Dimensions – Social Stratification of Class, Status groups, Gender, Ethnicity, and Race. | Sociology for CUET by Vikash Ranjan | Sociology Guru

Dimensions– Social Stratification of Class, Status groups, Gender, Ethnicity, and Race.

(Relevant for Sociology optional for UPSC CSE)
Paper-1 ,Unit-5 : Dimensions– Social Stratification of Class, Status groups, Gender, Ethnicity, and Race.

Dimensions – Social Stratification of Class, Status groups, Gender, Ethnicity, and Race.

Social Stratification of Class and Status groups:

  • The class system is universal phenomenon denoting a category or group of persons having a definite status in society which permanently determines their relation to other groups. The social classes are de facto groups (not legally or religiously defined and sanctioned) they are relatively open not closed. Their basis is indisputably economic but they are more than economic groups. They are characteristic groups of the industrial societies which have developed since 17th century. The relative importance and definition of membership in a particular class differs greatly over time and between societies, particularly in societies that have a legal differentiation of groups of people by birth or occupation.
  • Marx defined class in terms of the extent to which an individual or social group has control over the means of production.In Marxist terms a class is a group of people defined by their relationship to the means of production.Classes are seen to have their origin in the division of the social product into a necessary product and a surplus product.
  • Marxists explain history in terms of a war of classes between those who control production and those who actually produce the goods or services in society (and also developments in technology and the like). In the Marxist view of capitalism this is a conflict between capitalists (bourgeoisie) and wage workers (proletariat). Class antagonism is rooted in the situation that control over social production necessarily entails control over the class which produces goods — in capitalism this is the exploitation of workers by the bourgeoisie. Marx saw class categories as defined by continuing historical processes.
  • Classes, in Marxism, are not static entities, but are regenerated daily through the productive process. Marxism views classes as human social relationships which change over time, with historical commonality created through shared productive processes. A 17th-century farm labourer who worked for day wages shares a similar relationship to production as an average office worker of the 21st century. In this example it is the shared structure of wage labour that makes both of these individuals “working class”.

In the well-known example of socioeconomic class, many scholars view societies as stratifying into a hierarchical system based on occupation, economic status, wealth, or income.

  1. “Maclver and Page defines social class as any portion of the community marked off from the rest by social status. Maclver says whenever social intercourse is limited by the consideration of social status by distinctions between higher and lower there exists a social class. According to Ogburn and Nimkoff a social class is the aggregate of persons having essentially the same social status in a given society.
  2. Max Weber suggests that social classes are aggregates of individuals who have the same opportunities of acquiring goods, the same exhibited standard of living. He formulated a three component theory of stratification with social, status and party classes (or politics) as conceptually distinct elements.
    • Social class is based on economic relationship to the market (owner, renter, employee, etc.)
    • Status class has to do with non-economic qualities such as honour and prestige
    • Party class refers to factors having to do with affiliations in the political domain
  3. According to Weber a more complex division of labour made the class more heterogeneous. In contrast to simple income–property hierarchies, and to structural class schemes like Weber’s or Marx’s, there are theories of class based on other distinctions, such as culture or educational attainment.
  4. At times, social class can be related to elitism and those in the higher class are usually known as the “social elite”.For example, Bourdieu seems to have a notion of high and low classes comparable to that of Marxism, insofar as their conditions are defined by different habitus, which is in turn defined by different objectively classifiable conditions of existence. In fact, one of the principal distinctions Bourdieu makes is a distinction between bourgeoisie taste and the working class taste.Social class is a segment of society with all the members of all ages and both the sexes who share the same general status.

Status Groups:

  1. Max Weber formulated a three-component theory of stratification-class, status and power- in which he defines status class (also known as a status group) as a group of people (part of a society) that can be differentiated on the basis of non-economical qualities like honour, prestige, education and religion. Weber says bureaucracy is the most powerful of all status groups.
  2. Since Max Weber, the issue of status inconsistency has been the object of many studies because the phenomenon has itself been multiplied, particularly in the post-industrial societies and also because of an intervening factor, religion, particularly in emerging nations.
  3. Weber rejects the notion that economic phenomena directly determine the nature of human ideals, he distinguishes such conceptualizations independent of class interests and hence the distinction of ‘status’ groups from ‘class’ groups. By status situation Weber refers to that part of a person’s life chances, which are decided by the social esteem in which he/she is held, such esteem might be positive or negative. The status situation of an individual refers to the evaluations which others make of an individual of her/his social position. They normally manifest their distinctions upon the manner in which others may interact with them.
  4. The status groups are conscious of their group identity. Along with the social esteem there occurs a specific lifestyle and restrictions and this becomes the characteristics of particular status group. In Weber’s view class distinction and status distinction remained separable in analysis and in fact. But they were also linked and they moved across each other in patterned ways.
  5. Social class and status groups are often regarded as objective entities determined by ranking according to economic criteria or other indicators. In the sociological tradition established by Weber, however, the objective definitions of class and status are distinguished from their subjective manifestations.The approach taken here is to consider that social class may reflect objective behavior, not as attributes judged by outsiders, but by actions taken and relations formed by insiders relative to other insiders.

