Social Inequality

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Social Inequality

Unit 03

What are functionalist theories of inequality?

Learning targets:

Functionalists have a consensus view of society. They believe that people in society work together for the common good of all, this is known as the organic analogy. •All societies are unequal. Inequality of whole groups in the social structure is known as stratification. •Functionalists believe stratification is good for society. •Functionalists say that the best people get the best jobs because they are more talented and work harder. Poor people are poor because they do not work hard enough for the best positions.

Key questions

(AO1) What is the functionalist view of society?

(AO1) What causes inequality according to functionalists?

(AO2) What are the strengths of the functionalist view?

(AO2) What are the weaknesses of the functionalist view of inequality?

Summary of Key Points
What is the functionalist view of society?
Many early writers and philosophers viewed society as being like an animal or human body. They shared the view that all the separate parts of the body worked together to create something whole. They claimed that everybody works together for the common good of us all, as do body parts for the organism. This shared view is known as consensus theory because it is based on social agreement.

Durkheim argued strongly for the organic analogy because he said we share values and norms. He said that different people in different jobs equate in social terms to the differing organisms of the body. Society itself is more than the sum of the people who go to make up that society. The supporting evidence is that things which happen to society will affect you regardless of your actions or opinions (e.g. war). Society lives on when individuals within it die.

Durkheim’s ideas became the basis of functionalism. Functionalists say that society is based on shared norms and values. They say that the job of the sociologist is to look at how parts of society work together for the good of the whole society. Social cohesion (sticking together like glue) is maintained through shared rituals and activities, for example state events such as Coronations and funerals, shared consciousness such as reading the same newspapers and watching the same TV programmes and major events such as sporting occasions which make people feel united with each other.

How do functionalists explain inequality?
The term social inequality describes a condition in which members of a society have different amounts of wealth, prestige, or power. Some degree of social inequality is found in every society. When a system of social inequality is based on a hierarchy of groups, sociologists refer to it as stratification: a structured ranking of entire groups of people that perpetuates unequal economic rewards and power in a society. Ascribed status is a social position assigned to a person without regard for that person's characteristics, for example, being a Queen is an ascribed status, as is being a female. By contrast, achieved status is a social position attained by a person largely through his or her own effort. This can be positive or negative so a person can be an ex-prisoner or a judge. These are achieved statuses.

Functionalists claim that inequality and stratification is functional for society and a source of social order. Davis and Moore proposed this theory in 1945. It was heavily criticised, particularly in the 1970s for being an extremely conservative theory by Tumin, who remains their foremost critic.

For Davis and Moore Stratification is a system of status positions and jobs. The key point of the theory is that Stratification is universal and necessary. This is argued because all society is stratified. They argue that society is therefore a functional necessity. The theory focuses on the following:

How do people get to their proper positions?
How do we motivate people to fill these...
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