Role and Status of Social Stratification!
The element of status is an important feature of social stratification. Inequality of status, as we have seen earlier, is a marked feature of every society.
I. Nature of Role:
If we cast our glance at society, we find that individuals differ not only in such attributes as sex, colour, height, age etc., but also differ in respect of their occupations. They perform different functions. Some are professors, others are physicians, some are labourers, others are scientists, statesmen and soldiers.
The social structure functions better if the individuals do the jobs assigned to them properly. An individual cannot perform all the jobs nor can all the individuals be given the same job. The social system is based on a division of labour in which every person is assigned a specific task to perform.
The task performed by an individual makes up the role he is expected to play in the life of his community. “A social role”, as defined by Lundberg, “is a pattern of behaviour expected of an individual in a certain group or situation.” It specifies the part a person is supposed to play in the activities of his group or community.
According to Ogburn and Nimkoff, a role is “a set of socially expected and approved behaviour patterns, consisting of both duties and privileges, associated with a particular position in a group.” Every group defines the expected behaviour for every member. Being a member of a group means having certain privileges as well as owning certain obligations. Role refers to the obligations which an individual has towards his group.
According to Ginsberg, status is a position and a role is the manner in which that poison is supposed to be filled. In other words, role is the functional aspect of a status. According to Davis, role is “the manner in which a person actually carries out the requirements of his position. Originally, the word “role” meant the “roll” on which an actor’s part was written.
Just as the successful enactment of a drama depends upon how successfully the different actors play their roles, similarly the smooth running of social life depends upon how efficiency and consistently each member of different groups performs his or her role in the social system. Thus it may be said that role consists of behaviour expected of an individual in community.
Since a role is a set of expectations, it, therefore, implies that one role cannot be defined without referring To Another. There cannot be a parent without a child, or an employer without an employee. There must be another role doing the expecting.
In this sense, roles are but a series of rights and duties, that is, they represent reciprocal relations among individuals. All societies reveal a wide range of such reciprocal relations. Thus in the economic structure, the family structure, the religious structure and the political structure, there operates a system of reciprocal rights and duties.
It may also be noted that none can perform a role well unless he possesses attitude to such a role. Socialization mostly consists of the acquisition of role attitude-predisposition to act according to the expected pattern. Thus as seen from within, a role is a pattern or organisation of attitudes predisposing a person in a certain position to act according to the expectations of others.
A social group, as already observed, carries on its life smoothly and harmoniously to the extent that roles are clearly assigned and each member accepts and fulfills the assigned role according to expectations. In actual practice, however, we find that there is doubt or disagreement as to what behaviour is expected in a given role and sometimes an individual resents the role assigned to him and fails to live upto the expectations.
Consequently, there is much of group tension and conflict. In a simple culturally homogeneous and relatively stationary society, there may be comparatively less role conflicts. But in a complex and heterogeneous social system as ours the role conflicts have increased leading to more and more group tensions. In the family, in the industry, in the government, in politics, everywhere tension is on the increase.
For the individual there is sometimes confusion about what is appropriate. An individual has to play different roles in different groups. His role as the head of the family may come into conflict with his role as a doctor.
He may at times be asked to sacrifice his obligations towards the family in the interests of his profession. In addition, there are role conflicts involving two or more individuals who are authorised to perform the same or highly similar functions in the same situation, as when the State Government and Central Government authorities disagree on who has the jurisdiction to maintain peace in a particular case.
The roles of two or more individuals may be in conflict because their functions are not consistent with their status. The cook in restaurant, who has a higher status, receives orders from the waiter who has a low status. Finally, people may differ in the behaviour they expect of a person who has an assigned role.
Employers and Union leaders, for example, may not agree on the behaviour they expect of employees. Similarly, a person may differ from other people in his perception of his duties and responsibilities. Thus the employee’s opinion of his duties and obligations as a worker may differ from the opinions of both his employer and his union leader.
To summarise, the causes of role conflict are:
(i) Culture heterogeneity and complexity of the social system;
(ii) Different roles of an individual in different groups;
(iii) The possibility of confusion over the appropriateness of a case;
(iv) When two or more persons are authorised to perform same: functions;
(v) When the functions are below the status of the individual;
(vi) Differences in the expected behaviours from the person assigned a role and
(vii) Differences in the perception of one’s duties and responsibilities.
