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Question: Critically Compare Marxism and Functionalism in the Way Each Perspective Conceptualizes the Phenomenon of Social Stratification.

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Social inequalities have existed in all societies from the simplest to the most complex. Power and prestige are unequally distributed between individuals and social groups within many societies, and there are great disparities in the distribution of wealth. Social stratification is a particular form of social inequality that has existed throughout history; for example, Egyptian society, Feudalism and Modern societies (today). There have been many theories put forward to explain how social stratification is determined and its effects on society. The following is a critical comparison of how the Marxism and Functionalism Perspective conceptualize the phenomenon of social stratification.
Power refers to the degree to which individuals or groups can impose their will on others, with or without their consent. (Micheal Haralambos and Martin Holborn)
Prestige relates to the amount of esteem or honour associated with social positions. Marxist believed that conflict was unavoidable and necessary; the driving force of social change and without it the society would stagnate. They put forward the view that member of the working class would develop class solidarity when members realize that only by collective action that ruling class would be overthrown, and that the proletariat would overthrow the capitalist and seize the source of power. They used the class struggle of history to establish their point. (Micheal Haralambos and Martin Holborn)
Wealth refers to material possessions defined as valuable in particular societies.(Michael Haralambos and Martin Holborn) According to Micheal Haralambos and Martin Holborn Social stratification refers the presence of distinct social groups which are ranked one above the other in terms of prestige and wealth. Those who belong to a particular group or stratum will have some awareness of common interest or common identity. They will also share a similar lifestyle which, to some degree will distinguish them from members of other social strata. Anthony Giddens identifies three characteristics of socially stratified systems;
1. The rankings apply to social categories of people who share a common characteristic without necessarily interacting or identifying with each other; for example the wealthy may be ranked differently from the poor.
2. People’s life experiences and opportunities depend on the ranking of their social category; for example, being black or white makes a difference in term of your life chances which is often as big a difference as personal or good fortune.
3. The ranks of different social categories change slowly over time. In U.S. society; for example, only in the last quarter century have women begun to achieve equality with men.
The functionalist theory of social stratification is based on a framework of larger theories that seek to explain the operations of society as a whole. A major assumption is society has basic needs or functional prerequisites that must be met in order for it to survive. Therefore functionalism looks at social stratification to identify how far it meets these functional prerequisites.
Another assumption is that the parts of society form an integrated whole and they need to examine the ways that the social stratification system is integrated with other parts of society. They claim that order and stability are integral to the operations of social systems, and consider how the stratification systems help to maintain order and stability in society.
Talcott Parsons claims that order, stability and cooperation in society are based on values and that social stratification systems are derived from the value system, since individuals are evaluated and then put into ranks. Those who perform well in terms of values are ranked highly and receive high rewards and prestige and stratification will inevitable result from the ranking of individuals using a value system.
Parsons argument also underpins the general belief that stratification systems are just right and proper, since they are an expression of the value consensus. Therefore individuals ranked highly (business executives) are viewed by members of society as deserving his rewards because a high value is placed on their skill and achievement. He goes further to ascertain the source of conflict between the haves (high rankings) and have- nots (low rankings) as a tendency to arrogance on the part of some haves and to a “sour grapes” attitude on the part of the some have- nots. It is believed that this conflict is managed by the value system which justifies the unequal distribution of rewards and prestige.
Functionalist Davis and Moore attempted to explain “in functional terms”, the universal necessity of stratification in social systems. The term ‘function’ is used to refer to the contribution an institution makes to the maintenance and survival of the wider social system. In determining the functions of the various institutions or parts of society, the functionalist approach assumes that there are certain basic requirements which must be met for the society to exist and survive; these requirements or needs are called functional prerequisites. One such functional prerequisite is that all roles must be filled by individuals who are best able to perform the roles conscientiously. They argue that social stratification is the mechanism for ensuring effective role allocation and performance.
The unequal reward is an aspect of social stratification that is viewed as a system that is used to match the most important positions by attaching high rewards to these positions, the desire to gain such a reward motivate individuals to compete, and in theory the most talented will acquire the position. These positions require sacrifices such as long periods of training that may result in loss of income, but the promise of high rewards compensate individuals for the sacrifices made. It is essential that for the well being of society that those who hold the functionally most important positions perform their roles diligently and conscientiously.
