Stratification looks at the causes for divisions within the UK – such as inequality with jobs, education and opportunities. In the UK, stratification is hierarchical and looks at wealth, ownership and assets. The term ‘stratification’, essentially means a formation of layers in which different institutions cluster together to make the whole of society. Within the UK, stratification is class based and traditionally views class through norms, values and life style – it places everything in a hierarchical manner. Social stratification is essential in social science studies as it can show how we are effected by certain indicators within the social sphere. In today’s world, class is not as important as it was many years ago – this was down to the fact that class defined who you were and how people perceived you. In society today, it is much easier to mask your social class. There are three different tiers of class within the UK, the Upper Class, Middle Class and the Working Class. Each of the three groups clash with one another with the separations of opportunities and social mobility coming into play. Having three various social groups in society can also cause social closure for certain classes, ruling out the chance of any type of social mobility. Social closure is a concept which refers to the powerful groups within society excluding and preserving the privilege to other social groups by restricting access to resources, rewards and opportunities that may arise. Social closure is universal, found in social groups all over the world. In terms of closure, I would argue that it is not just social groups that have social closure, but even other types of groups in society such as religions like Christianity. For example, Mormons in Utah, they live in a community that isolates itself away from other assemblies within society by having its own neighbourhoods specifically being designed just for them, and their families. Neighbourhoods that comprise of houses, schools, churches and supermarkets – where only the Mormons who reside in the neighbourhood can use. The term social closure was introduced into the world by Max Weber as an explanation of why some groups in society act as they do. The idea of elite self-recruitment was also coined in the social closure aspect, which can also be referred to as networking. This is where inclusion and exclusion also comes into play. If someone wants to join a particular club, school or even an occupation, it can offer the network of people who are in the groups. Only certain people can be in these elite assemblies, rejection of individuals in lower social classes is not rare. Elite self-recruitment is also when members of higher classes in society ensure that their children will be in the same social and financial standing as them. Willmott and Young 1970 argue that, on this particular aspect within their study that was conducted in London (sample of 174 directors, 83% were sons of professionals and managers). Social mobility is where a group in society can move social class or position. There are different types of mobility: upward or downward mobility; also short range and long range. Embourgeoisement and proletarianism are looked at in the mobility movement, these terms were coined by Marx. To move up the hierarchy this is known as embourgeoisement – meaning that the individuals that are moving up the social class scale are adopting norms and values that the bourgeoisie hold. While moving down the hierarchy is known as proletarianism, meaning that the people that move down through mobility, their work becomes less skilled and they will then be known as proletariat. There can also be inter-generational which occurs between generations, or intra-generational which occurs within a generation. There are certain institutions inside society that can encourage social mobility, for instance further education – especially colleges. “FE colleges tend to attract individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds, as well as adults returning to learning. FE colleges are therefore a potential instrument for up-skilling young people and adults from deprived backgrounds.” (www.gov.uk, 2011) Social mobility is regarded as a great thing as it gives people more opportunities but at the same time, in some cases it can provide people with less chances in society as they have not gained a higher status within the community, but have moved down the mobility ladder. There are flaws within the representation of social mobility and closure, women have not been represented as well as men due to small numbers within the workplace in the past, but in present day, there are larger numbers of women who work within the labour market. Functionalism is the first theory that can explain to an extent why inequality exists within the UK. Functionalism ensures the survival and maintenance of society, in which Talcott Parsons argued that we must be able to accept that we are all ranked within a system in our community and that this is entirely inevitable. People who are ranked highly within our class system in the UK will receive rewards - such as power, wealth, status and economic privileges. It is argued that we need a value consensus for stratification, also argued that stratification is functional as it integrates groups within society. It is also said by functionalists that