Dr. Rodriguez

Introduction to Sociology

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Soc 3326 Only


Unit 3 Lecture 5 Notes
Unit 3 Lecture 5: Social Stratification (continued)

The Concept of Social Stratification

  • Stratification (def.): divisions and distinctions of groups based on status differences and/or control of basic resources

  • stratification involves structured inequality associated with group membership

  • stratification also involves ideology that supports the system of stratification

  • Stratification is very much about one's life chances for a good quality of life

  • Social stratification vs. social differentiation

Major criteria for stratification:

  • authority

  • power (political, economic, military)

  • ownership of the means of production (factories, land, etc.)

  • income (amount, type, sources)

  • consumption patterns and life style (the rich and famous)

  • occupation/skill

  • education

  • divinity (control over the supernatural)

  • altruism/public service/morality

  • place in "high society"

  • associational ties

  • ethnicity/ race

Max Weber's concept of "life chances":
Life chances: the extent to which individuals have access to important societal resources, such as food, clothing, shelter, education, and health care.

Classical perspectives on social class stratification

Karl Marx: Relations to the means of production

  • The economic system of capitalism has two central classes:

  • capitalist/bourgeoisie--those who own or control the means of production (land, factories, transportation sources, banks, etc.)

  • working class/proletariat-those who survive by selling their labor power (capacity to work) to owners

  • The goal in capitalist system is the creation of surplus value for the accumulation of capital

  • surplus value-the difference between what workers are paid and the value of what they produce

  • capital accumulation-for capitalism to prosper it must keep expending (looking for new investment opportunities, looking for new labor markets, for new markets to sell commodities, for new activities to capitalize, i.e., turn into a commodity form)


Note: The commodification of cultural and service activities: birthday parties (you can buy a birthday party); the commodification of dating (you can buy a date selection), what is next? The commodification of finding a friend, say for a few days, or a couple of weeks?

  • The commodification of services is enhanced in advanced capitalist societies into the service economy.

  • The service economy may be very active/profitable because there is much demand for services, since service is a nondurable good that is immediately consumed (production = consumption).


  • Marx viewed the capitalist system as a much improved social system over earlier systems (slavery, feudalism) but a system that still had many problems, namely:

  • capitalists are always seeking to impose wor-under capital's control--in order to create surplus value and accumulate captial (very descriptive of early capitalism)

  • capitalist work is alienating to workers-workers are separated from their natural condition ("species being"); in the factories workers have no control, produce things that don't belong to them and behave like machines

  • employers attempt to keep wages low and maintain poor working conditions in order to make a more profit

For Marx, the problems of capitalism created class conflict between owners/employers (the whole bourgeoisie) and workers.

Marx called this class conflict "class struggle." He got the idea from Giambattista Vico (remember?).
According to Marx, class struggle would lead to a workers? revolution that would bring down the capitalist system.

But Marx's prediction has not occurred. Why was Marx wrong?

  • Social systems may take many hundreds of years to transform.

  • In many countries captialism created a relatively prosperous and stable middle-class of employees dependent on the system.

  • Some of the worst production jobs (;physically difficult and harmful and low-paying) have been sent abroad to peripheral countries.

  • Many foreign workers do menial, low-paying work in advanced capitalist countries.

  • Democratic governments created welfare programs (unemployment income, retirement support, minimum wage, etc.) to lessen workers' problems

  • Strong ideology prevails in support of capitalism, and capitalism is equated with nationalism (which says that to be against capitalism is to be a traitor to your country)

Marx after Marxism: The Zero Work Perspective

Workers' struggle against capitalism has been against the imposition of work: to struggle against capital, workers struggle to reduce the length of time they spending working for capitalism

  • Struggles to reduce the length of the work day from 18 hours to 16 hours to 14 to 12 to 8 to . . . 0 (zero work!)

  • Sabotaging work in the factory

  • Zero work in the social factory (society as a whole): e.g., students avoid the imposition of school work: avoid coming to class, read newspaper during class, postpone studying class notes until the night before the exam, wait until the last possible moment to write term papers, and then write short papers, even wide page margins are a sign of zero work.

Max Weber: Wealth, Prestiage and Power

Weber agreed with Marx that economic factors are important in understanding individual and group behavior, but felt other factors are also important in defining a person's class location. (Max never wrote a theory of class, and died while starting a chapter on class.)

  • Wealth-the value of all of a person's or family's economic assets, including income, personal property, and income-producing property.

  • Weber divided the wage workers into two classes:

  • the middle class (office workers, public officials, managers, and professionals)

  • the working class (skilled, semiskilled, and unskilled)

  • Prestige-respect or regard with which a person or status position is regarded by others. Weber believed that people with common prestige level belonged to same class regardless of wealth. Occupation is a key source of prestige ranking.

  • Power-the ability to influence others, to influence decision making, to achieve goals despite opposition

  • What have the sources of power in the social history of humankind? How have the sources of power changed today? (Power with authority and power without authority)

  • Sociologists often use "socioeconomic status" to refer to a combined measure that attempts to classify individuals, families, or households in terms of factors such as income, occupation, and education to determine class location.