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Question: Define social stratification. What are the characteristics of the class system of social stratification.

Stratification can be defined as the classification of the society. Most societies are organized so that their institutions systematically distribute benefits and burdens unequally among different categories of people. Society does not consist of a homogeneous group of people. Social arrangements are not neutral but serve and promote the goals and interests of some people more than they do those of other people. Vander Zanden (1990:154) thus described stratification as ‘the structured ranking of individuals and groups, their grading into horizontal layers of strata.’ Gidens (1989:206) defines stratification as ‘structured inequalities between different groups of people.’ He says society can be seen as consisting of strata in a hierarchy, with the most favored at the top and the less privileged nearer to the bottom. According to Brinkerhoff and White (1991:199) stratification is ‘the social categories within which a society are ranked according to the amount of scarce resources they receive.’

Stratification can thus be said to be the division of society in to different types of classes because of the lack of uniformity in society. It can be said to be a hierarchy of positions with regards to socio-economic power. Macionis (1997:236) views stratification as ‘a system by which a society ranks different categories of people in a hierarchy.’ Stratification forms the basis of the divisions of society and categorizations of people.

The most prominent and influential theories of stratification are those developed by Karl Marx and Max Weber. Marx’s explanation of social stratification emerged out of his analysis of the 19th century capitalist societies. Marx (1848) says ‘the there is only one important dimension of stratification which is class.’ According to Giddens (1989), Marx defined class as a group of people who stand in a common relationship to the means of production. Marx believed the key to stratification is the division between those who own and control the means of production, the capitalist, and those who only have their labor to sell, the working class. He described the relationship between the two classes as an exploitative one. Marx held that exploitation is the inevitable outcome of the two major classes attempting to coexist within the same society. In Marx’s view, class is determined entirely by one’s relationship to the means of production. Brinkerhoff and White (1991) say the key factor in Marx’s theory is not income or occupation but whether individuals control their own tools and their own work.

Max Weber latter developed Karl Marx’s theory which he felt provided a simplistic image of stratification. He contended that other divisions existed within society that at times are independent of the class or economic aspect. Weber saw a greater variety of economic factors as important in class formation. According to Weber class divisions are derived not only from control or lack of control of the means of production but from economic differences which have nothing directly to do with property. Such resources include skills and credential or qualifications. Weber distinguished two other basic aspects of stratification besides class, which are status and party.

Weber defines status as the differences between social groups in social honor or prestige they are accorded by others. He says status involves the social respect, admiration and recognition associated with a particular social status. Possession of wealth normally tends to confer high status. Vander Zanden (1990) stated that wealth and power must be put on public view for status is awarded only on evidence. Vander Zanden says comparing one’s own economic situation with that of others becomes established success. Success rests primarily on income, occupation and life style. An individual’s personality and sociability have taken...
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