Social Stratification of Gender:

Like many questions of interest to sociologists, the nature of maleness and femaleness is not so easily classified. In general, sociologists use the term sex to refer to the anatomical and physiological differences that define male and female bodies. Gender, by contrast, concerns the psychological social and cultural differences between males and females. Gender is linked to socially constructed notions of masculinity and femininity; it is not necessarily direct product of an individual’s biological sex.

The distinction between sex and gender is fundamental one, since many differences between males and females are not biological in origin. Contrasting approaches have been taken to explain the formation of gender identities and the social roles based on those identities.

  1. Broadly speaking, the term ‘gender’ refers to cultural ideas that construct images and expectations of both females and males. Nature has divided human race between men and women, but their status and role in society are determined by out culture. When we speak of women as ‘fair sex’ or ‘weaker sex’ or when invoke the etiquette of ‘ladies first’, our attention is not confined to the biological fact, have already entered the realm of culture.
  2. In social sciences and literary criticism the term ‘gender’ is used to indicate the differences in social status of man and woman, particularly to refer to the fact that women are placed in a lower status in relation to their intrinsic worth. Feminist thus focuses on gender perspective that calls for cultural transformation of society. It implies the right ordering of status of women in relations to men in social and political life. Culture usually refers to certain distinctive features of different groups. However, some typical attitudes towards gender can be found throughout the civilized world. These attitudes tend to divide male and female personality traits and behavioural tendencies into two opposite patterns. These patterns may be described as masculinity and femininity respectively. Masculinity, for example, typically includes aggressiveness, logical outlook, control of emotional expression, and attitude of dominance, while femininity is associated with peacefulness, intuitiveness, emotional expressiveness, and submissiveness. (Some variations in these characteristics are possible in different social contexts. For example, a wife may be relatively submissive to her husband, but as a mother she may not be so towards her children. Moreover, the degree of submissiveness of a woman may vary from one case to another.)
  3. In any case, relative dominance of man and relative submissiveness of women represent almost universal cultural traits, which are not directly based on biological differences. Broadly speaking, these are the products of the social organization based on patriarchy and its institutions, the division of labour in the family and the competitive and exploitative character of capitalism. From this perspective, the concepts of masculinity and femininity serve as instruments of social Control that reinforce male dominance. So if a woman tends to behave in an authoritarian manner, particularly towards men, her behaviour is termed to be indecent. In short, the expectations attached to differential roles of men and women serve as the foundation of gender inequality in society.
  4. J.J. Rousseau in his essay A discourse on the Origin of Inequality had distinguished between natural inequality and conventional inequality. Natural inequality describes the inequality of age, health, beauty, physical and intellectual capacities of different people, which were created by nature. These inequalities are largely unalterable. On the other hand, conventional inequalities represent disparities of wealth, prestige and power among different individuals. These inequalities are the product of our social arrangements. We can undertake a critical examination of these inequalities from the point of view of justice, and can reduce them by altering our social arrangements. In other words, conventional inequalities are alterable. While the division of society into two sexes- male and female- represent natural inequality, gender inequalities are the product of convention and culture. These inequalities can be questioned and removed wherever they are found objectionable.

Gender socialization :

Another route to take in understanding the origins of gender differences is the study of gender socialization, the learning of gender roles with the help of social agencies such as the family and the media. Such an approach makes a distinction between biological sex and social sex.

  1. Through contact with various agencies of socialization, both primary and secondary, children gradually internalize the social norms and expectations which are seen to correspond with their sex. Gender differences are not biologically determined, they are culturally produced. According to this, view, gender inequalities result because men and women are socialized into different roles. These positive and negative reinforcements to boys and girls in learning and conforming to expected sex roles leades to gender differentiation. If an individual develops gender practices which do not correspond to his or her biological sex – that is, they are deviant – the explanation is seen to resist inadequate or irregular socialization. According to this functionalist view, socializing agencies contribute to the maintenance of social order by over seeing the smooth gender socialization of new generations.…………This rigid interpretation of sex roles and socialization has been criticized on a number of fronts. Many writers argue that gender socialization is not an inherently smooth process; different ‘agencies’ such as the family, schools and peer groups may be at odds with one another. Moreover, socialization theories ignore, the social expectations surrounding sex roles. As Connell has argued : ‘Agencies of socialization’ cannot produce mechanical effects in a growing person. What they do is invite the child to participate in social practice on given terms’.
  2. Social influences on gender identity flow through many diverse channels; even parents committed to raising their children in a ‘non-sexist’ way find existing patterns of gender learning difficult to combat (Statham 1986). Studies of parent – child interactions, for example, have shown distinct differences in the treatment of boys and girls even when the parents believe their reactions to both are the same. The toys, picture books and television programmes experienced by young children all tend to emphasize differences between male and female attributes. Male characters generally outnumber females in most children’s books, television programmes and films. Male characters tend to play more active, adventurous roles, while females are portrayed as passive, expectant and domestically oriented. Clearly, gender socialization is very powerful. Once a gender is assigned, society expects individuals to act like ‘females’ or ‘males’. It is in the practices of everyday life that these expectations are fulfilled and reproduced.