Under the necessity of reorganising our social structure to meet the demands of a new technology and of a spatial mobility, our system of statuses and roles is breaking down; while a new system, compatible with actual conditions of modern life has not yet emerged.
The individual of today thus finds himself confronted by situations in which he is uncertain of his own role and that of others. He is not only compelled to make choices but also can feel no certainty that he has chosen correctly. The result is disappointment and frustration. Sometimes the strain from conflicting roles may be so great that it may lead to serious personality consequences.
Thus, we may conclude that roles in modern society are numerous, complex, highly diversified and sometimes in conflict. In periods of rapid social change, the nervous strain of conflicting roles is greater because the requirements of each role and the expectations of the community regarding them are uncertain.
To the extent the different roles are clearly allocated and to the extent the rights and duties inherent in each role clearly understood and to the extent everyone behaves in his role as expected, the social system will run smoothly and with a minimum of strain on the individual personality.
II. Nature of Status:
Its meaning. Status is a term used to designate the “comparative amounts of prestige, difference, or respect accorded to persons who have been assigned different roles in a group or community.” The status of a person is high if the role, he is playing, is considered important by the group. If the role is regarded less high, its performer may be accorded lower status. Thus the status of a person is based on social evaluations.
As defined by Secord and Bukman, “Status is the worth of a person as estimated by a group or a class of persons.” According to Ogburn and Nimkoff, “Status is the rank-order position assigned by a group to a role or to a set of roles.” Individuals in society play different roles and societies evaluate these roles differently. Some roles are regarded more valuable and the persons who perform these roles are given higher status. Status is thus created by the opinion of others.
According to MacIver, “Status is the social position that determines for its possessor, apart from his personal attribute or social services, a degree of respect, prestige, and influence.” Davis gives an elaborate definition of status. He says. “Status is a position in the general institutional system, recognised and supported by the entire society spontaneously evolved rather than deliberately created, rooted in the folkways and mores.” Martindale and Menachesi define status as “a position in social aggregate identified with a pattern of prestige symbols and actions.”
According to Green, “A status is a position in a social group or grouping, in relation to other positions held by other individuals in the group or grouping.” According to H. T. Mazumdar, “Status means the location of the individual within the group, his place in the social network of reciprocal obligations and privileges, rights and duties.” Thus an individual of high status is greeted with respect and enjoys great prestige in society. An individual wins respect by virtue of his social status. An increase in the individual’s social status entitles him to more respect than before.
Sometimes the word “status” is used to refer to an individual’s total standing in society. In that sense, it embraces all his particular statuses and roles especially in so far as they bear upon his general “social standing.”
As we know each person occupies many different roles. He is a father, a doctor, the president of the Rotary club and a player of tennis. As a father he is neglectful of his children and does not carry out the requirements of his position, but as a doctor he gives most of his time to his profession and does well. He is a good player but a poor president. In such a case we will have to qualify our statement when we make his status evaluation.
We will say that Mr. A. has a high standing in his profession, thereby implying that he has many statuses and that we are singling one out for particular mention. The conception of status as the sum total of all statuses of an individual is hardly valid because it is difficult to see how statuses can be added up, any more than how two apples and two oranges can be added. When we speak of a man’s status, we do not make a generalisation but a selection.
It may also be emphasized that status and role are closely related. A status is a position. A role is the manner in which that position is supposed to be filled. Each position has both a status that is socially given and a role or pattern of behaviour connected with this status that is socially expected. The execution of role expectations is role performance. Status and role are two sides of a single coin, namely, a social position, a complex of rights and duties and the actual behaviour expressing them.
Status and office:
Office designates the position occupied by a person in a social organization governed by specific and definite rules, more generally achieved than ascribed. The examples are the office of a Principal, the foreman, the manager, the director, the Deputy Commissioner etc. It is clear that holding an office may give one a status.
The kind of status, it gives, depends upon the importance, scope and function of the office. Likewise, holding a particular status may help one acquire a certain office. Generally, sons of professional people and wealthy persons have a better- chance of attaining high positions than do sons of non-professional people and poor persons.
A man’s status determines his specific office in a number of ways and the office in turn affects his status. There is a close inter-dependence between the office and status. Occupational position is often a status and office both. It is a status when viewed from the stand-point of the particular business or agency.
