Sociology (English Medium)

Sociology Revision Series: Paper-1/ Unit-5/ Stratification and Mobility (Part-1)


Stratification can be defined as a form of inequality in which different groups are arranged vertically on the basis of some objective or subjective characteristics in which those who are on the top of the ladder gets privileges whereas the group at the bottom suffers from disadvantages.

Stratification is based on two criteria:

  1. Objective – Wealth, Job, Post, etc.
  2. Subjective – Caste, Gender, Colour, etc.

Social Stratification is a universal phenomenon. No society has ever been found in the human history which was egalitarian in all senses. Some form of stratification was always found on the basis of either ascription or achievement.


Concepts of Social Stratification (Equality, Inequality, Hierarchy, Exclusion, Poverty and Deprivation)


-> Equality or social equality refers to a condition in which members of a group or society have equal access to, wealth, prestige, or power.

-> Social equality exists when all people have equal access to, or share power, wealth or prestige.

-> “Equality” has been one of the cherished values of the people since times immemorial. But, social inequality has been the fact of human group life.

-> Rousseau had recognized this fact when he said that “men are born free and equal but everywhere they are in chains”. The quest for equality and the struggle against inequality and injustice continue even today.

-> Liberal society believe that equality lies in equality of opportunity i.e. any social system which has absence of any form of hurdle for the individual to ensure social mobility can be called as equal society.

-> But Marxist or Socialist ideology do not accept the definition of equality given by liberal ideologies. They believe that the real equality lies in “system of distributive justice” i.e. when the economic resources of the society does not lie in some hands rather it is equally distributed in all the members of society is only equality.  

-> Equalitarian objectives of welfare still remain unfulfilled.



Inequality literally means unequal treatment in terms of opportunities, advantages, disadvantages. The term social inequality refers to the socially created inequalities. Inequality is found in all societies irrespective of time or place.

There are also patterns of inequality associated with the social positions people occupy. We can say that there are two types of inequality:

  1. Natural inequality (age, sex, height, weight etc.) and
  2. Man made inequality may be horizontal or vertical (e.g. different occupational groups perform different activities but when these groups become social groups in the sense that they are placed hierarchically and they have interaction within the group and at the inter-strata level, then such type of inequality is called social inequality).

Max Weber suggested three types of market situations (i) labour market, (ii) money market, and (iii) commodity market. Weber termed the second from of inequality social honour or prestige and the third form of inequality for Weber was power.

As exemplified by caste, social stratification involves a hierarchy of social groups. Members of a particular group have common identity, like interests, and similar lifestyle. They enjoy or suffer from the unequal distribution of rewards in societies as members of different social groups.

Social stratification however is only one form of social inequality. It is possible for social inequality to exist without social strata. It is stated that a hierarchy of social groups has been replaced by a hierarchy of individuals. Although many sociologists use the term inequality and social stratification interchangeably, social stratification is seen as a specific form of social inequality.


Some Salient Aspects of Social Inequality:

-> Social Inequality is the result of Differentiation (All societies differentiate among their members).

-> Social Inequalities are not necessarily based on Natural or Biological Inequalities. For example, Whites claim biological superiority over Blacks, and see ‘this as the basis for their dominance. Similarly, In India also, the higher castes claimed biological superiority over the untouchable castes.

-> Social Inequality is a source of social conflict and Social Change.

-> Social Inequalities are normally sustained by the Power of Ideas. For example, the sex roles in our society show how traditional roles have ensured the dominance of men over women. Similarly, the caste roles in India reveal that normally the upper castes tend to dominate the lower castes by virtue of their traditionally ascribed superior status.

-> Social Inequality is Universal.

-> Social Inequality is normally built into the social Structure and unequal statuses are passed down from generation to generation.

The beliefs that social inequalities are caused by natural or biological inequalities seem to sense as rationalizations to justify the stratification system. The beliefs serve to make social inequality appear rational and reasonable. Currently, the existence of inequality, its causes and consequences as related to social class, genders, ethnicity, and even region or locality, continues to assume sociological prominence.