According to Connell, gender relations are the product of everyday interactions and practices. The actions and behaviour of average people in their personal lives are directly linked to collective social arrangements in society. These arrangements are continuously reproduced over lifetimes and generations.

Perspectives on Gender Stratification:

  1. In almost all societies, gender is a significant form of social stratification. Gender is a critical factor in structuring the types of opportunities and life chances faced by individuals and groups, and strongly influences the roles they play within social institutions from the household to the state. Although the roles of men and women vary from culture to culture, there is no known instance of a society in which females are more powerful than males. Men’s roles are generally more highly valued and rewarded than women’s roles: in almost every culture, women bear the primary responsibility for child care and domestic work, while men have traditionally borne responsibility for providing the family livelihood. The prevailing division of labour between the sexes has led to men and women assuming unequal positions in terms of power, prestige and wealth.
  2. Despite the advances that women have made in countries around the world, gender differences continue to serve as the basis for social inequalities. Investigating and accounting for gender inequality has become a central concern of sociologists. Many theoretical perspectives have been advanced to explain men’s enduring dominance over women- in the realm of economic, politics, the family and else where.

Functionalist Approaches:

  1. The functional approach sees society as a system of interlinked parts which operate smoothly to produces social solidarity. Thus, functionalist and functionalist inspired perspectives on gender seek to show that gender differences contribute to social stability and integration. While such views once commanded great support, they have been heavily criticized for neglecting social tensions at the expense of consensus and for promulgating a conservative view of the social world.
  2. Writers who subscribe to the natural differences school of thought tend to argue that the division of labour between men and women is biologically based. Women and men perform those tasks for which they are biologically best suited. Thus, the social anthropologist George Murdock saw it as both practical and convenient that women should concentrate on domestic and family responsibilities while men work outside the home. On the basis of a cross- cultural study of more than two hundred societies. Murdock (1949) concluded that the sexual division of labour is present in all cultures. While this is not the result of biological ‘programming’, it is the most logical basis for the organization of society.
  3. Talcott Parsons, a leading functionalist thinker, concerned himself with the role of the family in industrial societies. He was particularly interested in the socialization of children, and believed that stable, supportive families are the key to successful socialization. In Parsons’s view, the family operates most efficiently with a clear-cut sexual division of labour in which females act in expressive roles, providing care and security to children and offering them emotional support. Men, on the other hand, should perform instrumental roles namely, being the breadwinner in the family. Because of the stressful nature of men’s role, women’s expressive and nurturing tendencies should also be used to stabilize and comfort men. This complementary division of labour, springing from a biological distinction between the sexes, would ensure the solidarity of the family.
  4. Another functionalist perspective on child-rearing was advanced by John Bowlby (1953), who argued that the mother is crucial to the primary socialization of children, If the mother is absent, or if a child is separated from the mother at a young age- a state referred to as maternal deprivation – the child runs a high risk of being inadequately socialized. This lead to serious social and psychological difficulties later in life, including antisocial and psychopathic tendencies. Bowlby argued that a child’s well- being and mental health can be best guaranteed through a close, personal and continuous relationship with its mother.

Socialist and Marxist feminism:

Engels argued that under capitalism, material and economic factors underlay women’s subservience to men, because patriarchy (like class oppression) has its roots in private property. Engels argued that capitalism intensifies patriarchy men’s domination over women- by concentrating wealth and power in the hands of a small number of men.… Capitalism intensifies patriarchy more than earlier social systems because it creates enormous wealth compared to previous eras which confers power on men as wagearners as well as possessors and inheritors of property………… Second, for the capitalist economy to succeed, it must define people- in particular women- as consumers, persuading them that their needs will only be met through ever- increasing consumption of goods and products……… Last, capitalism relies on women to labour for free in the home, caring and cleaning. To Engels, capitalism exploited men by paying low wages and women by paying no wages.

Socialist feminist:

Socialist feminist have argued that the reformist goals of liberal feminism are inadequate. They have called for the restructuring of the family, the end of domestic slavery and the introduction of some collective means of carrying out child-rearing, caring and household maintenance. Following Marx, many argued that these ends would be achieved through a socialist revolution, which would produce true equality under a state-centre economy designed to meet the needs of all.

