Is Social Stratification Functional
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Social stratification is an important element of human life. All societies in the world have some kind of structure. This structure, especially in economic system, influenced the development of such term as social stratification. All individuals play many roles and have different type of power in the economic system. That is why stratification into social classes is determined largely on the basis of occupation and control of economic resources (Harrison 2008, p. 101). There are many diverse modern and classical theories of social stratification and its functioning and their theories are always debated.
Firstly, the theory of social stratification is discussed by such famous philosophers as Marx and Weber. Marx describes social stratification from economic perspective. In contrast with all previous, common-sense notions in this area, he emphasizes the basic importance, as a criterion of stratification, of the individual’s or groups’ location in the economic structure (Saha 2006, p. 5). Marx supposes that such stratification creates inequality and conflict, which should be eliminated. Nevertheless, social stratification systems also function to distribute favorable self-images unequally throughout a population (Levine 1992, p. 104).
Weber rather than Marx provides the intellectual framework for understanding class in terms of marker opportunities, life chances, and symbolic rewards (Levine 1992, p. 125). Weber also analyzes social closure. By social closure Weber means the process by which social collectivities seek to maximize rewards by restricting access to resources and opportunities to a limited circle of eligible (Levine 1992, p. 125). Therefore, society is being divided into outsiders and those who benefit from monopolization and social closure.
Unlike Marx who is focusing his theory on conflict between different classes, functional theory discusses how to reach consensus in society. The functional argument assumes that only a few persons in society have the ability (intelligence, energy, and personality) to perform well in these positions (Harrison: 2008). As the result only some people receive a chance to become successful. Nevertheless, social inequality is assumed to be functionally necessary for the smooth running for any society (Forder 1984, p. 120). As the result of such division, qualified professionals occupy the most important positions.
Davis and Moore argued that all societies are stratified even though the forms that stratification takes may differ, because every society has certain positions which are more functional to the survival than other positions (Lawson 1980, p. 4). As the result, the best positions are usually filled with qualified people and the most talented people, who possess abilities for certain positions, can occupy the most important jobs. Davis and Moore stressed that positions which require substantial training or high intellectual abilities will have to provide greater rewards in order to attract the right people (Lawson 1980, p. 5). This argument also created certain controversy, because according to this theory poverty and inequality is beneficial for the society as a whole.
It is also important to stress that these important positions, which should be filled by the qualified people are limited. However, Davis and Moore present a thesis that man is lazy, selfish and materialistic (Lawson 1980, p. 6). That is why people should have some motivations, which can inspire them to develop and succeed in order to occupy the best jobs. That is why the rewards which are offered for positions of authority are correspondingly designed (Lawson 1980, p. 6). Thus, Davis and Moore express social stratification in terms of two problems faced by any society; to instill in the right individuals the desire to fill certain positions, and, once these positions are filled, to instill the desire to perform duties attached to them (Forder 1984, p. 120).
In fact, Davis and Moore focused their discussion on social mobility. Social mobilityrefers to the extent of movement up and down the stratification, while the subject of status attainmentrefers to the process and factors leading individuals to movement up or down with respect to their parents' position (Kerbo 2012, p. 12). For instance, in the system of modern capitalism many people received an ability to succeed, for example in some business. Nevertheless, functionalism draws an important distinction between explanations in terms of individual motivation and explanations in terms of the needs of society as a whole (Forder 1984, p. 123). That is why Davison’s analyzes of social stratification produced many responses.
For instance, scientists argued that extreme inequality and poverty are not only not beneficial, but they are definitely harmful to the well-being and integration of society (Lawson 1980, p. 6). In fact, inequality can create serious conflict between outsiders and those classes who benefit from stratification. In addition, the Davis-Moore thesis that some jobs may be more important to society’s survival and economic advancement than others is too vague (Lawson 1980, p. 6). All people have different ideas about the importance of jobs and it is almost impossible to define, which of them should be filled with most qualified people.
In addition, Merton argued that culture and social stratification are interrelated. Merton concentrates almost exclusively on the role of social stratification in determining access to legitimate means and the implications of social stratification for the distribution of crime within society (Krohn 2009, p. 202). As the result, social stratification is no longer beneficial, as it was described by Davis and Moore. The fact that social opportunities for the best positions are limited contributes to crime. A major deficiency in the Mertonian anomie tradition is the lack of systematic attention to the broader range of social structure, specifically to social institutions and interrelationships among them (Krohn 2009, p. 2012).
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As the result, according to Mertonian theory society has different positive and negative functions. For instance, Merton described various aspects of function within society, including manifest functions (the acknowledged and expected functions of societal relations and institutions), latent functions (unrecognized or unanticipated functions) and dysfunctions (the undesirable by-products) (Harrison 2008, p. 105). Therefore, latent functions can contribute to the development of criminal situation.
Therefore, there are some important characteristics of social stratification. First of all social stratification produces division of labor and creates social and economic inequality between people. Another characteristic of social stratification is that it has consequences in terms of opportunities for different experiences and for the manifestation of different qualities in life for those variously located in the social skyscraper (Owen 1968, p. 5). As the result, some people, who are more qualified, are able to attain more privileged positions. Thus, inequality is inevitable and essential to ensure that the most important positions are conscientiously filled by the most qualified persons (Harrison 2008, p. 104). Consequently, some people have more power in society than others. This power usually derives from social status, prestige, and respect, as well as from control of economic resources (Harrison 2008, p. 13).
All in all, social stratification has many negative and positive functions. For example, according to Davis and Moore this system creates situation in which the most important positions in society are occupied by the most qualified people. Thus, inequality contributes to the development of society. Nevertheless, there is also a negative side of such stratification. For instance, Merton stressed that limited opportunities crime and motivates people to not only develop their skills, but to commit crime. As the result, although social stratification has some positive functions it also has important negative consequences.
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