Social Stratification Sociology UPSC

We are going to discuss Social Stratification Sociology UPSC. This topic is very important for UPSC Sociology Optional paper II.


Social stratification is a particular form of social inequality. It refers to the presence of distinct social groups which are ranked one above the other in terms of factors such as prestige and wealth. 


Social Stratification – A functionalist perspective : – 

When functionalists attempt to explain systems of social stratification, they set their explanations in the network of larger theories which seek to explain the operation of society as a whole.


They assume that society has certain basic needs or functional needs or functional prerequisites that must be met if it is to survive. That is, functionalists are primarily concerned with the function of social stratification with its contribution to maintenance and well being of society. 


Social Stratification – Equality and Inequality 

Equality literally means being identical or same. But in social sciences, it has a complex meaning. Human beings have great biological diversity – age, gender, race, etc and psychological diversity – degree and levels of motivation, social diversity – different skills and capabilities, habits, etc. 

Equality does not mean being identical in the case of society.


Egalitarian Society : – In this type of society all members are equal.

Power – The degree to which individuals or groups can impose their will on others, with or without the consent of others.

Prestige – The amount of esteem or honour associated with social positions, qualities of individuals and styles of life. 

Wealth – The material possessions defined as valuable in particular societies. 


This concept of equality of recent origin is an important concept in social services especially with the rise of capitalism. It is a modern concept. Feudal society was based on inequality. 


The concept of equality has developed through various stages for example – equality before law, political equality and universal adult suffrage. Political equality means all people have a right to participate in the political process.


As a result of Marxist, critique of capitalist society there developed a concept of socio – economic equality. Another dimension which has come now is gender equality. 


Right to equality can also be interpreted in another way by defining it in three parts. 1 – formal equality ( equality by law and political equality ). 2 – equality of opportunity 3 – equality of outcome.


There should not be any inherited rights. As long as there are inequalities either inherently or by virtue of talent there will always arise inequalities.


Equality of outcome – is all should get equal rewards. This notion of equality has been challenged by many scholars.


On the other hand, when these differences ( people are different – biologically, psychologically, socially ) among people are socially evaluated in terms of superiority / inferiority. Eg – blacks are discriminated against. 


Superiority is manifested in higher rewards. When differences are socially evaluated leading to unequal distribution of rewards this gives rise to inequality. 


Social inequality is socially created inequality. 


One special form of social inequality is where it leads to a rank order or a graded form ( gradation ), it is called social hierarchy. This social hierarchy may involve ranking of individuals or ranking of groups. When ranking of groups we call it social stratification, thus it is one type of social inequality involving a rank order of groups in society i.e. groups arranged in a graded fashion. 


The term ‘stratification’ comes from the Geology word ‘strata’ which means layers of earth. Inequality of stratification can exist in two ways – 1. Cumulative Stratification / Inequality or 2. Dispersed Stratification / Inequality


If three types of rewards overlap, then cumulative inequality – Eg – The rich have power and prestige. 


If those high one – one axis do not enjoy a similar position on another axis then it is called Dispersed Inequality. Eg – Northern India.

In India, land was owned by Rajputs or Ashraf Muslims but Brahmins demanded the greatest prestige. 

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