Radical feminism:

  1. At the heart of radical feminism is the belief that men are responsible for and benefit from the exploitation of women. The analysis of patriarchy- the systematic domination of females by males- is of central concern to this branch of feminism. Patriarchy is viewed as a universal phenomenon that has existed across time and cultures. Radical feminists often concentrate on the family as one of the primary sources of women’s oppression in society. They argue that men exploit women by relying on the free domestic labour that women provide in the home. As a group, men also deny women access to positions of power and influence in society.
  2. S. Firestone (1971), an early radical feminist writer, argued that men control women’s roles in reproduction and child- rearing. Because women are biologically able to give birth, they become dependent materially on men for protection and livelihood of child. This ‘biological inequality is socially organized in the nuclear family. Firestone speaks of a ‘sex class’ to describe women’s social position and argues that women can be emancipated only through the abolition of the family and the power relations which characterize it.
  3. Other radical feminist points to male violence against women as central to male supremacy. According to such a view, domestic violence, rape and sexual harassment are all part of the systematic oppression of women, rather than isolated cases with their own psychological or criminal roots. Even interactions in daily life- such as non-verbal communication, patterns of listening and interrupting, and women’s sense of comfort in public – contribute to gender inequality.
  4. Moreover, popular conceptions of beauty and sexuality are imposed by men on women in order to produce a certain type of feminity. For example, social and cultural norms that emphasize a slim body and a caring, nurturing attitude towards men help to perpetuate women’s subordination. The objectification’ of women through the media, fashion and advertising turns women into sexual objects whose main role is to please and entertain men. Radical feminists do not believe that women can be liberated from sexual oppression through reforms or gradual change. Because patriarchy is a systemic phenomenon, they argue, gender equality can only be attained by overthrowing the patriarchal order.
  5. The use of patriarchy as a concept for explaining gender inequality bas been popular with many feminist theorists. In asserting that ‘the personal is political, radical feminists have drawn widespread attention to the many linked dimensions of women’s oppression. Their emphasis of women has brought these issues into the heart of mainstream debates about women’s subordinations.
  6. Many objections can be raised, however, to radical feminist views. The main one, perhaps, is that the concept of patriarchy as it has been used is inadequate as a general explanation for women’s oppression. Radical feminists have tended to claim that patriarchy has existed throughout history and across cultures- that it is a universal phenomenon. Critics argue, however, that such a conception of patriarchy does not leave room for historical or cultural variations. It also ignores the important influence that race, class or ethnicity may have on the nature of women’s subordination. In other words, it is not possible to see patriarchy as a universally phenomenon; doing so risks biological reductionism – attributing all the complexities of gender inequality to simple distinction between men and women.

Black feminism:

  1. Many black feminists argue that ethnic divisions among women are not considered by the main feminist schools of thought and are oriented to the dilemmas of white, predominantly middle- class women living in industrialized societies.
  2. Moreover, the very idea that there is a ‘unified form of gender oppression that is experienced equally by all women’ is problematic. Dissatisfaction with existing forms of feminism has led to the emergence of a strand of thought which concentrates on the particular problems facing black women.
  3. The writings of American black feminists emphasize the influence of the powerful legacy of slavery, segregation and the civil rights movement on gender inequalities in the black community. They point out that early black sufferers supported the campaign for women’s rights, but realized that the question of race could not be ignored: black women were discriminated against on the basis of their race and gender. Explanatory frameworks favoured by white feminists for example, the view of the family as a mainstay of patriarchy- may not be applicable in black communities, where the family represents a main point of solidarity against racism. In other words, the oppression of black women may be found in different locations compared with that of white women.
  4. Black feminists contend, therefore, that any theory of gender equality which does not take racism into account cannot be expected to explain black women’s oppression adequately. Class dimensions are another factor which cannot be neglected in the case of many black women. Some black feminists have held is its focus on the interplay between race, class and gender concerns. Black women are disadvantaged, they argue, on the basis of their colour, their sex and their class position. When these three factors interact, they reinforce and intensify on another (Brewer).

Postmodern feminism:

  1. Like black feminism, postmodern feminism challenges the idea that there is a unitary basis of identity and experience shared by all women. This strand of feminism draws on the cultural phenomenon of postmodernism in the arts, architecture, philosophy and economics. Some of the roots of postmodern feminism. are found in the work of Continental theorists like Derrida, Lacan and de Beauvoir. Postmodern feminists reject the claim that there is a grand theory that can explain the position of women in society, or that there is any single, universal essence or category of ‘woman’ consequently, these feminists reject the accounts given by others to explain gender inequality- such as patriarchy, race or class as ‘essentialist’ .
  2. Rather than there existing an essential core to womanhood, there are many individuals and groups, all of whom have very different experiences (heterosexuals, lesbians, black women, working-class women, etc.). The otherness of different groups and individuals is celebrated in all its diverse forms. Emphasis on the positive side of otherness is a major theme in postmodern feminism, and symbolizes plurality, diversity, difference and openness: there are many truths, roles and constructions of reality. Hence, the recognition of difference (of sexuality, age and race, for example) is central to postmodern feminism.
  3. As well as the recognition of difference between groups and individuals, postmodern feminists have stressed the importance of ‘deconstruction. In particular, they have sought to deconstruct male language and a masculine view of the world. In its place postmodern feminists have attempted to create fluid, open terms and language which more closely reflect women’s experiences. For many postmodern feminists, men see the world in terms of pairs or binary distinctions (good versus bad right versus wrong’ beautiful versus ugly, for example). Men, they argue, have cast the male as normal and female as a deviation from it. The founder of modern psychiatry Sigmund Freud, for example, saw women as men who lacked a penis and argued that they envied males for possessing one. In this masculine world- view, the female is always cast in the role of the other. Deconstruction involves attacking binary concepts and recasting their opposites in a new and positive manner.

