Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Social Stratification

Man has always desired an egalitarian society where
all human beings have equality but this noble ideal has
never been fully achieved in recorded history and
certainly not in modern societies which are more
concerned about equality than any other societies. The
indicators of development devised by national and
international organisations show that inequalities have,
in fact, increased within countries and between the
countries during the last century.
A number of agencies at different levels are engaged in
reducing economic and social equalities. The modem
state has taken the major responsibility for reducing
social inequalities. International organisations like
UNDP, World Bank, and Asian Development Bank also
playa major role in policy formulation and mobilization
of resources to reduce poverty. Voluntary organisations
are increasingly involved in the implementation of
development programmes whose major purpose is to
reduce poverty and empower people. Needless to say
these efforts have been only partially successful.
Social workers have a special interest in social
stratification. Social work aims at improving social
functioning of individuals, groups and communities. The
type and pattern of social stratification in a society
greatly influences individual and group behaviour. For
example, a caseworker will have to deal with an
individual who fears loss of status after a series of
business losses. Information on the class and caste
status is this important to understand the social
background of the individual. Similarly groups for doing
group work are often formed on the basis of these
criteria. In community organisation the need is even
more as opportunities for development in Indian society
depend on the class and caste position of the respective
Social Stratification: Theoretical
Social stratification can be defined as the arrangement
of groups of individuals in hierarchical positions on the
basis of criteria like wealth, prestige, ethnicity, gender
and power. Because of the similarity of their positions
in the social structure they develop a common
consciousness of who they are, what their common
problems are and what should be done to remove these
problems. Social stratification is a major form of social
inequality. Sociologists point out that in complex
industrial countries like U.S.A. the main type of social
inequality is individual based inequality and profession
based inequality. Lists have been prepared to show the
public perceptions of the relative prestige attached to
various occupations. One such list shows the medical
doctor on the top with the sweeper the bottom. The
social worker has a middle rank.
The quick mobility of individuals disturbs the
arrangement of status in the hierarchy and this prevents
the development of group consciousness. For the
development of group consciousness it is important that
there is stability in the social structure and that
individuals remain in a group for a considerable amount
of time and that the avenues for social mobility are
limited. In India class and caste are the main factors of
social stratification, about which we will now learn.
There are two prominent social thinkers who have
enriched our understanding of the nature, types and
consequences of social stratification: Karl Marx and Max
Marx’s analysis of society gives an important role to the
economic factor. According to his theory of class, a class
consists of a group of people who have similar relations
to the forces of production. For example, in modem
societies, all individuals who own factories are capitalists
and all individuals who work in these factories for wages
are workers. Similarly in an agrarian society individuals
who own land can be called feudal lords and those who
work for them are serfs or labourers. He also believed
that the interests of these different groups were
irreconcilable, which means that one gains at the
expense of others. The result was that the workers,
labourers or slaves were always exploited by the
capitalists, feudal lords or slave owners in their
respective societies. All other institutions in society,
religious, political or educational, helped the process of
exploitation through various means. For example,
religion preaches fatalism, which convinces people that
their suffering cannot be prevented and that passive
suffering can bring them heavenly rewards after their
deaths. Similarly the government puts down with
coercion, attempts by the poorer sections to demand
justice in economic opportunities by calling it a law
and order problem or rebellion. In the Indian context a
Marxist analysis would interpret caste and the kanna
theory associated with it as justifying the exploitative
relations between the landlord and serfs. They prevent
the serfs from understanding that the landlord is
exploiting him and this prevents him from fighting the
exploitative system. Thus Marx places before us the
theory of economic basis of social inequality.
Max Weber, another prominent thinker, agreed with
many ideas of Marx but differed on others issues. He
agreed with Marx that the most important dimension of
stratification is economic which results in formation of
the hierarchical system of class but he points out that
there are other factors which determine social
stratification. According to him there are three
dimensions of stratification: wealth, status and power.
Weber also asserted that class formation did not depend
solely on ownership of productive forces. It depended
on the market situation by which an individual could
realize his potential in competition with others. For
example, a reputed lawyer or a doctor may not own a
field or an industry but he has specialized skills, which
not many others have. That is why these professionals
are paid lucrative salaries. Weber points out that if the
market situation of the individual is good then the
person can become wealthy and consequently gains
membership into the upper class. Status is the second
dimension of stratification and it is a measure of prestige
the society gives to an individual and that depends on
the lifestyle of the person. A person who occupies a
high office would be respected because of his status
and not because of his economic position. The third
dimension is power which is the ability of the individual
to influence the actions of others against their own
will. For example a village community leader may
neither be rich nor occupying a high office but his
position as leader of the community gives him power.
Weber agrees that in most cases, all three dimensions,
wealth, status and power are interrelated. A person
who enjoys wealth and power is likely to enjoy high
status. This is however true of most cases but not in all
cases. For example~ a dalit may be skilled and well to
do but may not be given the respect he deserves because
of his caste background. Weber by adding these
dimensions of stratification, has enabled a broader

understanding of social stratification.