Marxist theorist like Karl Marx focused on social strata rather than social inequalities ;whereas, Functionalist focus very little on social stratification as clearly defined social strata whose members have shared interest. This view of social stratification is central to the Marxist theory, which concentrates on the structure of society and explains individual actions in terms of the social structure in which they are located.
Marxist argues that in stratified society there are two major social groups. The ruling class whose power comes from owning or controlling the factors of production called the capitalist (owners of the means of production) and the oppressed and exploited class that provides the labour called the proletariat (working class). Class was determined by one’s relationship to production, and the Marxist Perspective viewed the relationship between the major social classes as one of mutual dependence and conflict. Unequally distributed power cause division between the two classes and the institutions in society are used by the ruling class to dominate and serve its own interest; for example the legal and political systems.
They viewed social stratification as the exploitation of the mass population, the working class. The value system is viewed as being shaped by the superstructure (the major institutions, values and beliefs that are shaped by economic infrastructure) and used as an instrument of the ruling class to dominate and as a mechanism for oppression.
They further argue that a ruling class ideology is developed that justifies and legitimizes the disparity in the distribution of wealth, and ruling class domination. Brain washing the working class, and projecting a distorted picture, which produces a false class consciousness. Resulting in both classes accepting the status-quo; therefore, disguising the conflict of interest between the two classes to produce a degree of social stability but the conflict of class societies remained unresolved.
Marxist believed that conflict was unavoidable and necessary; the driving force of social change and without it the society would stagnate. They put forward the view that member of the working class would develop class solidarity when members realize that only by collective action that ruling class would be overthrown, and that the proletariat would overthrow the capitalist and seize the source of power. They used the class struggle of history to establish their point.
In conclusion Functionalist believe that social stratification is an integral part or structure in society that serves a purpose and the survival of our society is dependent on it. Talcott Parsons viewed it as inevitable and functional since it was based on our value system. Davis and Moore viewed social stratification as a solution for placing and motivating individuals within the social structure and that social inequalities are inevitable and differential rewards contribute to the maintenance and well being of our social systems.
The Marxist Perspective provides a radical alternate to the Functionalist of social stratification. They regard stratification as a divisive rather than an integrative structure. It is seen as a mechanism used by some to exploit others, rather than a means of furthering collective goals, which is based on a value system that is set up to ensure the dominance of the ruling class and only when the factors of production are owned communally will class disappear.

Social inequalities have existed in all societies from the simplest to the most complex. Power and prestige are unequally distributed between individuals and social groups within many societies, and there are great disparities in the distribution of wealth. Social stratification is a particular form of social inequality that has existed throughout history; for example, Egyptian society, Feudalism and Modern societies (today). There have been many theories put forward to explain how social stratification is determined and its effects on society. The following is a critical comparison of how the Marxism and Functionalism Perspective conceptualize the phenomenon of social stratification.
Power refers to the degree to which individuals or groups can impose their will on others, with or without their consent. (Micheal Haralambos and Martin Holborn)
Prestige relates to the amount of esteem or honour associated with social positions. Marxist believed that conflict was unavoidable and necessary; the driving force of social change and without it the society would stagnate. They put forward the view that member of the working class would develop class solidarity when members realize that only by collective action that ruling class would be overthrown, and that the proletariat would overthrow the capitalist and seize the source of power. They used the class struggle of history to establish their point. (Micheal Haralambos and Martin Holborn)
Wealth refers to material possessions defined as valuable in particular societies.(Michael Haralambos and Martin Holborn) According to Micheal Haralambos and Martin Holborn Social stratification refers the presence of distinct social groups which are ranked one above the other in terms of prestige and wealth. Those who belong to a particular group or stratum will have some awareness of common interest or common identity. They will also share a similar lifestyle which, to some degree will distinguish them from members of other social strata. Anthony Giddens identifies three characteristics of socially stratified systems;
1. The rankings apply to social categories of people who share a common characteristic without necessarily interacting or identifying with each other; for example the wealthy may be ranked differently from the poor.
2. People’s life experiences and opportunities depend on the ranking of their social category; for example, being black or white makes a difference in term of your life chances which is often as big a difference as personal or good fortune.
3. The ranks of different social categories change slowly over time. In U.S. society; for example, only in the last quarter century have women begun to achieve equality with men.
The functionalist theory of social stratification is based on a framework of larger theories that seek to explain the operations of society as a whole. A major assumption is society has basic needs or functional prerequisites that must be met in order for it to survive. Therefore functionalism looks at social stratification to identify how far it meets these functional prerequisites.