education is the key for absolute mobility. This creates the idea of an open meritocratic system – this is based on abilities and efforts. Therefore, his can show that inequality can arise due to the unequal merit that is not distributed to people in lower classes. Strengths of this particular theory is that it gives a reason for the inequality through meritocracy. It also highlights the importance of education, and how it can influence the class you are in and move individuals through social mobility. Also, it highlights inequality through higher classes in the UK restricting and excluding working class people which reduces their opportunities. Looking at Marxism, this provides a radical alternative in comparison to the Functionalist perspective. Marxism views capitalism as the problem for the divisions in society. This perspective argues that stratification is actually a mechanism for exploitation, in which it focuses entirely on the ruling class and how this class is able to exploit and cause inequality through power. ‘Capitalism is dynamic because it is unequal, and any attempt to equalise wealth and income will succeed only at the expense of stifling initiative, innovation and social and economic development.’ (Saunders, 1990, p.53) There is the ownership and non-ownership argument that is straightforward in the case of inequality, some people own and some people, simply, do not. The ownership also refers to the capitalist system, which is ultimately flawed and also refers to the bourgeoisie. The argument of dependency and conflict also highlights the inequality but interdependence of the social classes in society is essential. Marx had a simplistic two class system – the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, which is the upper class and the working class, these two classes hold the superstructure up. Interdependence relies on the bourgeoisie bringing in the means of production and the proletariat bringing their skills to make products and work for the bourgeoisie. Where inequality arises here is how the proletariat is treated. The proletariat will be on bad wages, and will not receive any of the profit that the bourgeoisie keeps; Marx argued that if the proletariat found out about this inequality the proletariat would revolt, causing massive upheaval and confrontation between two classes. Strengths of this theory are that it expresses the importance of economic ownership and draws attention to the inequality and exploitation of the proletariat (lower/working class). Weaknesses of the Marxist perspective is that it does have a simplistic two class system and can be considered to be too economically focused. The Weberian theory focuses on class, status and party. Firstly it looks at people’s class and market situation. Weber’s class breakdown was split into different categories: the propertied upper class; the petty bourgeoisie; the property-less white collar workers and the manual working class. This perspective secondly looks at the significance of status which can either be ascribed or achieved. Status is based on honour or prestige which is influenced by occupation or birth. Weber stated that your class situation equates to your market situation. Within a group of individuals, whoever shares the same market position will also be within the same class, therefore meaning that those particular people are able to have the same life chances and opportunities in their lifetime. They will also more than likely share the same values. Groups are based on ethnicity, gender, nationality, age and even religion, in which all groups may have a status symbol. Consumerism is a large part of this theory as it shows that every status group will end up adopting social closure. Thirdly, party is the objective to gain power - this can refer to trade unions, interest groups and also pressure groups. These types of groups are can be in some cases only for certain types of people such as the middle class as some pressure group memberships can be closed for people in certain occupations and for people who have a certain title or amount of money. Strengths of this theory are that is takes a broader look at classes, and highlights that the middle class have risen up due to bureaucracy. According to Giddens, Weber’s work provides what was missing within Marx’ work. A weakness of Weber’s perspective is that it ignores the unemployed. Keith MacDonald’s 1997 study, ‘The Professional Project’ focuses on elite self-recruitment along with social closure. McDonald saw that professionals will adopt social closure, soon after the professionals will establish their personal jurisdiction and will define the area of expertise. Following this, the next step in this stage is ‘produce the produce’, this is where the professionals will train the certain people who want to practice their profession. This leads to the monopolisation of their expertise to ensure that people other than the ‘producers’ will not be able to practice. This leads to the establishment of trust and responsibility. Sociologists argue that professionals only act to benefit themselves. Arguably it is said that the professionals within society do in fact hold more power than other people. This highlights elite self-recruitment that happens inside society every day. Strengths of McDonald’s study are that it highlights how professionals and