The most important element of social stratification, as I have taken it from this term, is how it seems to be an inevitable and complex system in virtually any culture. It is a framework, in a sense, and one based upon a wide variety of factors. Gender, economic status, class, age, race, religion, and other aspects of a person’s life all interact to establish a social position within the framework, or the culture enables one or two to be the primary determining factors. This is further complicated by how the culture functions in terms of its own stratification, either encouraging mobility in an open system or restricting potentials in a closed, and in the former allowing for varying kinds of mobility. Complexity notwithstanding, I reiterate that the inevitability of stratification is what most defines it in my estimation. This is supported by how Marx, Weber, Bourdieu, and other great sociologists have devoted extensive study to the subject; that is, it is all the more critical to any investigation of human behavior because, once any society is established to any degree at all, some form of stratification will appear and consequently exert enormous influences on how that society exists and evolves.
This consistent presence of stratification, in fact, is what generates the varying concepts of what the essence of a culture is, as asserted by the sociologists mentioned. For Marx, not unexpectedly, economics is the primary driving force created the social framework. In a capitalist society, an elite class is both created and empowered by its authority over the means of production, the working class comprises the larger part of the population and is exploited to that end, and the structure remains closed as long as those with the economic control remain in power. For Marx, then, mobility can only occur in an “explosive” way; the workers must rise up and shatter the oppressive stratification. Conversely, Max Weber expands greatly on Marx, or insists on multiple dimensions as within stratification. With Weber, class and social status are not necessarily synonymous, and individuals also have the capacity of “party,” or unite to achieve a goal otherwise denied by their social positions. Weber is difficult to absorb for me because I find an inherent conflict in his basic reasoning; that is, I cannot see how class, based upon economic standing and resources, is distinct from social status. The extremes of Marx notwithstanding, it seems that all cultures create status based upon resources, even if there are gradations within this relationship. For example, a Western individual may be poor but enjoy high status, but they do so only because they are still associated with the wealth that once was held by them, which formerly provided power. The status is then still reliant upon economics. Similarly, a poor intellectual may be socially esteemed because of the poverty; as the culture may associate poverty with sacrifice, the person’s status rises, not strictly because of intellectual achievement, but because their economic status conforms to the society’s idea of a component of intellectual achievement.
Differences aside, however, both Marx and Weber support the sheer inevitability of stratification. Bourdieu, I believe, is nearer to the reality of this presence and impact because his thinking so expansively addresses how resources, or capital, are crucial to any social hierarchy or structure, and I support as well how Bourdieu identifies other elements of a person as forms of capital. This in fact validates my view that a poor intellectual may have prestige even within a capitalist culture; they have, simply, something else enhancing their standing that is perceived as valuable. However, and regardless of sociological ideologies, it is in the nature of any system, closed or open, to deny opportunity. Structures exists through borders, if not walls, so even the most vertically and/or horizontally mobile society has “thresholds” individuals must cross if they are to change their standing. Then, it seems to me the inherently exponential quality of how various factors interact in a society works to make change all the more difficult.
For example, the woman maintained in a lower social position in the patriarchal society is held there, not only by the dominant social view that she is less capable than a man, but by the limitations then in place regarding education and employment. The same interactions occur with race and age; as the culture determines standing by one of these factors, the standing is emphasized – or even generated – by the limitations arising from the viewpoint. Ultimately, then, while I do maintain that most social stratification is economically based, I also believe that all forms of capital are manipulated by a society to perpetuate the roles established by the economic resources, which then in turn creates cycles and structures of stratification inextricably connected. In plain terms, what matters is the lack of ability of the woman mentioned to transcend the gender structure, and the interactive agencies of employment, education, and social ideology work together to limit her. I think, nonetheless, that economic capital is the most important factor because, the likelihood of its occurring in such a case aside, this alone virtually guarantees mobility in most cultures.