Dr. Rodriguez

Introduction to Sociology

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Unit 3 Lecture 4 Notes
Unit 3 Lecture 4: Social Stratification

  • Social stratification refers to the division of society into different social classes defined by different socioeconomic status (lower working class, working class, middle class, etc.)

  • Systems of social stratification can be open or closed.

  • In an open system there is an opportunity to move from one social class to another (achieved status)

  • In a closed system of stratification is little or no opportunity to advance from one social class to another. Social status is hereditary, based on a group characteristic.

  • Social mobility--the movement from one socioeconomic status to another (individual, collective)

  • Upward social mobility--to move to a higher social class

  • Horizontal social mobility -- to move to a better socioeconomic status within the same social class

  • Downward social mobility-- to move to a lower social class

Some Characteristics of Stratification Systems

Hunting and gathering societies:
stratification was not highly developed and probably depended on characteristics of certain individual leaders (charisma, medicinal skills, physical skills) or ability of certain family groups to control and exploit an area

Horticultural societies:
stratification was more developed and stable, and partly related to a community's "natural division of labor," and political (ability to form alliances) and productive skills; slaves and castes present

Agrarian society:
stratification is strongly related to the division of labor (religious, political and military elites and prosperous artisan and merchant guilds have higher social status); in the country side major classes consist of landowners and peasants (estate system of stratification); slaves and castes are present

Industrial societies:
In early capitalist societies, new social classes evolve from those whom own or control the means of production and from those who subsist only by selling their capacity to work--that is the capitalist class (e.g., bankers, factory owners, and landlords), and the working class (the employed and the "reserved army of labor"). Below the working class are the "lumpenproletariat," who are characterized by criminal behavior (prostitutes, thieves, etc,). (Did Marx misidentify the "lumpen"?)

  • In socialist societies controlled by Communist parties, the social stratification system includes Communist party officials as new elite. (In the People's Republic of China and Vietnam the Communist-led governments are promoting the development of capitalist enterprises. This is not occurring in Cuba.)

  • By the twentieth century, many industrial societies had developed stable middle-classes of "white-collar" workers with office jobs. Bureaucracies became major employers--and social actors affecting the stratification system.

  • Post-industrial society in the late 20th century
    The middle class and the upper middle class also draw members from well-educated, small business owners and from persons who invest in the stock market and other money-making ventures (these persons have capitalistic interests but are not capitalist in the old sense of the word)

Note: In stratification systems, higher economic status is usually associated with political power. Conversely, lower socioeconomic status is usually associated with political marginalization if not powerlessness. (Can you envision a society where wealth and political power are not related?)
(For review of stratification systems see the works of H. R. Kerbo, and G. Lenski)