inequality, hierarchy and power and/or altruism and co-operation

  • Created by: melissa
  • Created on: 09-05-15 15:05


Power has a function. Power produces inequality that is both essential and beneficial to all members. According to Parsons, power helps to maintain social order (the accepted behaviour expected in society) and social solidarity ( integration of people into society through shared values, a common culture, shared understanding and social ties that bind them together). 

A high degree of inequality in the distribution of rewards is necessary, morally justified and beneficial. Unless society offers unequal rewards for unequal talents and efforts, the most talented people will have no incentive to put their talents to work for the welfare of all. 

Strengths: makes sense- people who do valuable things often get the highest rewards and it is reasonable that rewards be proportionate to personal qualities like effort and skill. 

Weakness: how to meause the 'value' of activities. If every generation was born with equal access to means of success in life, we could be confident that those who occupy the most important roles are those that are best qualified to fill them. 

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Dominant class defined by its control over the means of production. This is the basic resource of power of society. Lack of power experienced by proletariat is a product of its weak position in the social structure. Social relations that characterise the bourgeoisie-proletariat relationship are exploitive and unequal as the capitalist class acquires wealth by appropriating the surplus value generated by the labour power of the workers. 

Stratification is based ultimately on control over productive resources. One the elite gain the control over these resources by whatever means, they get people to do work that benefits themselves. Members of the capitalist class/bourgeoisie own factories and tools. Members of the working class/proletariat own their labour. To earn their living, worker must sell their labour to some capitalist. Profit is based on the exploitation of workers. 

Strength: raises awareness of how inequality is created.

Weakness: Many critics believe that the function of leaders, controllers and organisers is so valuable to society that they deserve the rewards they receive. 

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Power is present at all levels of human social interaction and in all social institutions and can change and move with the times. Knowledge is a key aspect of power- discourses- frameworks for thinking which exist in particular places at particular times. A discourse of hetersexuality exists in the UK society which portrays heterosexual relations as the norm. Discourse do and can change over time, but the knowledge linked to them can be central in the understanding the nature of power and how it is exercised in society. Those who are seen as possessing the highest status of knowledge are seen as having the potential to exert power over others.

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Unequal social and political power is part of society. Ortner believes in the west we live in a patriarchal society where women are oppressed by men and there is unequal political and social power between genders in society. 

For instance, in the UK there is a gender pay gap between men and women. Men can earn more than women and this maintains their political and social power over women in society. 

Strength: Supported by the figures that worldwide 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence. 

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Unequal power: Malinowski: Trobriand Islanders

 "Fathers and Brothers give Yams; Husbands receive yams". Men grow yams to give to women. Yams harvested and given to the woman who he is to marry. Declare marriage by eating yams together- her brother then takes over the yam garden. He will have to grow a yam house; a symbol of great accomplishment. Man will not reach this status until a daughter is of marriageable age. He will begin to garden for her and his sisters. While his wifes brothers are making a garden for him. All men linked around women. Only through his wifes family that he can gain political and social power. 

Yam competitions allow a chief to enhance his status and become known in other villages. 

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Unequal power: Llewelyn-Davies: Masaai

Cattle are a source of wealth and status. Men have exclusive control over the rights to cattle and women are dependent throughout their lives on a man, father, husband or son for rights of access to property. The number of cattle and number of dependents a man has is a marker of their social status and wealth. Women are a symbol of mens position in society and are expected to increase her husbands wealth through the production of children and management of cattle. When a man marries he allocates a considerable amount of his animals to his wife who can use or sell the milk from the cattle. This ensure she is always dependent on the man. 

Division of labour- Women tend to do the work in the village e.g. building, taking care of the home and milking cows etc, whilst men do more dangerous work outside the village.

Age-sets- people of similar age and usually of the same gender who share a common identity. Pass through age related statuses as a group. The father is the key figure and his control is absolute. As long as the father was still alive, no son had final control over cattle or choice in marriage. Rituals of the masaai people serve to maintain political structure (decision-making) based on age-sets. Each ritual transition is a step towards old age and metaphorically a step towards God. 

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Pink Sari's- Longinotto

The Gulabi Gang is an extraordinary women’s movement formed in 2006 by Sampat Pal Devi in Northern India. This region is one of the poorest districts in the country and is marked by a deeply patriarchal culture, rigid caste divisions, female illiteracy, domestic violence, child labour, child marraiges and dowry demands.

The Gulabi Gang was initially intended to punish oppressive husbands, fathers and brothers, and combat domestic violence and desertion. The members of the gang would accost male offenders and prevail upon them to see reason. The more serious offenders were publicly shamed when they refused to listen or relent. Sometimes the women resorted to their lathis, if the men resorted to use of force.Today, the Gulabi Gang has tens of thousands of women members, several male supporters and many successful interventions to their credit. Whether it is ensuring proper public distibution of food-grains to people below the poverty line, or disbursement of pension to elderly widows who have no birth certificate to prove their age, or preventing abuse of women and children, the Pink sisterhood is in the forefront, bringing about system changes by adopting the simplest of methods - direct action and confrontation.Although the group’s interventions are mostly on behalf of women, they are increasingly called upon by men to challenge not only male authority over women, but all human rights abuses inflicted on the weak.

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The untouchables

Formally known as Dalit (the lower caste). Members of India's higher castes will not touch anything that comes in physical contact with the Dalit. Forgeigners, lawbreakers, people from isolated tribes and people suffering from contageous diseases were called the untouchables. Members were traditionally regarded as unsuitable for personal relations with people in the caste system.

Untoucchables were hired to do jobs that members of the caste system would not do; these included killing or disposing of dead cattle. They also worked as sweepers, washers or in other jobs that required contact with human emissions such as sweat, urine or feces.

Often forbidden to enter temples, schools and wells where caste members drew water. Often forced to sleep during the day and work at night.

The caste system became less rigid when Indian people were exposed to outside ideas, many left the social structure by converting to Islam, Buddhism, or christianity. 

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