How can patterns & trends be explained: Social Class


Funcionalism - Parsons

  • accept social structure of capitalist societies
  • Parsons argues stratification systems = product of consensus
  • argues modern soc agree those who run businesses are functionally important to both economy and social order because creates jobs, wealth and prosperity and therefore deserve greater economic rewards than ordinary workers
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Functionalism - Davis and Moore

  • inequality = positive function for society
  • for soc to operate efficiently must ensure that functionally important and senior positions are filled by people who are talented and efficient
  • argue that class societies are meritocracies 
  • function of educatioun is to allocate individuals to occupational role that suits abilities 
  • therefore class position is fair reflection of talents
  • role allocation produces stratification - socio-economic ineqaulity - becuase not all people equally talented or skilled
  • stratification therefore encourages all members of soc to work to best of ability 
  • importance of social position is determined by two factors: functional uniqueness - only carried out by one person or a select number and the degree of dependence of others - CEOs large companies deserve high salaries because hundreds/thousands of people depend on unique talents
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Evaluating functionalist theory of stratification

  • exaggerated degree of consensus about rewards 
  • top of stratification system not only occupied by those w/ functionally important jobs - also those who live off inherited wealth and celebrities - neither functionally important to soc
  • Davis and Moore assume talent pool from which people emerge to do top jobs is very small but the way capitalist socs organised is restricting to talented people from w/c 
  • not all those who occupy top jobs are most talented - may have achieved positions from family connections, the ability to pay for exclusive and expensive private education which propelled children of white wealthy elite to top rather than talent or ability 
  • rarely acknowledge dysfunctions of stratification e.g. poverty lowers life expectancy  - some evidence stratification creates culture of envy, alienation, resentment and disaffection that can quickly turn into criminality and riots that can undermine social order 
  • Davis and Moore imply talented people only motivated by economic rewards but fails to account for those motivated by a desire to serve others or put something back into society e.g. teachers
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  • traditional marxists = soc organised along capitalist lines - pursuit of profit by competing economic elites = most important goal of these socs
  • powerful minority bourgeois class exploiting labour of majority w/c (proletariat)
  • ruling capitalist class - who own and control means of production, cpaital, land, factories, technology and raw materials need labour-power provided by proletariat - this relationship called 'the social relations of productions'
  • relationship unequal because bourgeoisie set wage level and control organisation of workplace
  • wage paid to worker = small fraction of true value of work - bourgeoisie monopolises wealth because exploit the 'surplus value' of w/c labour - difference between labour actually worth and wage they are paid = profit - the main cause of inequalities in wealth, power etc.
  • exploitation and inequality tolerated because superstructure of social institutions - family, education, media, politics, religion and CJS - transmit ruling class ideology = persuaded to accept as 'normal' or 'natural' 
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  • function of ruling class is to convince those lacking in wealth and power that capitalism is fair system abd that inequality and social class position and status are products of their own shortcomings and therefore justified
  • working class suffer false class consciousness - deliberately kept in state of ignorance about true cause of problems: the unequal organisation of capitalist system which overwhelmingly favours the wealthy
  • marx believed capitalism suffered from 3 contradictions which would eventually bring about its downfall:
  • gap between rich and poor would grow so wide it would be too visible and unjust to ignore
  • control to improve workers efficiency and driving up profit = alienation of workers = no longer derived any satisfaction from work, would lead them to question its value in their lives
  • economic crisis would be so great that whole system would come crashing down 
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Evaluating marxist theory of stratification

  • traditional marxist criticised by neo-marxists for being over deterministic - does not acknowledge that people may be free to make their own choices or that people can experience the same social class situation in different ways and decide to react differently.
  • ignore other forms of inequality
  • neo-marxists claim fails to consider that w/c might actually be aware of class inequality but feel that benefits of capitalism compensate for inequality
  • failed to account for growth of middle class
  • capitalism has flourised despite marxs predictions to contrary - communist systems have failed
  • marxist critics = class war has been won by bourgeoisie
  • some sections of w/c resisted capitalist explotation - strikes, riots, voting for political parties that oppose present organisation of capitalism suggest many w/c people see through ruling class ideology 
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Weberian theory

