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Unformatted text preview: SOC 101 - Principles of Sociology Lecture Notes #10 Social Class and Social Inequality in the United States 1) Social Inequality - Introduction. Social Inequality or social stratification means unequal or uneven access to resources and opportunities in society. Social stratification is the ranking of a population into unequal strata or layers. (Stratification is a term used in geology to refer to layers of rock--placed one above the other.) The ranked categories of people in society have unequal or uneven access to important social resources in society such as wealth, power and prestige. Such ranked groups may also be treated unfairly. Social stratification and social inequality are used interchangeably. Valued or important social resources in any society include wealth, power, and prestige (or social honor). In unequal societies, individuals, groups or classes have uneven access to valued resources and opportunities. Also, in stratified societies, social groups or classes tend to receive fair or unfair treatment before the law. 2) Origins of Inequality in Society. Jacque Rousseau (the French natural philosopher) in his book, The Second Discourse, traces the origin of social inequality in society to the institution of private property and private/individual ownership of the means of production. This creates a situation of 'haves' and 'have nots'. Because wealth, power and prestige are scarce resources in any society, these valued resources constitute the basis of inequality and competition or conflict between groups, classes or among individuals. Rousseau, in The State of Nature , argues that there was no social inequality before society and private property emerged. Hence, society and private 1 property are responsible for social inequality in society. (Karl Marx advocates the elimination of private property to create equality and cooperation in society.) Differences in physical strength, skills or talents existed in the State of Nature-- but did not lead to social inequality as these attributes were used to benefit both the individuals and the community. 3) Theoretical Perspectives of Social Inequality. There are two major theoretical perspectives of social inequality: a. The Functionalist Perspective, and b. The Conflict Perspective. The Functional Perspective of Inequality explains inequality in terms of the functions it performs for the society as a whole. It argues that some individuals or groups in society must be unevenly rewarded for their talents, efforts and motivation. Individuals or people with qualities, talents or skills that are most needed and valued in society must be given more rewards or benefits than the rest. It is assumed that individuals with the most ability in society use their skills for the well-being of all (rather than for self-interest or self-enrichment)....
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