Social Stratificationon of Ethnicity and Race:

RACE : Sociologists define race as a vast collectivity of people more or less bound together by shared and
selected history, ancestors, and most importantly physical features. These people are socialized to think of
themselves as a distinct group, and others regard them as such.

Most biologists and social scientists have come to agree that race is not a biological fact. The reason is that parents from different racial categories can produce offspring. The offspring, by definition, are mixtures of the two categories and therefore cannot be placed in just one category. But they are socially placed in one category. For example children born of American and African (two racial stock) are put in one category i.e. African-American.

  1. Racial Groups sharing certain physical features believed to belong to certain broad categories of ancestors, such as Africans, Europeans, Asians, and Native Americans. The social significance of race is also a product of emphasizing or feeling connected to a history shared by a certain broad category of ancestors, who were commonly forced by laws and other social practices to become socially distinct from others.
  2. The social significance of race is also a product of emphasizing or feeling connected to a history shared by a certain broad category of ancestors, who were commonly forced by laws and other social practices to become socially distinct from other broad categories of ancestors.
  3. The racial and ethnic categories to which people belong are a product of three interrelated factors: chance, context, and choice. Chance is something not subject to human will, choice, or effort. We do not choose our biological parents, nor can we control the physical characteristics we inherit from them. Context is the social setting in which racial and ethnic categories are recognized, created, and challenged. Choice is the act of choosing from a range of possible behaviors or appearances. The choices one makes may emphasize or reject the behaviors and appearances that have come to be associated with a racial or ethnic group.
  4. The premise of racial superiority and Differentiation lies at the heart of other rationalizations used by one group to dominate another. Sociologist Larry T. Reynolds (1992) observes that race, as a concept for classifying humans is a product of the 1700s, a time of widespread European exploration, conquest, and colonization that did not begin to subside until the end of World War II. Racist ideology also supported Japan’s annexation and domination of Korea, Taiwan, Karafuto and other Pacific islands prior to World War II. Both Japanese and Europeans used racial schemes to classify people they encountered; the idea of racial differences became the “cornerstone of self-righteous ideology,” justifying their right by virtue of racial superiority to exploit, dominate, and even annihilate conquered peoples and their cultures.


Sociologists study systems of racial and ethnic classification, which divide people into racial and ethnic
categories that are implicitly or explicitly ranked on a scale of social worth. They study the origins of these racial and ethnic categories and their effect on life chances.

Ethnicity is derived from the ancient Greek work ethnos, which refers to ‘a range of situations where there is a “sense of collectivity of humans that live and act together” (Ostergard). The notion is often translated today as ‘people’ or ‘nation’ (Jenkins). Ethnicity relates to ascriptive identities like caste, language, religion, region etc. Inequality in terms of sharing power between two ethnic groups’ results into conflict.

Its use in contemporary sociology and in popular conception is relatively recent. The term was popularized in common American usage with the publication of Yankee city series of Warner published in 1941.Warner used the term ethnicity as a ‘trait’ that separates the individuals from some classes and identities him with others’.

  1. The ethnicity is socially mobilized and territorially confined. It has numerically sufficient population and is a pool of symbols depicting distinctiveness.
  2. It has a reference group in relation to which /whom a sense of relative deprivation is aggregated among members of ethnic group..
  3. Ethnicity causes ethnic movements after being left out of the developmental process or even being a victim of uneven development.
  4. Ethnicity is manifested in society not merely due to grass root discontent but sometime it is also a creation of vested political interest.
  5. Ethnic groups that use ethnicity to make demands in the political arena of society for alteration in their status, in their economic well being etc. are engaged very often in a form of interest group politics. The focus of interests of an ethnic group is to get some benefits for itself.
  6. The group often uses ethnic criterion like religion, language or caste to mobilize itself and to give identity to itself which separates it from other group or groups.
  7. The delineation of boundary of an ethnic group is an important aspect of ethnicity. The nature of identity shifts along with changing circumstances and calls for change in boundary or a change in identification.
  8. An ethnic community does not strictly have a racial connotation. A community can be distinct from others in many ways: Their racial stock or origin being one of them. A community may distinguish itself from others by way of a particular or distinctive culture, language, religion or a combination of these. These features lead ethnic communities to conflict with other communities with whom they come in contact.

