Social Stratification

Social Stratification

Social Stratification

Social Stratification

Excerpt

The political issues of social stratification and group inequality attracted the attention of man very early in his history, long before they concerned him as subjects for scientific investigation.

For centuries inequality as such was almost never seriously challenged. When there were revolutions, the rebels simply wanted to turn the tables and make servants out of their masters; or perhaps more frequently, the underprivileged groups asked only for a lesser burden. The decisive change came with the two great revolutions of the late eighteenth century. Both the French and the American Revolution aimed at the establishment of complete equality.

At that time the first scientific book on stratification made its appearance: John Millar Observations concerning the distinction of Rank in Society (1771). It was quite a success; four editions were published, the last as late as 1801. But Millar had no successors. The temper of the time favored emotional partisanship rather than scientific objectivity. Since Rousseau's passionate exhortations, equality had become a moral postulate and a political goal. The scientist yielded to the philosopher and the popularizer, to the politician and the pamphleteer. It became more important "to change than to know the world." Karl Marx came upon the scene. His views, whether accepted or rejected, dominated the entire nineteenth century, again to the detriment of analytic and scientific investigation. Marx died before he could present a systematic class theory, and his followers, as well as his adversaries, preferred to indulge in endless controversies about class struggle.

There were occasional exceptions among European authorities; Schäffle, for instance, as early as 1874 anticipated some of Max Weber's class concepts. But until the twentieth century no systematic analysis was attempted. Analysis came still later in America. Although the early sociologists "from Ward to Ross" were interested in the problem, they dealt with it only within the framework of larger books, and as their historian . . .

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