There rarely exists a phenomenon that could not be defined in terms of the society and social norms because the social behavior goes hand in hand with every concept associated with living things. The idea of a leader and his follower is present everywhere in every society. Whether it is the boss of a multi-national company having 200 employees underneath him or a president ruling a nation of billion individuals, whether it is the Brahmins or the Shudras in Hinduism or a beggar and a common man in any country, the distinct class difference is prevalent since a very long time. Class stratification is understood as the basic reality of every society. This concept has become the core of Sociology because of its importance and connection to the world’s economy, politics, culture and the overall well-being of individuals. Sociology is the study of society and the social behavior of individuals. In other words, the sociological perspectives analyze the different aspects governing the world.
In this regard, there are three major sociological perspectives which understand the different aspects of a society. Symbolic Interactionist perspective focuses on the minor details of life. In other words, this theory is based on the idea proposed by Weber that people interpret things on the basis of the meaning which they attach to the symbols. This meaning usually arises because of the social interaction and communication with other people. For instance, words or music can be referred to as the symbols which are interpreted differently by every individual. On the other hand, the sociological perspective known as functionalism adheres to the idea that a society has several structures which are interrelated to each other. In this way, they collectively affect the functioning and the structural well being of a society. The basic element which constitutes the overall structure includes the customs, beliefs, traditions, institutions and sectors. For instance the judiciary, the economy and the peaceful environment of a city are all interlinked. Furthermore, the third important sociological perspective is the conflict view which is typically based on the ideas generated by Karl Marx. The theory incorporates the pertaining socio-political and economical inequality in every society. However, this sociological view promotes a social change as it continuously stresses upon the rule of the dominant and how the working class is exploited at the hands of the elite ruling class (Brown K, 2006).
As mentioned before, the class stratification is not a new concept. It basically refers to the way a society is divided into different socio economic classes or income groups. The term class can be understood in a number of varying ways. For instance, class can be defined as a characteristic defining a rank on the basis of economic division. This definition can fit in for occupations as well as group descriptions associated with income levels. Similarly, despite the subjectivity of the phenomenon, the word class can also be understood on the basis of material identification and standard of living. Consequently, this reveals the existent grading class levels; lower, middle and upper class system. In addition, class can also be defined in terms of the relationship between people and their earning medium/ resource. Hence, although there are a number of ways in which the term class is defined, it is often understood as a concept of inequality (Giddens A, 2001). However, to ease out this comprehending confusion, the sociological perspectives help elaborate the way in which a structured society works on the basis of social class and stratification.
In this regard, the Marxist view addresses the concept of social class in association with the class inequality present in a capitalist society. He focuses upon the exploitation of the working class (the proletariats) by the ruling class (the bourgeoisies). For this reason Karl Marx talks about the people belonging to the lower socio economic class and poverty in general to be a result of human activity and not a natural phenomenon. The Marxist view holds the social institutions responsible for poverty and consequently encourages the transformation of these social institutions or the importance of a social change for controlling such class inequalities. Furthermore, while explaining the concept of exploitation, the Marxist view highlights the problems in the means of production that ultimately become the reason of exploiting and ruling over the working class. This arises not because of what people possess (in terms of resources) but also because of the way they utilize these resources. Hence this ultimately results in a class conflict. In this way, Marx describes a social class in relation to the link between people and their means of production. Moreover, this class difference is governed by the material interdependence between the bourgeois and the proletariat. For instance, the material welfare of the ruling class is directly connected to the economic imbalance being faced by the proletariats. Similarly, the ruling class is also at a greater benefit as the working class doesn’t own the means of production and also because the bourgeoisies take advantage of the efforts of the workers. This shows the working of class inequality in a capitalist society. For this purpose, the Marxist view promotes a social change and envisions a time of revolution when the society would be run on fair principles and everyone would be able to own the means of production. This would be the time when the oppressed class would collectively stand up and rise against the oppressors. This idea is adopted by the communist and socialist countries who do not favor the system of class stratification (Wright E, 2003).
On the other hand, the Interactionist perspective as pioneered by Max Weber views class in the following words: We may speak of a “class” when (1) a number of people have in common a specific causal component of their life chances, insofar as (2) this component is represented exclusively by economic interests in the possession of goods and opportunities for income, and (3) is represented under the conditions of the commodity or labor markets. This is “class situation” (Wright E, 2003). In other words, despite acknowledging the economic inequality dwelling in societies, unlike Marx, Weber points at the fact that social class can be better defined through life style and life chances. Life chances refer to the means of accessing the resources. This is not only limited to the economic resources but also institutions like education and health along with the ability to obtain food and shelter. Weber did not agree to the concept of dividing the classes on the basis of the ruling and working class as put forward by the Marxist view. However, Weber looks into the procedure of social stratification from a different view as compared to Marx. He considers class to be one aspect of the society’s structure where the other dimension is the status or the social honor.
In this regard, for Weber, the class difference can be understood on the basis of property ownership. In addition, the prime focus of his theory is the idea of life-chances. Ownership gives people the direct access to the market and eventually the greater material advantage. Similarly, he also focused upon the property-less class in terms of the skills they possess (Wright E, 2003). However, unlike the Marxist view, Weber is not a proponent of the idea that the class division would result in a social action. On the other hand, Weber defines status group as a community having a shared, common life style. He clarifies that although wealth may not be the only reason for describing status group, it can be considered as a key factor. This is evident from the prestige associated with wealth, as in the case of old and new money. Similarly, wealth also determines the lifestyle of individuals on which the status depends. Therefore, Weber considers the class and status to be equally associated with the concept of material inequality. The difference between them is based on the idea that the concept of class is directly linked with the material well being of individuals who bring the financial assets to the market whereas the status groups affect the economic well being of individuals in an indirect manner. Thus, Weber is seen to be less interested in the financial problems and deprived people, the ruling class being at an advantage and the class struggle that may arise in response to condition of being deprived. In contrast, he is keener in analyzing the instrumental rationality; the law and order and the practices attached to social interaction which results in creating life chances.
Furthermore, Functionalists also present a different view while talking about the social stratification and social class. In contrast to the conflict view, the functionalists view social stratification as beneficial and necessary for the functioning of a society. This is because of the idea that a class structure promotes harmony. It provides competition and an opportunity for the best to rise to the top. Furthermore, functionalists do not restrict to the economic reasons when defining the concept of social class. They consider a person’s family background, his work, education and other such facets of life to be the key determinants of their social class. In this way, they believe that poverty is not a natural law but it eventually flourishes because people do not put in an effort. In this way, the class stratification provides a platform for individuals to work hard and get the best.
This difference in the outlook of the social class is merely because of the philosophy held by the functionalists. Since they place great importance in the fact that society runs because of its interdependent sectors, the social stratification system is seen to lie on the positive spectrum. The functionalist view of social stratification is put forward by people like Emile Durkheim, Kingsley Davis and several more. Functionalists understand the concept of social stratification on the basis of human needs and desires which make them different. For this purpose, society plays an essential role in providing and also limiting goals and opportunities to the individuals. In a similar manner, the society also encourages these individuals to exercise efforts, learn and develop skills to climb the ladder. Hence, the functionalists consider the social stratification as an essential framework to develop the best individuals and motivate the most capable ones to take the best positions in order to help the society operate successfully (Saha D, 2006).
Thus, no matter how the different sociologists perceive the idea, social stratification coexists with the creation of every society. It divides the whole society into different classes and groups which can clearly be distinguished on the economic, social and political basis. For this reason, all the sociological perspectives discussed above hold a view that reflects the true nature of the society.
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