Compare and Contrast Functionalist and Marxist Theories of Stratification.

Topics: Marxism, Sociology, Social class Pages: 6 (1548 words) Published: April 4, 2003
Compare and Contrast

Functionalist and Marxist Theories of Stratification

Stratification is the separation of society into layers which are distinguished by unequal rewards and life chances and many systems of stratification have been based on slavery, caste and feudalism.

Slavery, being the oldest and most extreme form of stratification, involves the enslavement or ownership of others. This ownership came about as a result of conquest, trade, kidnapping, hereditary status or the repayment of a debt. The classic example of the caste system is based on the Hindu religion, where caste codes have to be obeyed before being reborn into a new, higher caste. Feudalism stems from medieval Europe where the ranking system of status groups, known as estates, became dominant. The system was closely related to property and political power with landownership being the key.

Though gender and ethnicity have become increasingly important in recent years, social class is probably the most important form of stratification and is not seen as natural or interchangeable, but as being influenced by historical developments.

One of the most important things about social stratification is that status is passed from the head of the family to their spouse or children. This means that age, sex and personality are not forms of social stratification as they are not dependent on family background. The direct passing on of status would be an inherited title, position, wealth or power, with indirect examples being the advantages to children because of their family background. These could include language, education or occupation.

The functionalist perspective is rooted in the work of Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) and gives the view of society as an organism in which each part functions in a certain way to ensure the stability of the whole. Though society is something which exists on its own it has a structure of parts that maintains it. The parts are institutions like the family or the church, which are "useful" or "functional" in some way, but if the institution was no longer functional it would disappear and be replaced like a passing fashion. People involved in these institutions may not be aware of their function, but because the institution exists certain effects follow. Institutions are long lasting so therefore functional.

The foundations of functionalism set down by Durkheim were later built on by other writers including A.R.Radcliff-Brown (1881-1955) who was quite clear about the meaning of functionalism when he stated:

"As the word function is here being used the life of an organism is conceived as the functioning of its structure. It is through and by the continuity of the functioning of an organism that the continuity of the structure is preserved. If we consider any recurrent part of the life process, such as respiration, digestion, etc., its function is the part it plays in, the contribution it makes to the life of the organism as a whole."

He emphasised the structural resemblance between social life and organisms even more clearly than Durkheim and it was this that gave rise to the term structural-functionalism.

Even later than Radcliff-Brown, K.Davis and W.E.Moore (1967) explained how social inequality is necessary to motivate the more talented members of society to train to fulfil the demands of social positions which are functionally more important that others. They list the rank order of positions as religion, government, wealth and technical knowledge and point out that only a limited number of people have the talents which can be turned into the skills needed for these positions. This takes training which means social and financial sacrifices are made, so in order to encourage people to undergo this training, and to endure the demands of the future position itself, they are given certain privileges. This may include access to scarce resources such as property, power and prestige. This access to scarce...
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