Systems of Social Stratification
Social Stratification [Video, 26:40 mins] refers to the way that society is divided into categories of people. It is based on social inequality with the highest strata having the most resources and power and the lowest strata having the least of these. All societies are stratified, yet there are many systems of stratification. Typically, stratification revolves around characteristics other than wealth and power. For example, race, ethnicity and sex and gender often become mechanisms for social stratification. Stratification, at its extreme can result in slavery or apartheid. Slavery refers to the legal ownership of human beings. While this practice has been outlawed in the U.S., it is still alive and well in many parts of the world. It can also result in apartheid [Video, 3:35 mins]. Most Americans think of apartheid, the legal separation of racial and ethnic groups as something that happened in South Africa in recent history. They fail to connect the practice with the overt legal segregation that existed in America’s south and the covert legal practices in the American north that accomplished the same thing, such as red-lining [Video, 2:47 mins] and residential segregation. Finally, some societies follow a caste system. This system ascribes social status and class to a family. There is absolutely no social mobility within a caste system and the lowest caste is viewed as “untouchable,” as in India.
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