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Social stratification and class

Опубликовано на портале: 18-01-2003
Факультет: Department of Sociology
Дисциплина: Социальная стратификация
Язык: Английский
Тематические разделы: Социология, Экономическая социология, Социальная стратификация

The purpose of this course is to introduce the students to the central ideas in the field of social stratification and class, to consider the experiences of various groups from the point of view of these theories, and consider how unequal resources affect many kinds of life chances.

The course begins by considering the philosophical issues surrounding how we justify inequality. Most of us think that people with educational credentials should be paid more than people without them. But, most of us would also agree that employers should not systematically decide to pay women less for the same job as men perform. Both are forms of discrimination and require justification. What principles justify unequal outcomes for people?
We then, discuss the classical sociological theories that attempt to explain stratification: ie., Marx, Weber, and the functional theory of stratification. Then we consider more contemporary versions of these theories: status attainment research (which examines the role of families and other social statuses in the process of attainment), economic perspectives (which considers how human capital and labor market structures effect stratification), and other contemporary views on stratification and labor markets. These perspectives will then be used to shed some light on the causes of racial, ethnic, and gender discrimination.
Finally, we consider some contemporary issues concerning stratification. First, we take up how stratification effects political participation, health and mortality, and the intersection between the stratification system and the prison system. Then, we consider the role of the government in lessening inequality through affirmative action and other anti-discrimination laws. Finally, we look at inequality around the world and see how other advanced industrial societies and less developed societies deal with inequality and poverty.

We live in a time where there has been massive economic growth and huge increases in wealth and income created mostly by the emergence of new markets in telecommunications, computers, and biotechnology. The core ideology of our "new economy" is that these rewards that have accrued have been distributed in a meritorious fashion. Put simply, people who get ahead deserve their wealth because they are producing things of value. Living in this time presents a huge public relations problem for sociology. Sociology is mostly postured to be critical of the existing social order. In this time where markets are supposed to be the arbiter of people's worth, no one wants to hear that America does not treat everyone fairly. So, sociology's unpleasant message is a subject of scorn (or more frequently, sociology's message is ignored) that is countered by assertions that if people get educated and work hard, they will overcome any barriers that life has presented them.
My way of looking at this, is that there has been great economic progress in America, particularly in the past 10 years. There is also clearly more opportunity for groups who have experienced discrimination historically. But, there still are important sources of inequality in America. Families continue to play an important role in the intergenerational transmission of opportunities for schooling and jobs. This means that people with higher socioeconomic status are able to reproduce privileges for their children. There is evidence that discrimination against women and various minority groups (particularly Afircan-Americans) continues.
We know that income and wealth inequality have been increasing in the U.S. since 1980. "Lean and mean" corporations have made workers insecure, decreased their benefits and lowered the wages for those in the bottom 80% of the education distribution. The Federal government since 1980 has been engaged in social policies that have made it difficult for workers to organize, favored tax policies that benefit the more well off, and generally removed pieces of the social safety net. The negative effects of inequality; less access to health care and the political system and the use of prisons to control poor people, means that for those in the bottom half of the income distribution, life is still difficult.
One way to get some perspective on the American experience is to consider what has happened in the other advanced industrial societies. In this class, we will consider how Europe and Japan have dealt with issues of societal inequality. Finally, we will consider how the developing world has fared in the past 10 years. While parts of Asia have developed rapidly and are now approaching Europe and America in terms of levels of income, the less developed parts of the world, particularly Africa are in dire straits. Indeed, the stratification between the developed and least developed part of the world is growing.


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