  • criticised marx - over emphasised influence of economic in his insistance on social class as main source of social inequality and cause of social behaviour 
  • stratification systems organised around 3 dimesions - status, social class and party
  • Status - respect expressed in economic reward or political deference - lack status = subjected to prejudice and discrimination from those with status
  • status derived from socio-economic position or social class or talent or sporting prowess
  • many socs men have more status than women - derives from patriarchy - product of mens ability to use violence against women - status mainly derives from power
  • Social class - share similar market situation - skill set, similar economic rewards
  • Weber criticised Marx for failing to explain status differences that exist within social class e.g. u/c 'old wealth' more status than 'new wealth' owners of companies or wealthy celebs
  • w/c status differences between 'labour aristocracy' - skilled, well paid workers, those who are semi-skilled and unskilled but in work and those who are long term unemployed and dependent on benefits
  • Party - interest groups either exercise power or influence or wish to do so
  • represent specific status groups 
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Evaluating Weberian theory of stratification

  • important because he notes not always capitalist class that is responsible for inequality, suffering and conflict
  • major influence on feminism because he emphasised the role of gender in shaping inequality and conflict
  • influenced setting up of NS-SEC systems of occupational classification
  • neo-marxists criticise notion of status difference within social classes because marxists see these as deliberately created by the bourgeoisie in order to divide and rule workers so that they never achieve full class consciousness and become a revolutionary class 
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  • critical of theories of social class stratification and studies of social mobility for completely ignoring women 
  • womens experience of social class is worth exploring becuase womens experiences of work is very different from that of men
  • 'glass ceiling' - patriarchal bias in workplace prevents talented women being promoted - actually assists male social mobility
  • Arber, Dale and Gilbert attempted to construct classifications which are gener-neutral and reflect womens different levels of committment to work - difficult to construct to everyones satisfaction
  • Ken Roberts argues no longer assume women share class with male partners because women increasingly choosing to remain single even when become mothers and divorce is more common. 
  • men also die young = lots of households made up of widowed elderly women who are less likely to have occupational pension and consequently more likely to be living on margains of poverty
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The New Right

The necessary evil of inequality 

  • Peter Saunders 1996 - inequality is the price paid for effectiveness of neo-liberal free market economy that has delivered economic growth and prosperity that has generally raised the living standards of all sections of British soc
  • capitalist socs have to offer incentives to those with talent and enterprise in the form of more income and wealth because these people are innovators
  • equality of opportunity is important because all talent needs to be encouraged
  • belief in meritocratic principles means that people are more willing to accept inequality because they can see it is result of fair competition
  • New right criticised for generally neglecting fact socio-economic inequality tends to result in envy, resentment and hostility among those at bottom of stratification system that might motivate them to engage in crime and social disorder 
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The New Right

Charles Murray - underclass theory, 90s

  • result of over generous welfare benefits
  • made up of 'people who were long-term unemployed and overly dependent on benefits and consequently workshy' 
  • no longer willing to take responsibility for standing on their own two feet but instead were happy to let state support them 
  • composed of 'problem families' who no longer subscribed to the moral consensus of marriage, monogamy and responsibility for the upbringing of their children
  • large number of single mothers whose children had multiple fathers who rarely took economic responsibility for their children 
  • children poorly socialised and allowed to underachieve at school and to indulge in anti-school and irresponsible behaviour
  • responsible for rise in crime in 90s UK
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Evaluating new right theory of stratification

  • studies of poor anf long-term unemployed do not support Murray's view underclass united by shared and deviant value system exists
  • sociologists argue poverty is not self-imposed by individual weakness but shaped by social forces that are beyond control of individual
  • successive govs failed to encourage economic investment in deprived inner city areas and schools and because the austerity cuts of recent years have disproportionately targeted poorer sections of society
  • Murray accused of scapegoating poor and distracting attention away from the real causes of poverty such as growing inequality between rich and poor in western socs
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