Soc 101: Introduction to Sociology (Carr)
March 3, 2010
I. What is Social Class? Social class is the social structural position a group holds relative
to the economic, social, political, and cultural resources of society
A. Historical and cultural variations. The process of stratification, or the processes
by which individuals or groups are arrayed in a hierarchy, differs across time, place and
culture. The dimension(s) along which we array people tells us important things about the
values and beliefs of a society.
1. Estate systems – Property or land is owned by a small elite, who have
total control over resources. These were typically agricultural societies, although there
are still societies today where a small and powerful landholding class rules over a
population that works in agricultural production – such as coffee and other crop
production in South America
2. Caste systems – Hierarchy of social classes is rigid and preserved
through formal law and/or cultural practices. Class is largely an ascribed status (i.e., a
status one has since birth). Among the most well-known systems was in India, where the
lowest group was the “untouchables” and the highest the “Brahmans.” The class into
which one was born dictated what kind of jobs one could hold, who one could marry, etc.
Other examples are apartheid in South Africa. Here, race was the main stratifier. Blacks
could not intermarry, were segregated in terms of employment and housing, and were
only allowed to vote in 1992 – when Nelson Mandela was elected president.
3. Class systems – Status is partially achieved and there is some potential
for movement from one class to another.
Status is fluid; it can change within one’s life
and across generations. The United States is believed to have a fluid class system. The
“American dream” is based on the assumption that with hard work, people can change or
improve their social class standing.
a. Ascribed status – status characteristics one is born with, such as
caste, gender, race, economic resources of parents.
b. Achieved status – status characteristics that one obtains over the
life course, such as educational attainment or an occupation.
B. Non-economic/psychological/subjective aspects of social class. Although most
people think of social class in terms of what people have
, it is also widely agreed that
class reflects what people wear, do, think, and feel.
1. Class consciousness – The perception that a class structure exists, and
the feeling of shared identification with others in one’s class. In the United States, many
people like to believe that there is no real class system, that all are created equal, and that
anyone can get ahead. Class consciousness tends to have two dimensions: the belief that a
class structure exists, and one’s class identification.
a. Conflict theorists – including Marx – believes that social change