Lecture 9. Social inequality and social stratification
1.The concept of "social inequality".
2.The forms of social inequalities
3. Social stratification and mobility in contemporary Kazakhstan society
1. Social Structure has been around since society began. Social structure is the cultural norms that everyone in society follows to achieve their goals and various things throughout their life. It is also determines how people would be expected to act around one another.
Development of Social Structure. There is no agreement on how different types of social structure develop. Generally, social structures form hierarchies or networks. The differences between these types of social structure are related to the notion of "social stratification," i.e. whether society is separated into different strata or levels, according to social distinctions such as race, class, and gender. The social treatment of persons within the social structure is then related to their placement within the various social strata.
In the hierarchical structures, stratification is vertical, with higher levels valued more than lower ones. There are those (mostly American) who claim that hierarchical social structures develop naturally. They suggest that such structures may be caused by larger system needs, such as the need for labor, management, professional, and military classes, or by conflicts among groups, such as competition among political parties or among different social classes. Others, (mainly in Europe) hold that this structuring is not the result of natural processes, but that it is socially constructed. It may have been created by those in power seeking to retain their power, or by economic systems that place emphasis upon monopoly and competition or cooperation and sharing.
The second type of structure is that of a network: people are connected, but not in pyramids. There is no "alpha male" at the top of the heap; there is not even any concept of higher and lower. In contrast to the "mechanical" solidarity of hierarchical social structure, noted for generally repressive and punitive legal systems, Emile Durkheim introduced the term "organic" solidarity to describe societies based on the network model, where law is generally restitutive. This type of structure is likened to the anatomy of a living body, where all social institutions are interdependent and these connections are what naturally impose constraints and goals on each other.
In understanding social structures and social changes, there appeared several schools of thought, two main examples being Structuralism, and Functionalism.
Elements of Social Structure. In order to discuss the basic division and types of social structures, the "unit" of social structure should be established first. Murdoch (Goldsmith 1978) has shown that the family is universal among stable societies and thus should be regarded as the "unit" of social structure. Culture, as the product of the interactions in society, both material (between people and physical objects) and non-material (in relation to meanings, beliefs, language, values, ideas, expectations, etc.) is shared, learned, and intergenerational. It also forms the foundation of social structure.
Society is grouped into structures with different functions, meanings, or purposes. In a broader sense is the "social system," which can be viewed as a social structure composed of the economic system, legal system, political system, and cultural system (some sort of shared reality: language, norms, values, etc.). Social structure, however, is much more than that. It also includes education, family, religion, and social services such as health care. Language is the basic channel for communicating information and instruction in a society. There are cultural norms affecting marriage, child bearing, and child rearing. Political systems affect not only the individual political environment but also certain legal systems, regulation of violence (by a police force), property laws, trade rules, health care, and so forth. Societies also generally develop an agreed upon division of labor.
Social structure is very important for how society works. It makes everyone follow a lot of the same norms in their day to day life. It also provides the ways that everyone should interact with each other and keeps most people from being rude and very strange because they usually follow the social structure.
Sociology has a long history of studying stratification and teaching about various kinds of inequality, including economic inequality, racial/ethnic inequality, gender inequality, and other types of inequality. Inequality means people have unequal access to scarce and valued resources in society. These resources might be economic or political, such as health care, education, jobs, property and land ownership, housing, and ability to influence government policy.
Building on the ideas of Max Weber, who saw three main dimensions of stratification (class, status, and party), contemporary sociologists often define stratification in terms of socioeconomic status (or SES). There are a variety of ways to measure SES, including educational attainment, income, wealth, and occupational prestige. These measures reflect three characteristics of individuals: power, property, and prestige. These three characteristics combine to indicate someone’s social class or socioeconomic status.
Power refers to someone’s ability to get others to do his/her will, regardless of whether or not they want to. Legitimate power, power given to individuals willingly by others, is called authority. Illegitimate power, power taken by force or the threat of force, is called coercion.
Property, as used in this context, refers to the sum total of one’s possessions as well as their regular income. Property goes beyond income as a measure of social class as it reflects the accumulated wealth (e.g., homes, stocks, bonds, savings) in addition to one’s earning potential. Property is a better overall measure of social class than income as many individuals who are considered wealthy actually have very small incomes.
Prestige refers to the reputation or esteem associated with one’s position in society. Prestige used to be associated with one's family name, but for most people in developed countries, prestige is now generally tied to one's occupation. Occupations like physicians or lawyers tend to have more prestige associated with them than occupations like bartender or janitor. An individual’s prestige is closely tied to their social class – the higher the prestige of an individual (through their occupation or maybe family name), the higher the social class.
These three indicators tend to go hand-in-hand or lead to each other, such as a Supreme Court justice who is usually wealthy, enjoys a great deal of prestige, and exercises significant power. In some cases, however, a person ranks differently on these indicators, such as funeral directors. Their prestige is fairly low, but most have higher incomes than college professors, who are among the most educated people in America and have high prestige