Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Sociology

"Too Much Money off Other People's Backs": Status in Late Modern Societies

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Sociology

"Too Much Money off Other People's Backs": Status in Late Modern Societies

Article excerpt

Abstract: This paper revisits debates on occupational prestige in light of recent shifts in sociological conceptions of status, culture, and identity. Using multidimensional scaling and clustering of data collected from electricians, university professors, and students in adult education, it explores how people differently located in social structure perceive occupations. Results indicate that prestige scales are one among many cognitive schemata available in collective consciousness for representing social structure, drawing symbolic boundaries, and evaluating others. How this is done, however, varies with social location. Compared to electricians and students, professors see more congruence between occupational prestige and worth. Electricians and students use normative evaluations of worth as alternative criteria for evaluating occupations and drawing boundaries, in an effort to enhance their own social position and downgrade others.

Resume: Cet article examine les debats sociologiques entourant le prestige occupationnel a la lumiere des transformations recentes des concepts de statut, de culture et d'identite. Sur la base d'une analyse multidimensionnelle et typologique de donnees recueillies aupres d'electriciens, d'etudiant-es et de professeur-es d'universite, il explore comment des acteurs differemment situes dans l'espace social percoivent les occupations. Les resultats indiquent que les echelles de prestige constituent dans la conscience collective un schema cognitif parmi d'autres permettant de representer la structure sociale, d'y tracer des frontieres symboliques et d'evaluer les occupations. L'utilisation de ces schemas cognitifs varie cependant selon la position sociale. Les professeur-es percoivent une forte correlation entre le prestige et certains criteres normatifs d'evaluation des occupations. Les electriciens et les etudiant-es, par contre, utilisent ces derniers pour tracer differentes frontieres symboliques qui rehaussent leur position sociale.

Introduction

The development of occupational prestige scales by North and Hatt, in the 1940s, gave rise to heated debates about the meaning of these scales and the inferences that could be drawn from them. Sociologists emphasizing the consensual nature of occupational ratings argued that they expressed collective beliefs about the worthiness of occupations (Shils, 1975; Treiman, 1977). Positions which ranked highest on the scales were those which were most highly valued by a collectivity, either because of their functional importance (Davis and Moore, 1945) or because of their proximity to order-creating values and institutions (Shils, 1975). This interpretation fit in very well with neo-Durkheimian and functionalist theories of stratification, according to which consensual evaluations of positions constitute a necessary foundation for social life. They provide a shared normative framework which ensures social integration and legitimates inequality.

Normative interpretations, however, were never very popular among sociologists who used prestige scales in empirical research. While most remained agnostic on the assumptions and implications underlying their use in research, some argued that occupational prestige reflects factual knowledge about the material rewards attached to occupations (Featherman and Hauser, 1976; Nam and Terrie, 1982). A commonly accepted interpretation, proposed by Goldthorpe and Hope (1974), is that occupational prestige scales measure the "desirability" of occupations in terms of socioeconomic rewards. Other things being equal, they argue, people generally agree that positions offering high rewards are more desirable than those affording low rewards. High levels of consensus among raters simply mean that people are generally aware of the economic and cultural advantages attached to occupations and value them as desirable accordingly. Goldthorpe and Hope (1974) acknowledge that their concept retains an evaluative component, but contend that this component has no normative connotation and no legitimating significance with regard to social inequality. …

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