Compare the Functionalist and Marxist Views on Social Stratification

Topics: Marxism, Social class, Sociology Pages: 5 (1740 words) Published: December 12, 2012

Social stratification refers to the presence of distinct social groups which are ranked one above the other in terms of factors such as prestige and wealth (Haralambos & Holborn, 2004). Those who belong to a particular group or stratum will have some awareness of common interests and a common identity. They also share a similar lifestyle which, to some extent, will distinguish them from members of other social strata (Lenski, 1984). Social stratification involves a hierarchy of social groups and they either enjoy or suffer the unequal distribution of rewards in society as members of different social groups. Four principles are identified which help explain why social stratification exists. First, social stratification is a characteristic of society and not merely of individuals. Second, social stratification is universal but variable. Third, it persists over generations and fourth, it is supported by patterns of belief. There are different sociological perspectives which have been put forward about social stratification; the Functionalists and the Marxists.

A Functionalist, (Parsons, 1954 in Haralambos & Holborn, 2004), has argued that stratification systems derive from common values. He proposes that those who perform successfully in terms of society’s values will be ranked highly and they will be likely to receive a variety of rewards. At a minimum they will be accorded high prestige because they exemplify and personify common values. He also states that because different societies have different value systems, the ways of attaining a high position will vary from society to society.

Functionalists tend to see the relationship between social groups in society as one of co-operation and interdependence. Each group in society may specialize in a different activity, so no one group is self sufficient; they must therefore exchange goods and services with other groups (Lenski, 1984). This relationship is extended to the strata in a stratification system. Therefore, those with the power to organize and co-ordinate the activities of others will have a higher social status than those they direct. Parsons, 1954 also argued that in addition to prestige, there are also power differentials in society. He felt that inequalities of power are based on shared values. Power was accepted as a part of society since he felt that those in authority used their power to pursue collective goals which derive from society’s central values. The most famous Functionalist theory of stratification has been put forward by (Davis & Moore ,1998 in Haralambos & Holborn, 2004). They felt that stratification existed in every known human society; they argued that all social systems share certain functional prerequisites which must be met if the system is to survive and operate efficiently. They further argued that all societies needed some mechanism for effective role allocation and performance; this mechanism is social stratification. They viewed social stratification as a system that attaches unequal rewards and privileges to the different positions in society. People differ in terms of their innate ability and talent and the different positions in society differ in terms of their importance for the survival and maintenance of society. Therefore they believed that certain positions were functionally more important than others. As a result, stratification is viewed as matching the most able people with the functionally most important positions. High rewards are attached to these positions which require long periods of training and the desire for such rewards motivates people to compete for them even though they may have to undergo sacrifices. It is essential for the well-being of society that those who hold the functionally most important positions perform their roles...

Bibliography: Haralambos, M. & Holborn, M. (2004). Socilogy Themes andPerspectives. London, HarperCollins Publishers.
Lenski, G.E. (1984). Power and Privilege. A Theory of Social Stratification. United States, University of North Carolina Press.
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