Reproducing Hierarchy: Over the course of time, culture and consumption have become the important areas of social life and economic divisions while inequalities are still adhered to it in forming cultural lifestyles, in addition to it the hierarchical classification of lifestyles is still the key feature of stratification process. There exists different claims like social divisions are increasingly becoming detached from structural relations and the agency is emerging as the dominant part in social affairs thus leading to the weakening of social structural constraints with time.
Stratification: Social Division and Inequality – Wendy Bottero: Reproducing Hierarchy
The process of stratification in sociology field has always surfaced as a powerful influence and even exists so in the late modern world. Today social relations are presented as fragmented, as liquid forms and shifting attachments resulting in the formation of identities which are regulated by ideas and meaning rather than of material structures. This also led to the leaving behind the idea of stratification and inequality thereby promoting the discursive construction of difference. With the increased focus on the role of choice and reflexivity in social life, even though the notion of inequality is there, therefore, maintaining a huge difference in ‘the objective and subjective’ dimensions of social life. As Beck-Gernsheim said, ”individuals become actors, builders, jugglers, stage managers of their own biographies and identities and also of their social links and networks” thus emphasizing the fact that how individuals are molded according to their social relations and structure.
It is a practical observation that less advantaged members still live lives which are replete of structural constraints and inequality continues to be deciphered as the notion that a selected few always have more freedom and choice than others.
The modern society is changing and along with it, there are a number of continuities in patterns of inequality. These continuities emerge in unequal patterns of movement to new social positions rather than denying opportunities to the disadvantaged, although the weaker sections get brighter opportunities they still receive the unequal share of them. Albeit there is a drastic change in the provision of general standards of living and provision of healthcare in all western societies, there are still marked inequalities in health sector pertaining to relative inequality. The same pattern can be seen in the expansion of education and labor market opportunities where less advantaged have been benefitted from these changes along with the advantaged groups getting benefits at the same rate.
Over the period of time, the western societies have seen dramatic upward social mobility, providing impetus to many individuals from weaker sections to reach more privileged positions. It has been observed that because of continuity of inequality the privileged children are more likely to get such positions that too with ease. As put by Prady et .al 2003 he stated that from generation to generation there has been a gradual change in social structures that with the decline in relative inequality, there is an occurrence of changes “by slow degrees”. Although the opportunity structure have seen amazing shifts in the last two hundred years due to decline in importance of agriculture, landed property and family firms; the rise of education, bureaucratic careers, and other cultural careers, yet the family influence on social positions have moved remarkably stable in the face of these changes thus rendering people from advantaged sections more beneficial social positions as before.
It is a widely affirmed fact that social advantages give one considerable upper hand in changing and amending the social changes that successive generation will face. We cannot neglect the fact that persistence of relative inequality in our systems has only been possible because of the relative ease with which more privileged have been able to convert their economic holdings into cultural and educational success. For example, the family with well established social status will be able to admit his children in reputed schools; they will hire best tutors and also will aggregate better and well suited social contacts for their progress. Therefore, low achieving children from more privileged backgrounds have much better careers because even if they are not able to perform up to the benchmark expectations there exists alternative resources which can be used to ensure their success.
The education in spite of contributing to the increased social mobility has served as a mechanism for social reproduction where the unequal social relations are highly resistant to changes. According to Goldthorpe such processes results in situations where those grouping who enjoy positions of superior Advantages and disadvantage, cannot be expected to yield them up without a struggle but will rather seek to exploit the resources they can command in order to establish their superiority. Also, the link between the social background and educational attainment has strengthened over time rendering more advantaged more success in education terms as well. The ones with perks are better placed to grab and convert new opportunities as they are growing than those with fewer resources thus giving birth to inequality whereas the views may differ that whether it is a primarily economic mechanism or cultural reproduction. In his works, Bourdieu highlighted the pattern in which the dominated in a structure of hierarchy accept their fate and adjust their wishes accordingly therefore unknowingly promoting the inequality by ‘self-selecting’ class differentiated routes in life. There also exists a danger that cultural accounts of inequality can result in ‘culture of poverty’ which perceive the weaker or neglected sections as hopeless and helpless victims of the circumstances, compliant in their own fate. The aforementioned situation gives rise to two dangers of determinism and volunteerism, at one hand where it characterizes the disadvantaged as simple reflections of their position with minimal control over their fate and on the other hand, portraying inequality as the result of impoverished cultural life and relations due to which disadvantaged vilify themselves. Amidst all this, it is important to recognize that unequal social relations do provide fewer opportunities and therefore less agency and hold for the disadvantaged, although the fact remains that when opportunities have opened up they were as quick to grab them as their social superiors.
One cannot blindly believe that a sense of one’s place and limited cultural capital have refrained the working class from seizing their chances and expanding opportunities of an educational system. It is well established that the inequality towards less advantaged groups in late modern societies was not because of lack of access to opportunities but due to differential rates o access among members. Goldthorpe in his work suggested that the deprivation faced by children of working-class backgrounds were not dependent on cultural reproduction, and were due to differential economic risks that unequally placed groups in such situations for considering such options involving less financial inputs. He rejected the Bourdieu’s emphasis on ‘Poverty of aspiration’ among working class which he stated as a form of ‘blaming the victims’. He put the viewpoint that the choices that individuals make and changes which have occurred in differential seizing of opportunities is more dependent on economic difference rather than cultural differences.
Cultural, Social networks, and reproduction: The process of competition is often more between those the same level of hierarchy which means that it is not between equals but rather among equivalent individuals to work to find the advantage through pursuing different social or other avenues. It must be understood that social and cultural relations cannot be incorporated so easily in equations of gain or loss as there exists a danger of undermining the possible significance of popular cultural resources, by only dealing with working-class identities as eulogized ones. Even critics of such hierarchal classification agree that not all forms of differentiation are strategies in hierarchical activities and forms of cultural difference can be pursued for the individual’s own sake or for any other reason. Also, forms of difference have their own dynamic, apart from processes o hierarchy as differentiation occurs independently of all such processes. For example, the cultural tastes and preferences are primarily associated with stratification, not through the force of a dominant group’s values, but rather through their role in differential association in which groups have a different liking, tastes and values. Stratification, therefore, is a practical portray of everyday life whether we mean it or not, whereas inequality exists in the most fundamental form which extends beyond well beyond all conscious reflections or identity. People in their day to day life simply by liking the things and other people, cannot help but give birth to inequality, regardless of whatever knowledge or be thinking they have about inequality.
One should understand that the complexity o stratification not at all reflects that coherence o social divisions and inequalities are ignored or that progressive individual choices have resulted in chaotic, unorganized social relations. Also, one’s social location, movement, and hyper-differentiation cannot be compared to choice, structure and patterned nature of social relations as these are integral aspects of differentiation. Thus, a differential association can occur in various ways as in stratified relations people follow different paths through life and these processes arise through the structured opportunities.
Bottero, Wendy. Stratification. London: Routledge, 2005. Chapter 14 pp, 246-258