FUNCTIONAL AND CONFLICT THEORIES OF SOCIAL CLASS Sociology Help

FUNCTIONAL AND CONFLICT THEORIES OF SOCIAL CLASS

Sociologists disagree upon whether social class stratification is useful as an efficient means of role allocation. Functionalists claim that society requires a variety of occupational roles and that the superior rewards for the upper classes are needed to persuade people to accept the responsibility and undergo the training which is required for important positions. Hence, social class is functional in terms of the total society. Davis and Moore have given the classic statement of this viewpoint: Social inequality is an unconsciously evolved device by which societies insure that the most important positions are filled by the most qualified persons. Hence every Society, no matter how simple or complex. must differentiate persons in terms of both prestige and esteem, and must therefore possess a certain amount of institutionalized inequality. (Kingsley Davis and Wilbert Moore, "Some Principles of Stratification," American Sociological Review, 10:242-249, April 1945. Reprinted by permission of the authors and the American Sociological Review.) Davis and Moore contend that (other things being equal) a job will be more highly rewarded according to the degree that it is disagreeable, important, and requires superior talent and training. They recognize that this would not hold true in a noncompetitive society where most occupational roles were ascribed and not achieved. Rewards include prestige and social recognition, but money is the main reward. Thus unequal pay is needed to get all the jobs filled with properly qualified people. There has been some empirical research which lends partial support to the Davis and .Moore theory. Studies find that rewards do. vary with talent and training, although evidence on "importance" of the work is mixed [Lopreato and Lewis, 1963; Land, 1970; Grandjean,1975; Grandjean and Bean, 1975; Cullen and Novick, 1979}, The Davis 'and Moore theory has been a favorite target of conflict scholars. They claim that inequalities of opportunity and class conditioning prevent lower-class persons from' making the best use of their native abilities. Conversely, untalented upper-class persons may be kept from humble but useful work because their attitudes and expectations make such work unacceptable to them. Thus, critics charge that the class system is a dysfunctional system for distributing occupations, wasting the talents of the 'talented underprivileged and wasting the modest potential of the untalented over privileged. They suggest that a better system of allocating occupational roles could be devised [Tumin, 1957;Squires, 1977}. Conflict theorists suggest that it is not utility but naked power which creates social stratification. Class privileges will change when lower classes challenge and change. them. It may-be true, as Chambliss and Ryther claim, that "inequality is an inevitable consequence of capitalism" [1975, p. 385). It may also be true that inequality is an inevitable consequence of cultural complexity, regardless of the politicoeconomic system. All complex societies develop some system of differential rewards. The early efforts of communist societies to operate on "equality of reward" soon foundered as they found it necessary to pay more to those who produced more [Gonzalez, 1982). As Mao Zedong stated, "Humanity left to itself does not necessarily reestablish capitalism, but it does re-establish inequality". 2 Successful parents in any society will find ways to help their' children in the competition for higher-status positions, and social classes will develop. Does functional or conflict theory better fit the facts about social classes? This is difficult to say. Both clearly are true in part, but neither fits all the facts.

Posted on September 4, 2014 in Social Class

Share the Story

About the Author

Back to Top
Share This