Another assumption is that the parts of society form an integrated whole and they need to examine the ways that the social stratification system is integrated with other parts of society. They claim that order and stability are integral to the operations of social systems, and consider how the stratification systems help to maintain order and stability in society.
Talcott Parsons claims that order, stability and cooperation in society are based on values and that social stratification systems are derived from the value system, since individuals are evaluated and then put into ranks. Those who perform well in terms of values are ranked highly and receive high rewards and prestige and stratification will inevitable result from the ranking of individuals using a value system.
Parsons argument also underpins the general belief that stratification systems are just right and proper, since they are an expression of the value consensus. Therefore individuals ranked highly (business executives) are viewed by members of society as deserving his rewards because a high value is placed on their skill and achievement. He goes further to ascertain the source of conflict between the haves (high rankings) and have- nots (low rankings) as a tendency to arrogance on the part of some haves and to a “sour grapes” attitude on the part of the some have- nots. It is believed that this conflict is managed by the value system which justifies the unequal distribution of rewards and prestige.
Functionalist Davis and Moore attempted to explain “in functional terms”, the universal necessity of stratification in social systems. The term ‘function’ is used to refer to the contribution an institution makes to the maintenance and survival of the wider social system. In determining the functions of the various institutions or parts of society, the functionalist approach assumes that there are certain basic requirements which must be met for the society to exist and survive; these requirements or needs are called functional prerequisites. One such functional prerequisite is that all roles must be filled by individuals who are best able to perform the roles conscientiously. They argue that social stratification is the mechanism for ensuring effective role allocation and performance.
The unequal reward is an aspect of social stratification that is viewed as a system that is used to match the most important positions by attaching high rewards to these positions, the desire to gain such a reward motivate individuals to compete, and in theory the most talented will acquire the position. These positions require sacrifices such as long periods of training that may result in loss of income, but the promise of high rewards compensate individuals for the sacrifices made. It is essential that for the well being of society that those who hold the functionally most important positions perform their roles diligently and conscientiously.
Marxist theorist like Karl Marx focused on social strata rather than social inequalities ;whereas, Functionalist focus very little on social stratification as clearly defined social strata whose members have shared interest. This view of social stratification is central to the Marxist theory, which concentrates on the structure of society and explains individual actions in terms of the social structure in which they are located.
Marxist argues that in stratified society there are two major social groups. The ruling class whose power comes from owning or controlling the factors of production called the capitalist (owners of the means of production) and the oppressed and exploited class that provides the labour called the proletariat (working class). Class was determined by one’s relationship to production, and the Marxist Perspective viewed the relationship between the major social classes as one of mutual dependence and conflict. Unequally distributed power cause division between the two classes and the institutions in society are used by the ruling class to dominate and serve its own interest; for example the legal and political systems.
They viewed social stratification as the exploitation of the mass population, the working class. The value system is viewed as being shaped by the superstructure (the major institutions, values and beliefs that are shaped by economic infrastructure) and used as an instrument of the ruling class to dominate and as a mechanism for oppression.
They further argue that a ruling class ideology is developed that justifies and legitimizes the disparity in the distribution of wealth, and ruling class domination. Brain washing the working class, and projecting a distorted picture, which produces a false class consciousness. Resulting in both classes accepting the status-quo; therefore, disguising the conflict of interest between the two classes to produce a degree of social stability but the conflict of class societies remained unresolved.
Marxist believed that conflict was unavoidable and necessary; the driving force of social change and without it the society would stagnate. They put forward the view that member of the working class would develop class solidarity when members realize that only by collective action that ruling class would be overthrown, and that the proletariat would overthrow the capitalist and seize the source of power. They used the class struggle of history to establish their point.
In conclusion Functionalist believe that social stratification is an integral part or structure in society that serves a purpose and the survival of our society is dependent on it. Talcott Parsons viewed it as inevitable and functional since it was based on our value system. Davis and Moore viewed social stratification as a solution for placing and motivating individuals within the social structure and that social inequalities are inevitable and differential rewards contribute to the maintenance and well being of our social systems.
The Marxist Perspective provides a radical alternate to the Functionalist of social stratification. They regard stratification as a divisive rather than an integrative structure. It is seen as a mechanism used by some to exploit others, rather than a means of furthering collective goals, which is based on a value system that is set up to ensure the dominance of the ruling class and only when the factors of production are owned communally will class disappear.

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