-> The concept of hierarchy denotes that people in a society are graded or ranked differently depending upon the type of the statuses that they occupy.

-> Generally, the system of hierarchy is the concept of formal organization which forms a pyramid shape. Many sociologists use the term hierarchy and stratification interchangeably which is not true.  

-> Louis Dumont in his book ‘Homo Hierarchicuscalled the Hindu caste system as the hierarchy because he believed that Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudras are not a group or community, rather it is a post based on “purity and pollution.” But except Louis Dumont other sociologist believed that caste system is the form of social stratification and not hierarchy  


Usage of the Concept of Hierarchy in the Analysis of Social Stratification:

-> Any system, social or otherwise, is said to be hierarchical or gradational in nature if it consists of different strata or layers one on top of another. In a system for say Caste system hierarchy help us understand social Inequality and Social distance among Castes.

-> Hierarchy is an important concept because, by making use of the hierarchical principle it is comparatively easier to trace out the relative status or position of an individual or group in a particular society. For example, it is through the principle of hierarchy, we can say, that in a caste system, the Brahmins as a caste group occupy the top-most position enjoying the privileges associated with it, while the untouchable castes occupy the bottom most position suffering from all the disabilities related with it.

-> Similarly, class system, is also hierarchical in which the capitalists and the rich occupy the top position in the hierarchy while the workers and the poor occupy the bottom most position.


Hierarchy and its Relations with Power & Authority:

-> The principle of hierarchy is also important in the area of operation of power and authority. Normally, power and authority flow from higher level to lower level as we witness it in all types of bureaucracies.

-> The exercise of power and authority and the control of people and resource become organized in a hierarchical way.

-> The higher the position of an individual in the hierarchy, the greater the power and control of resources that he has access to and vice versa.

-> This kind of hierarchical principle can be seen in virtually every area of social life, from politics and economics to religion and education.



-> Social exclusion is an extreme form of social inequality in which a group or individual is largely cut off from the full involvement with the wider society.  

-> Since man is a social animal, his life, goals, ambition, needs are largely fulfilled by the
society. Hence, living in society is the need of individual but in some societies some
group or individuals are forced to get cut off from the wider social interaction due to
objective or prejudiced facts.


Nature of Social Exclusion:

-> Social exclusion is systematic It is result of structural features of society.

-> Social Exclusion indicates deprivation of Opportunities.

-> Social Exclusion is not Accidental Social exclusion in most of the cases is found to be an in-built mechanism to deprive a few of their social rights. The ‘untouchables’ in India, were excluded from doing many things, for example, entering temples, sharing food along with higher caste people, drawing water from public wells, receiving education on par with others, etc as a matter of caste rule.

-> Social Exclusion is Involuntary Social exclusion is practiced regardless of the wishes of those who are excluded. For example, In the case of the untouchables of India, it is trusted upon them. They are prevented from having access to something desirable, say for example, having access to education, or entering religious institutions, etc.

-> Prolonged Exclusion leading to a reaction against Inclusion. For example, the denial of temple entry for the dalits in India for decades together by the upper castes may ultimately compel the dalits to build their own temple, or to convert to another religion like Buddhism, Christianity, or Islam.

India like most societies has been marked by acute practices of social discrimination and exclusion. At different periods of history protest movements arose against caste, gender and religious discrimination. Yet prejudices remain and often new ones emerge. Thus legislation alone is unable to transform society or produce lasting social change. A constant social campaign to change awareness and sensitivity is required to break them.


Types of social exclusion:  

1) Based on economic deprivation (Poverty):

-> Especially in Western societies or class-based societies those groups are excluded from the society who have little achievement in economic terms. Society forces them to live in slums and discourage them to have contact with the wider society.

-> Albert Cohen in his study of slum dwellers in America has given the concept of ‘status frustration’ and he believed that the poor in American societies are so marginalized and cut off from the interaction/involvement that out of frustration they move towards deviance.  

