Despite considerable efforts toward global equality in recent years, society, in general, is still prone to stratification. People around the world experience severe discrimination, which is detrimental to society’s overall development. The issue can be examined from various perspectives and the points of view of functionalism and conflict theory. The purpose of this essay is to explore social stratification in light of the aforementioned approaches and their key ideas.
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Social stratification is a complex, multi-faceted issue, which is caused by several negative aspects. According to Schaefer (2013), this phenomenon exists on several levels, from personal relationships between individuals to global inequality patterns. Sociologists discern three aspects of discrimination, which are gender, race, and class. All three elements form a complex stratification framework, as they influence one another both directly and indirectly. Schaefer (2013) outlines the difference between one’s ascribed and achieved social status. Gender and racial disparities make it difficult for certain groups to realize their potential in terms of achieved social status. In this case, it becomes difficult for people to move outside their assigned stratum, thus impairing a nation’s social mobility.
The problem of stratification has been an area of intense interest for sociologists, and there exist several dominant models, which aim at explaining it. Proponents of the functionalist perspective argue that stratification is universal (Schaefer, 2013). It is said that the discussed phenomenon is a form of society’s self-regulatory mechanism, as it wants to ensure that all positions and wealth are distributed according to people’s talents and skills.
Functionalists believe that social inequality serves as a motivation for people to continue their development and attain higher statuses. This system of rewards responds to the demand for suitable candidates for key positions. Nevertheless, the functionalist perspective does not address unjustified stratification systems, in which people are ascribed to a certain status because of aspects they cannot control, such as race or gender.
At the same time, the conflict theory perspective utilizes the ideas of Karl Marx as its foundation. This philosophy considers history as a continuous struggle between the oppressed and oppressors. In this case, stratification is viewed as an instrument, which facilitates the abuse of less fortunate social classes (Schaefer, 2013). As in other situations, discrimination can be based on various factors, but gender and race remain the key aspects contributing to the disparities.
The conflict theory proponents state that today’s policy-makers acknowledge potential challenges caused by continuous oppression. They address these issues with limited social reforms, which allegedly serve to create an illusion of progress in terms of equality (Schaefer, 2013). For example, millions of dollars are allocated annually to funds providing welfare and assistance to people of color in need, such as TANF. However, if the system functioned differently, and there were no oppression in the first place, these people would have enough social opportunities to live without welfare.
Overall, the primary difference between fundamentalism and the theory of conflict lies in each model’s views regarding the nature of stratification. The first approach’s proponents see stratification as a necessary phenomenon, ensuring the proper functioning of society. However, they rarely take into account unjustified oppression and discrimination. Simultaneously, conflict theorists remain certain of the detrimental nature of stratification. According to them, dominant elites use it as an instrument of wealth distribution control while creating an illusion of perceived equality in some spheres.
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Schaefer, R. T. (2013). Sociology: A brief introduction (10th edition). McGraw Hill.