The 2 Major Theoretical Approaches to Social Stratification

Theoretical Approaches to Social Stratification

The important approaches to social stratification are:

  • Functionalist approach
  • Conflict approach

Functionalist Approach to Social Stratification

According to the functionalist approach, functional differentiation is an inevitable phenomenon. One person cannot perform all or most of the functions in society. For different functions, persons of different intent and ability are required.

Functionalists also view that modern society requires a system of unequal rewards which means that incentives or rewards must be provided for the most talented people who occupy key/ top occupations that are essential for society to continue. These top positions must provide high rewards such as high pay/ status to attract the ablest people. They believe that the stratification system fulfills the function of ensuring that the most important jobs are filled by the most talented and highly qualified people. They see modern societies as meritocratic i.e. based on merits.

The salient features of the theory of stratification are;

  • Every society is a well-integrated structure of elements (parts).
  • Every society is a relatively persistent, stable structure of elements.
  • Every element in a society has a function.
  • Every functioning social structure is based on a consensus of values among individuals.
  • There is an inevitability of functional differentiation.
  • There is a need for differential intent and the ability for different functions.
  • Differential evaluation of different social positions & duties.
  • Reward on the basis of differential value attached to different functions.

Conflict Approach To Social Stratification

According to Karl Marx, economic factors are responsible for the emergence of differential social class (i.e. social strata). Therefore, social classes are defined by their relation to the means of production i.e. by their ownership or non-ownership.

Thus, in every society, there are two mutually conflicting classes, the class of capitalists (rich-the haves) and the class of workers (poor- the have nots). Since these two classes have mutually opposite interests, conflicts between the two are inevitable according to Marx. Social inequality refers to the unequal distribution of:

  • Resources such as power, wealth, and income
  • Opportunities (related, for example, to health, education, and employment)

The theory of stratification (also known as Weber’s theory of social class, popularly known as ‘Weberian stratification’ was developed by German sociologist Max Weber. According to him, people in society are stratified into social classes based on these three dimensions as follows;

  • class (based on the economy)
  • status (based on social position)
  • party (based on political influence)

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