership of a powerful, organisation does not necessarily mean the most power. For
example, wealthy bankers may still have power in opposition to government decisions on
bonuses.…read more

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The media has led to a greater diversity by showing the range of what it available.
· People reflect what they see in the media in what they consume.
· Bradley (1995) suggests that new identities are created by globalisation - we are exposed to
a range of identities and cultural groups and can choose to be any one of them.
· She also argues people no longer see class as their main identity - it links with gender and
ethnicity.…read more

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Marxist feminists
Radical feminists
Liberal feminists:
· Asked for equality of opportunity between men and women.
· They wanted to remove the barriers to achieving equality and called for equal rights in the
workplace and in the public arena.
· They were highly supportive of the Sex Discrimination Act (1975) and the Equal
· Pay Act (1970).
Marxist feminists:
· Interested in the economic aspects of gender inequality, particularly how women's role as
primary careers and housewives helped to sustain the development of capitalism.…read more


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