Theories of Social Inequality

Theories of Social Inequality

Theories on Social Inequality5



Module Notes: Understanding Inequality

Food Line at Homeless Shelter

Conflict theory was developed by Karl Marx as a means of describing the changes from a feudal system to a social class system. He argued that a capitalistic society divides people into two categories: the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The bourgeoisie owns the means of production and the proletariat are the workers who earn merely “subsistence wages.” He argued that these social classes increase and perpetuate inequality and oppression because one’s relationship to the means of production becomes the defining point in one’s self-identity. In fact, capitalism depends on inequality because it needs a source of cheap labor to survive, and to increase the returns to capital, or profits, the bourgeoisie must drive the working proletariat into wage slavery, reducing their pay to the lowest level possible. Per Marx, the only way to end inequality would be to end capitalism. Structural Functionalists focus on social stability. Davis and Moore argued that inequality exists because not all jobs are created equal. They argued that society sets a higher value on jobs that are essential to the survival of the society. Davis and Moore argued that the more important the job is to society, the higher the wages associated with that job will become. Symbolic Interactionists explore how we learn values within a social class and how this leads to a class identity. Bourdieu argued that we reproduce social life. Social reproduction means that wealth and status are inherited as cultural capital. If your mother is a physician, she may raise you with the expectation that you will be a physician. This childhood expectation will increase the likelihood that you will go to medical school. Symbolic Interactionists build on this idea with Goffman’s notion of everyday class consciousness. He argued that we learn the social cues for our class behaviors. We become aware of these behaviors and look for them in the behaviors of others.

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