2) Exclusion based on occupation:

-> In every society, there are certain occupations that are unhygienic, disrespectful like manual scavenging, sweeping, etc. Those groups or individual who are attached with these occupations are excluded from the larger society.

-> Untouchable caste in India is an example.

3) Exclusion based on violation of norms/rules:

-> Every society expects from its individuals to conform to the social norms but if some individuals deviate from the norm which causes harm or discomfort to the general social order, they get excluded from the society.

-> Imprisonment or social boycott is the example.  

4) Exclusion based on ascription:

-> In many societies, there are certain prejudices which believe that individual due to their birth, caste, race, etc. are not entitled to interact with the larger society. They are forced to live in isolation because of it.

-> Shudras in India, apartheid in Europe and Africa is the example.  

5) Exclusion on the basis of achievement:

-> This exclusion is not imposed by the society, rather it is a self chosen form of exclusion, generally found among the celebrities. They disconnect themselves from the larger involvement with the society because they believe that they are no more common social being. They live in fenced houses and do not permit individual to come to them easily.

Social exclusion is a form of inequality found in almost all societies, though the criteria and the form of social exclusion are not universal but in traditional societies it is based on certain cultural prejudices which are always a concern for social reforms.  



-> Poverty is a social problem and it is one of the manifestations of inequality.

-> Poverty can be defined as “a socio-economic condition of an individual in which individual and their dependents are devoid of or deprived from those basic things which are essential for the effective functioning of body and mind.”  


The cause and effect of poverty is multidimensional in which following causes are considered as important:

  • Culture of poverty (Ocsar Lewis)
  • Lack of opportunity due to overpopulation
  • Natural disasters prone society
  • Religious dominance which discourages individuals not to go for worldly achievement (Weber)
  • Concentration of wealth or resources in the hands of a particular group (Marx)  


There are two types of poverty identified:

1) Absolute Poverty

-> Absolute poverty refers to the inability of a person or a household to provide even the basic necessities of life. It refers to conditions of acute physical wants, starvation, malnutrition, want of clothing, want of shelter, total lack of medical care.

-> At times “absolute poverty” is also called “subsistence poverty”, since it is based on an assessment of minimum subsistence requirement such as food, clothing, shelter, health care, etc.

2) Relative Deprivation/Poverty

-> Poverty according to this concept is to be measured according to standards of life at a given time and place. The idea is that standards of society can be changing standards.

-> Definition of poverty should therefore be related to the needs and demands of changing societies.

-> For example, in India in 1960 those who had a per capita income of Rs.20/- or less per month in rural areas were considered to be below the poverty line. In 2011-12 those who have an income of less than Rs.816/- per month in rural area and Rs.1000 (Tendulkar Committee) in urban area are considered to be below the poverty line.  



-> “Deprivation” is one of the concepts closely associated with the discussions of social inequality.

-> Sociological analysis defines deprivation broadly as inequality of access to social goods. It includes poverty and wider forms of disadvantage.


Absolute Deprivation and Relative Deprivation:

-> Absolute deprivation refers to the lack of life necessities i.e. food, water, shelter and fuel. It means the loss or absence of the means to satisfy the basic needs for survival – food, clothing and shelter.

-> Relative deprivation refers to deprivations experienced when individuals compare themselves with others. In this case, individuals who lack something compare themselves with those who have it, and in so doing feel a sense of deprivation.


The poverty and deprivation have various socio-economic consequences:

  • It may lead to class conflict and proletariat revolution (Marx)
  • It may lead to sequential migration (Notestein)
  • Poverty leads to moral corruption, law and order problem, bad habits etc. 
  • Concentration of population at the place of emerging opportunities which on the one hand will lead to overpopulation of one place and under population at the another.
  • It develops a sense of retreatism and pessimism.
  • It may cause social movements, civil wars, communal tensions, separatist movements, etc.  

Thus, in socio-economic dimension, poverty and deprivation is always considered as dysfunctional for the society, especially, the conflict theorists in sociology consider that the poverty and unequal distribution always create tensions, conflicts which leads to social changes but functionalists like Parsons do not agree with.


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