Theories of inequality and stratification


Functionalism: Durkheim

  • stratification is beneficial to social order
  • modern societies are characterised by the specialised devision of labour, some jobs are more useful than others and are more highly rewarded
  • if the system is fair, people are relatively contented with their lot
  • can cause conflict in closed societies, sudden shifts can destabilise the system


  • ignore structural issues such as social closure
  • assumes meritocracy exists
  • assumption of shared goals and values (consensus)
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Functionalism: Parsons

  • achievement and skills are the most highly valued qualities in contemporary western societies
  • stratification is therefore the outcome of general agreement


  • ignores ascribed status and structural issues as above
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The New Right: Peter Saunders

  • economic growth has raised the standard of living for all members of society
  • social inequality is a small price to pay


  • inequality can lead to deviance, disaffection and order
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  • mode of production: the means of production, relations of production- always exploitative in capitalism
  • capitalism is characterised by the relentless pursuit of profit, wages are kept low, workers are replaced by technology wherever possible and owners pocket the 'surplus value'
  • workers fail to see thier own exploitation via ideological apparatuses such as education and the media and thus suffer from false class consciousness
  • marx believed increasing polarisation would lead to radical social change


  • communist regimes collapsed in the 1990s
  • economic determinism/reductionism
  • underestimating the importance of the middle class
  • the class identity of the working class people today is not overtly political, they are aware of inequality however
  • living standards have risen and we have democracy and workers rights
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  • have focused on the relationship between the infrastructure and the superstructure (all the major social institutions)
  • the function of the superstructure is the reproduction and legitimation of class identity (ideology)
  • education important, transits false identity of meritocracy
  • academic and hidden curriculum are the product of bourgeoise values
  • the cultural capital of middle and ruling class children is significant, yet working class children are taught to blame themselves
  • media- the Frankfurt school, popular culture diverts attention towards consumerism, celebrity culture and trivia (opium of the masses)
  • people are now less knowledgeable about society and the working class are less united than ever
  • reiner- 'the class war has been won to devastating effect'


  • dismissive of what working class people say and think, are they really victioms of 'collective brain damage'
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Weber: conflict but not marxism

  • class is only one form of inequality
  • class and status are seperate but related sources of power
  • working class not likely to unite because of status defferences amongst them
  • prefered 'status groups' to classes, 'party' as a further dimension (political interest), includes membership of formal and informal associations (old boys network, golf club)
  • he saw classes as economic categories but wanted to include occuptional skill because this created different life chances amongst those who do not own the means of production
  • status can derive from gender, race and religion too.


  • marxists argued he ignored the basic split between capitalists and workers
  • social closure
  • Bottero: Weber has a case but if society is build around conflict, why is our society relatively stable and orderly
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Giddens and structuration

  • individuals create structural forces by enaging in particular actions
  • ageed with consensus about occupational status which creates stratification
  • noted the importance of consumption in identity
  • decided social class is less important now
  • major division is now between the employed and the unemployed


  • individuals can create structural forces but so do social groups
  • social class is still a source of identity
  • do we really have consensus about occupational status?
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  • reject grand narratives in favour of identity and difference
  • increasing diversity and plurality of life has broken up social classes
  • gender and ethnicity identity has been eroded by subjective individual identity
  • waters- social class in terminal decline, consumption is how we organise our daily lives
  • globalisation, mass media culture


  • social class, gender and ethnic identities still important, consumption directly related to social class
  • featherstone- impact of globalisation has been exaggerated
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  • we actively make choices about different aspects of our identity


  • Bottero- interactionists ignore constraints on peoples behaviour caused by structured social inequalities
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