“Society Is an Arena for Inequality That Generates Conflict and Change.” Discuss This Statement Using Four Well Developed Examples from Within Your Own Society.

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One of the lines of a renowned song that Peter Tosh (1974), famous Jamaican song writer and singer penned was ‘there can be no peace without justice; what we need is equal rights and justice.’ More than thirty years since that song was written, the people in the Jamaican society are still crying out for justice. One might be led to believe that as the general standard of living improves with time, inequality would slowly become less evident. However, although things are improving, evidence of inequality is still prominent in our Jamaican society. The people that are failing to realize that there is still inequality are the fortunate ones. They rise well above the poverty line, and usually live relatively economically sound lives. They are the people who are supplied with our society's benefits. Those that are in pursuit of social change, and constantly bring attention to issues of equal rights and privileges, are often the people who do not have them. They are the ones who suffer daily from different levels of inequality. According to conflict theorists, “Society is an arena for inequality that generates conflict and change.” This statement suggests that cultural systems do not address human needs equally, thus allowing some people to dominate others. It emphasizes struggle over limited resources, power, and prestige as permanent aspects of societies and a major source of social change. Karl Marx (1818-83), a renowned theorist, studied social conflict for a great portion of his life with an attempt not only to understand society, but also to reduce the social inequality in it. A conflict analysis of our own Jamaican society reveals characteristics of social inequity in many different forms, with the prominent areas being Education, Class, Gender, and Race. Education is defined as, ‘the acquisition of knowledge and the learning of skills.’ It is, as we know, one of the most effective avenues for ensuring employment and an increase in income, which adds up to higher status or social class. Our own educational system, however, shows how schooling carries class inequality from one generation to the next. For example, secondary schools differentiate between students by making decisions about what exams to enter them for, and what streams to place them in. Conflict analysis, on the other hand, argues that streaming often has less to do with talent than with social background, so that more affluent students are placed in higher streams while poor children end up in the lower streams. These procedures do not uphold the ‘ideal of equal access to educational opportunities for those of equal ability’ (A. Cicourel and J. Kitsuse), and can adversely influence the options open to students and the extent of their progress. In this way, young people from privileged families get the best schooling, which leads them to college and, later, to high-income careers. The children of poor families, by contrast, are not prepared for college and, like their parents before them, typically get stuck in low-paying jobs. In both cases, the social standing of one generation is passed on to the next, with schools justifying the practice in terms of individual merit (Bowles & Gintis, 1976; Oakes, 1982, 1985). A student’s progress can also be affected in other ways apart from teachers determining what classes they are placed in and what courses they are given to do. Two related theories, the ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ and the ‘labeling theory’, suggest that a student’s behavior can be directly influenced by the way the teacher reacts to them. The labeling theory suggests the attachment of stereotypes to students. The theory of the self fulfilling prophecy argues that predictions made by teachers about future success or failure of students will tend to come true for the reason that the prediction was made. The teacher defines the student in a particular way, such as ‘bright’ or ‘dunce’. Based on this definition, the teacher makes predictions about the...
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