The term ethnicity has been defined in broader sense to signify self-consciousness of a group of people united or closely related by shared experience such as language, religious belief, common heritage etc. While race usually denotes the attributes of a group, ethnic identity signifies creative response of a group who consider themselves marginalized in society. The identity of a group is defined vis a vis another community and how this identity becomes psychologically and socially important for a member or members of a community.

Ethnicity refers to people who share, believe they share, or are believed by others to share a national origin; a common ancestry; a place of birth; distinctive concrete social traits (such as religious practices, style of dress, body adornments, or language); or socially important physical characteristics (such as skin color, hair texture, or body structure). Unlike race, which emphasizes physical features and geographic origin, ethnicity can be based on an almost infinite number of traits. Unlike race, which emphasizes physical features and geographic origin, ethnicity can be based on an almost infinite number of traits.

Social Stratification and Ethnic Inequality (Ethnicity):

Notions of ‘ethnicity’ and ‘ethnic group’ travel together. If ethnicity emerged as a key sociological and political concept only in the early 70s it was in operation in sociological reality much before that and was commonly addressed in solidarities and differences that marked social and cultural groups.

The concept of class rooted in Marxian dictum of hierarchies also encompasses within its scope notions of
‘class consciousnesses’ – an idea that talks about building in-group solidarity. Ethnicity as a social construct has also evolved on perceptions of ‘bonding’ and ‘collectivity’. Class theorists use ‘exploitation’ by the ‘others’ as an instrument for strengthening ‘class solidarity’ in a similar vein those subscribing to constructs of ‘ethnic consciousness’ use ‘exploitation’ by the ‘others’ as an instrument for strengthening “ethnic solidarity”. Irrespective of these common features many in sociological and social sciences has argued that ethnicity is not class. However, at the same time none of them would deny the crucial relationship that ethnicity has with class.

  • Daniel Bell (1975) argues that, “The “reduction of class sentiment” is one of the factors one associates with the rise of “ethnic identification”. He further suggests that ethnicity has become more salient because it can combine interest with an effective theme. Ethnicity provides a tangible set of common identifications – in language, food, music, names – when other social roles become more abstract and impersonal”
  • In support of Ethnic Inequality and Conflict, Glazer and Moynihan argues- “As against class-based forms of social identification and conflict-which of course continue to exist – we have been surprised by the persistence of ethnic based forms of social identification and conflict”.
  • Richard Jenkins argues that, since the early decades of this century, the linked concepts of ethnicity and ethnic group have been taken in many directions, academically. The Concept of ethnicity has passed into everyday discourse, and become central to the political group differentiation and advantage, in the culturally diverse social democracies of Europe and North America. With the notions of ‘race’ gaining public and scientific disrepute since 1945, ethnicity has stepped in the reorganization of the post-cold war world. The obscenity of ‘ethnic cleansing’ stands shoulder to shoulder with earlier euphemism such as ‘racial hygiene’ and ‘the final solution’.
  • Jenkins also refers to advantages that accrue because of ethnic affiliations. Sometimes these advantages are granted to groups because they are perceived to be marginal to the other groups in the societies (Reservation to Backward Communities). It is important to understand here that ‘being part of an ethnic group’ provides a sense of belonging and an assertion of ‘identity’. This sense of belonging and identity also accompany certain advantages and disadvantages.

Max Weber: Construction of Ethnicity:

Max Weber regards an ethnic group to be “a group whose members share a belief that they have a common ancestor” or to put it differently ‘they are of common descent’.

  • He qualifies his statement by suggesting that “ethnic membership facilitates group formation of any kind, particularly in the political sphere. It is primarily the political community, no matter how artificially organized; it inspires the belief in common ethnicity”. It is apparent from Weber’s statement that biology had little role to play in cultivating ‘sense of belonging’.
  • Weber also perceived Ethnic group as status group. A status group may be rooted in perceptions of shared religion, language of culture. Members of the group on the basis of shared community tend to form ‘monopolistic social closure’ – that is they refuse to let others enter their exclusive domain.
  • Every member of the group knows what is expected of him in “situations of collective participation”. They also function together to protect each other’s honour and dignity. It is on these perceptions that ‘suicide squads’ operate in political struggles.

Weber Concludes that since the possibilities for “collective action” rooted in ethnicity are ‘indefinite’ the ethnic group, and its close relative “nation”, cannot easily be precisely defined for sociological purposes’. This profound statement by Weber enables us to understand how political acts of subversion under one regime are celebrated as heroic and patriotic by those who are seeking political sovereignty; and are condemned as acts of treason by those governing the national states. (You must be reading articles in Newspapers about ongoing struggle between Israel and Palestine and various other so called insurgent groups and the nation states.) Ethnicity forms complex equations and “simple cultural or ethnological explanations” are not enough to unfold its mysteries. Ethnicity as a theoretical tool for understanding “complex questions of social interaction and political formations” holds equal interest not only for sociologists but also for anthropologists and political scientists.