people who are in higher social groups actually adapt social closure and minimise and restrict opportunity to people in a lower class to themselves. Weaknesses of this would be a criticism from Harry Braverman (1974), he argued that many of the professionals in today’s society now work for or alongside the government, losing some of their independence and power. The ‘Oxford Mobility Studies’ by Goldthorpe (1972, 80, 96) was based on an age range of men from 20 – 64 years. Women were unfortunately not included within the series of studies. Goldthorpe’s system consisted of 7 different class breakdowns, it supported both mobility and closure. Classes 1-3 had social mobility whereas the other classes adopted social closure. It was approximated that there was at least 30% of professionals from working class backgrounds, meaning that absolute (and also long range mobility) was possible. Looking at sons in classes 1-3, they had done better than their fathers and there were better life chances and opportunities at the top 3 classes compared to the other lower 4. The reason for the increase in social mobility increase was due to the service class expanding, this was as a result of the introduction of technology. Classes 4-7, this is when social closure is introduced within this study as people in these specific social classes did not have as many opportunities as others had. Within these classes, the fathers were outdoing their sons. The studies suggested that mobility has increased after WW2, which could suggest that society has become more open and accepting. We see that this can be because of the de-industrialisation of Britain. It was noticed that out of ‘460 chairmen in 1971, only 1 per cent had manual working-class origins, 10 per cent had middle-class origins’ (Haralambos and Holborn, 2000, p. 101) Strengths of the Oxford Mobility Studies are that it shows that absolute social mobility is possible and that downward mobility had decreased. A weakness of these studies are that women were not taken into consideration, and that the unemployed were also not considered. John Scott’s ‘Who Rules Britain?’ (1982, 91, 97) Weberian based social closure study revealed an in depth description of the upper classes in Britain. He argued that there has been change within the higher classes in Britain. Scott argues that there is still an upper class and it has not vanished and will not disappear in the distant future. Scott was influenced by Weberian concepts within his study, but he also holds a Marxist view (retaining a ruling class). This particular study looks at social closure through marriage. Through marriage this means that groups would intermarry and interconnect families to keep wealth in a place it could increase and stay safe. He saw that classes consist of ‘clusters of households which stand in a similar position of income and wealth and the overall distribution of life chances’. (Haralambos and Holborn, P. 51, 2000) He also argued that there are three different types within the upper class: land owners; manufacturers and financiers. Each of the three categories within this particular class system are all integrated. Scott argued within the study that the three groups overlapped, ‘as the nineteenth century progressed these three groups moved closer together. For example, some landowners invested money in manufacturing or industries such as mining, and some manufacturers bought large estates in an attempt to gain the social acceptance enjoyed by aristocracy. However, the most distinctive group remained the financiers, merchants and bankers, such as Rothschilds and the Barings.’(Haralambos and Holborn, p. 51) Scott also pointed out that in 200 of the richest families in the United Kingdom, 104 of those are a part of this through ascribed wealth. It was seen that there were entrepreneurs that were among the wealthiest 200, but over half had a head start through the inheritance from family members. Scott states that ‘Inheriting from their own parents in the entrepreneurial middle class or marrying a woman who had inherited wealth from her parents was the way in which many men secured the funds to invest in the ventures that subsequently made their fortunes’ (Scott, 1991, p. 85) In conclusion, each of the studies demonstrated that there is inequality within the layers of society. The inequality in the UK is stemmed by upper classes excluding people out and not giving them a chance to change their social class or to even have a chance to gain new opportunities to better themselves. The upper classes adopt social closure and monopolise the lower class. The importance of social class in explaining inequality is great. It is not as great as it was many years ago when people based their perception of you on the class group you were in. But the influence of social class is still there, and explains the inequality through mobility through the classes and the adoption of social closure too.
Haralambos, M. and Holborn, M. (2000) Sociology: Themes and Perspectives. London: HarperCollins Publishers. Saunders, P. (1990) Social Class and Stratification. Routledge, London. Scott, J. (1991) Who Rules Britain? Polity Press, Cambridge. www.gov.uk, (2011). Social Mobility: A Literature Review. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/32111/11-750-social-mobility-literature-review.pdf [Accessed 2 Apr. 2015].