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The study of social stratification is one of the most significant and controversial areas of sociology. Scientists use the social stratification concept to describe inequalities that exist between individuals and social groups. One may think of stratification in terms of property or assets, but it can also be attributed to age, gender, religion, or even military rank. Some scholars often discuss social stratification drawing attention to the unequal positions of people in society. Analyses of stratification have shown that the social stratification itself is very controversial. On the one hand, the scholars representing the conflict paradigm state that social stratification is not by any means beneficial for society. One the other hand, the representatives of functional paradigm ague that social stratification influences society operating, and that the linkage of rewards to more vital social positions benefits society in general. Therefore, this paper seeks to discuss the arguments given by both paradigms, and prove that social stratification is inevitable and only benefits society.
Representatives of the conflict paradigm argue that social stratification and social inequality do not benefit society and provide advantages to the upper class people at the expense of others. This theoretical paradigm heavily relies on the ideas of Karl Marx.
Karl Marx developed an idea that social stratification is an outcome of social conflict, and that differences in social resources are beneficial to the interests of distinguished people and harm the interests of rest of society. He places the main emphasis on class, which he considers as an objective characteristic of society’s economic structure. Therefore, he argues that there is a fundamental split between the people who own the capital and the people who do not. He also states that beliefs and values tend to be ideological, as they may reflect the interests of the society members who have power. Marx also notes that immense differences in power and wealth arising from the capitalist system made class conflict inevitable (Giddens 2009).
Moreover, Marx states that social stratification can be avoided, as it is encouraged only by people who have power. If all people were equal, there would be no social strata. As social stratification is useful only to some people, the systems of social stratification cannot be stable (Macionis & Plummer 2011).
Marx also believed that misery and oppression would drive the working majority to organise and overthrow capitalism. This process would assist the poorer classes in becoming more polarised, pauperised, and aware of their position in the class. This would result in class consciousness and they would realize that they were economically exploited (Grusky 2000).
The abovementioned statements highlight the main ideas of conflict paradigm represented by Karl Marx.
The contrary position to the conflict paradigm is the functional paradigm, which main idea is that social inequality immensely benefits society. The functional paradigm was established by Kingsley Davis and Wilbert Moore in 1945.
Davis and Moore described society as a complex system which involves many occupational positions of different importance. In general, they explained that the greater the importance of a position, the more rewards will be attached to it by society. This strategy seems more realistic, since rewarding important and difficult work with prestige, income, and power encourages people to work better. As a matter of fact, when resources are distributed unequally, society motivates people to aspire to the best work possible, and to work harder, longer, and better. Therefore, social differences are more productive to society than social equality (Macionis & Plummer 2011).
David and Moore also state the social stratification encourages the matching of talents and abilities to appropriate positions, when Marx ignored them. Matching of talents and positions improves the working performance of people and their status in society. As people have different talents and abilities, social stratification is inevitable.
As social stratification is useful for society and is supported by beliefs and values, systems of stratifications are stable and do not change.
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The realization of people that their social position depends on them influences their work and improvement. This statement is more about reaching justice than equality (Bottero 2004).
Consequently, one can notice that Marxist’s approach has many drawbacks. One of the strongest critical statements of the Marxist’s position is that it denies that motivating people to perform different social roles requires a system of unequal rewards. One can argue that severing rewards from performance generates the low productivity. This can be supported by the example of the former Soviet Union and other world socialist economies. As a matter of fact, Marx’s ideas that capitalist society perpetuates privilege and poverty have not been justified. As a result, his revolutionary developments, which he considered unavoidable, have failed to materialize.
Having analysed the conflict paradigm of social stratification, represented by Karl Marx, and the functional paradigm, represented by Kingsley Davis and Wilbert Moore, one has come to the conclusion that social stratification cannot be avoided and positively influences the society development. Moreover, it influences people’s work improvement, self-realization, motivates people to work better and achieve better results, as their talents match their work positions. Consequently, social stratification is beneficial to people and enhances the human evolution and development of society.
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