Socio-biological or Primordialist Approach to :

  1. Socio-biological interpretations of ethnicity assume that there are tangible explanations for ethnicity. The Primordialist approach recognizes “biology as the fundamental for establishing ethnic identity”. The biological roots are determined by genetic and geographical factors. These linkages result in the formation of close knit kin- groups. Kinship loyalties demand that ‘near relatives are favored by those in situations of command and controlling resources’. In contemporary terminology such favours are rebuked for being nepotistic. Nepotism is defined as the ‘tendency to favour kin over non-kin’. This principle of kin-selection based on conception of socio-biology is not acceptable in societies that claim to be democratic and follow principles of meritocracy.
  2. Some of the followers of this school (Socio-biological or Primordialist school) are convinced about genetic linkages itself are responsible for accentuating ethnic ties. Another group within the same school thinks that biological and kinship ties evolve and are furthered by cultural influences. The explanations offered by various scholars suggest that this schools of thought is primarily rooted in evolutionary construction of human societies. Shaw and Wong (1989) argue that ‘recognition of group affiliation is genetically encoded, being a product of early human evolution, when the ability to recognize the member of one’s family group was necessary for survival.

Primordialist Concludes that “kinship bonds and cultural attachments” would always reign supreme and govern social and political actions.

Instrumentalist Approach:

  1. Fredrik Barth and Paul Brass is commonly associated with popularizing instrumentalist position in social science literature. Also sometimes referred to as Situationalist perspective. It emphasizes plasticity in maintaining ethnic group boundaries.
  2. It argues that people can change membership and move from one ethnic group to another. The change can take place either “because of circumstances or because of manipulation by Political elites”. He regarded ethnicity: ‘As a product of political myths created and manipulated by cultural elites in their pursuit or advantages and power.
  3. “The cultural forms, values and practices” of ethnic groups become resources for elites in competition for political power and economic advantage. They become symbols and referents for the identification of members of group, which are called up in order to ease the creation of political identity’.
  4. Fredrik Barth was always convinced that the focus for the investigation of ethnicity should be ‘the ethnic boundary that defines the group’. Adapting the definition that ethnicity is social organization of cultural differences’, Barth regarded ‘ascription’ critical to the process of establishing group boundaries.
  5. Sociologists and social anthropologists have argued that this model of ethnicity is essentially borrowed from the works of Max Weber. Barth facilitated its understanding by differentiating it from notions of race and culture. According to Vermeulen and Grovers, ‘Barth presented ethnicity or ethnic identity as an aspect of social organization not of culture’.
  6. Wallman furthered Barth’s understanding and argues that: “Ethnicity is the process by which ‘their’ difference is used to enhance the sense of ‘us’ for purposes of oganisation or identification. Ethnicity can only happen at the boundary of ‘us’, in contact or confrontation or by contrast with ‘them’. And as the sense of ‘us’ changes, so the boundary between ‘us’ and ‘them’ shifts. Not only does the boundary shift, but the criteria which mark it change”.

Post-Modernist Model of Ethnicity:

  1. The constructivist model of ethnicity is located in the interpretive paradigm based on postmodernism. In this interpretation emphasis has shifted to ‘negotiation of multiple subjects over group boundaries and identity’.
  2. Sokolovski and Tishkov stress that: In this atmosphere of renewed sensitivity to the dialectics of the objective and subjective in the process of ethnic identity formation and maintenance, even the negotiable ethnic character of ethnic boundaries stressed by Barth was not proper. It was argued that terms like ‘group’ boundary’ still can not fix identity, and Barth’s concern with maintenance tends to defy it still more.
  3. The mercurial nature of ethnicity was accounted for when it was defined ‘as a set of sociocultural diacritics [physical appearance, name language, history religion, and nationality] which define a shared identity for members and nonmember.

Jenkins’ Model of ethnicity:

Jenkins has offered ‘a basic social anthropological model of ethnicity which is equally relevant for sociological understanding. The model is summarized as follows :

  1. Ethnicity is about cultural differentiation- although, to retreated the main theme of Social Identity, identity is always a dialectic between similarity and difference;
  2. Ethnicity is centrally concerned with culture- shared meaning – but it is also rooted in, and to a considerable extent the outcome of, social interaction;
  3. Ethnicity no more fixed or unchanging than the culture of which it is a component or the situations in which it is produced and reproduced;
  4. Ethnicity as a social identity is collective and individual, externalized in social interaction and internalized in personal identification.

According to Jenkins, “It is essential for us to remember that ethnicity or culture is not something that people have or they belong but it is a complex repertories which people experience, use, learn and ‘do’ in their daily lives, within which they construct ongoing sense or themselves and an understanding of their fellow”.

Race and Ethnicity:

Relationship between race and ethnicity is complex. Genesis of the term race are traced to Latin words ‘generation’, ‘ratio’, nation’ and ‘radix’ to Spanish and Castilian ‘razza’, Italian ‘razza’ and old French ‘haraz with such diverse meanings as generation, root, nobility of blood, patch of threadbare or defective cloth, taint or contamination, or horse breeding” (Sollors). The term race has been in popular use much before ethnicity was adapted in popular and academic vocabulary.

  1. Race came into scientific academic parlance as a classificatory feature. Physical Anthropologists used physical features to classify what some may describe as ‘human types’. However man’s lust to conquer his fellow being and subordinate them resulted in tremendous abuse of these so called classificatory studies that were promoted to facilitate scientific research. Magnus Hirschfield in 1938 described racial abuse as ‘racism.
  2. The genocide that was unleashed in World War II in the name of protection of purity of races made academicians and politicians equally shy of using it in public domain. The concept of “ethnic group” introduced in the mid fifty’s was an acknowledged attempt to provide a neutral system of classifying human groups on the basis of ‘cultural differences’ rather than distinguishing them on the basis of ‘racial characteristic’.
  3. It was argued that the terminology of ethnic group would provide a value neutral construct and avoid prejudiced and stereotypical categorization of people in hierarchical and discriminatory categories. Many scholars believed in the usefulness of this distinction but others think there was hardly any merit in this distinction as “race” is only one of the markers through which “ethnic” differences are validated and ethnic boundary markers established. Those authors supporting the expediency of making this distinction would argue that while “ethnic” social relations are not necessarily hierarchical and conflictual, race relations would certainly appear to be.
  4. One may reason that even when race is often constructed and conceived in terms of physical or phonotypical difference, prejudices and stereotypes accompanying this perception are socially articulated and perceived. In this sense, many would argue that ‘race’ is an allotrope of ‘ethnicity.
  5. Jenkins prefers to argue the other way suggesting that “ethnicity” and “race” are different kinds of concept; they do not actually constitute a true pair. The most that can be said is that, at certain times and in certain places, culturally specific conception of ‘race’ or more correctly ‘racial’ differentiation have featured, sometimes very powerfully in the repertoire of ethnic boundary maintaining devices.
  • Banton has argued that primary difference between race and ethnic group is that membership in an ethnic group is voluntary whereas membership in a “racial group” is not’ and this would empty that an “ethnic group” is all about inclusion whereas race is all about exclusion. We are once again returning to the basic categories of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ critical to our understanding of ethnicity as well as race. But as perceived by Jenkins “ethnicity” is about group identification whereas “race” is about social categorization.

It is important for the students to note here that sociological conceptions of race takes specific note of ‘visible and physical features’ as suggested by Gordon or as described by Berghe than that of ‘innate and immutable distinctions’ from those described as ‘ cultural’. The most discerning contribution made by these scholars is that distinctions whether ‘racial’ or ‘ethnic’ are a matter of both ‘physical’ and verbal perception. Qualifying this insight Berghe reasons: In practice, the distinction between a ‘racial and ethnic group’ is sometimes slurred by several facts. Cultural traits are often regarded as genetic and inherited (e.g. body odor, which is a function of diet, cosmetics, and other cultural items); physical appearance can be culturally changed (by scarification, surgery, and cosmetic); and the sensory perception of physical differences is affected by cultural perception of race (e.g. a rich Negro may be seen as lighter than an equally dark poor Negro, as suggested by the Brazilian proverb; ‘Money bleaches’). This rhetoric of making distinctions on the basis of ‘cultural content’ or ‘descent’ overlooks the fact that matters relating to descent accentuate cultural crux on which cultural differences are constructed and boundaries defined. Sollors sums up this admirably saying ‘it is a matter of a ‘tendency’, not of absolute distinction

  1. What are the basic patterns of race and ethnic group relations? The basic patterns of race and ethnic relations are amalgamation (blending two or more groups into a society that reflects the cultural and biological traits of the group), assimilation, pluralism, structured inequality, population relocation and extermination.
  2. How do conflict theorists define inter group conflict and what are the five major factors that might contribute to it? When conflict exists between two groups the group that gains the most power, wealth and prestige becomes the majority regardless of its size. The five major factors that contribute to such conflict are visible differences between groups, competition for resources, racist ideology, potential for exploitation and the minority -group response to the majority definition of the situation.
  3. What are some of the possible sources of prejudice and discrimination? Prejudice may be formed through both individual and group influences including socialization, rationalizing through stereotypes, the scapegoating process, reinforcement of a self-fulfilling prophecy ramification of an authoritarian personality and degree of contact with minority groups.
  4. Ethnicity and Plurality in India India has a cultural, economic and social heterogeneity. The complex ethnic plurality is visible with ethnic groups varying in size, culture and consciousness and no clear demarcation is present between different groups. The system is highly segmented and heterogeneous. However emergence of ethnicity all around primarily on cultural grounds has put the boundary of nation state under severe stress. Usually the quest for larger identity is emphasized as it also serves some political purposes. But at the same time, this emphasis on a large identity like nation ignores the reality of plural identities and their possible interplay and thus reverts back to the nation where religion, language etc become static categories of ethnic attributes.

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