There are two ways of attaching status to an office. Firstly, we attach an invidious value to an office as such independently of who occupies it or how its requirements are carried out, secondly, we attach value to the individual according to how well or ill he carries out the obligations of that office.
The first kind of invidious value or evaluation is called ‘prestige,’ the second one is called “esteem”. People attach high value to a particular job irrespective of the individual who holds it. Thus the status of a Deputy Commissioner is said to be high. Anybody who holds that position enjoys the prestige that goes with the office of the Deputy Commissioner.
But all the incumbents of the office of the Deputy Commissioner do not fulfill their obligation equally well and consequently these incumbents are not equally acclaimed by the people. The person who performs the obligations well may be held in high esteem as compared to the one who does not.
Thus it may be said that a person may hold a position of high prestige but may enjoy little esteem or to put it otherwise two persons working on a similar job may hold equal prestige but may differ in the esteem enjoyed by them. Esteem is thus always related to the expectations of a position whereas prestige is attached to the position as such.
The evaluation of the status is prestige; the evaluation of an individual’s role behaviour in a status is esteem Prestige does not ensure esteem. All positions carry a certain amount of prestige, either high or low. A sweeper may do his job well, yet in spite of his excellent work, he will occupy a low position.
III. Determinants of Status:
Status, which a social class or an individual enjoys, depends upon the social evaluations whereby the community regards certain attributes or characteristics more or less valuable than the other ones. Which attributes contribute to a higher status depends upon the persons making the status evaluation.
These attributes may relate to values and needs shared by only a small group or by a whole society. Further the contribution of attributes to status may differ from group to group. Thus, for example, among physicians, being a surgeon carries high status; among professors, the publication of a significant research work contributes to status.
Likewise the bases of social evaluations may vary from society to society and from time to time within the same society. Nobility of blood, once so esteemed in Western Europe, has today little appeal unless associated with other qualities. In feudal age, possession of land brought greater status but not so now. In our society, possession of wealth is considered an important attribute for a high status.
Among the several bases for status, the following three have been enumerated by Secord and Bukman:
(i) The capacity of a person for rewarding those with whom he interacts;
(ii) The extent to which he is receiving awards;
(iii) The type of costs he incurs, and his investments.
A brief description of these bases follows:
(i) Reward Value of high-status persons:
Persons are awarded high status if their attributes are rewarding to each member of the group. The attribute, which gives the greatest reward to the greatest number, gets maximum approval and thus maximum status. But these attributes should be in rare supply.
Some activities may be highly important but if all the members are engaged in these activities then no member will be gaining an advantage in status over the other ones. So only the attribute in rare supply contribute status. Thus in a scientist group the man with deep insight and brilliance is likely to have a high status because other members of the group do not possess that insight and brilliance.
(ii) Rewards received and costs incurred:
A person is evaluated of high status if he receives rewards which others have not. Esteem is one such reward. A person is ranked high in status if he is highly esteemed by other persons. A recipient of “Vir Chakra” is likely to be accorded high status. Likewise popular acclaim is likely to attribute high status to a person.
Similarly, persons may be ranked in terms of costs they experience. Thus a soldier who sacrifices his own life for the safety of the country is likely to get a high distinction. Sometimes the distinction awarded is posthumous. But all costs do not bring in distinction.
Only such costs which assist in the realization of the values of the group and that are not incurred by everyone, bring in distinction. The soldier who unnecessarily exposes himself to the enemy is likely to be reprimanded than rewarded.
Investments include such features as race, ethnic background, family, age, sex, and seniority. These features confer upon a person a right to be accorded a certain status. Thus a person who comes from a noble family may be given a higher status than a person from an ignoble family.
Seniority generally entitles a man to more privileges. A senior professor allocates the work among his junior colleagues, gets a private office, is paid a higher salary and entitled to certain vacation privileges.
Thus status arises out of interaction. Persons are accorded higher status to the degree that their attributes are rewarding to group members. The more a person is perceived to receive rewards, the higher his status is likely to be. Similarly his past history or background also is likely to contribute to his status.
Persons generally compare themselves and others with respect to status i.e., the costs incurred, investments accumulated and rewards received. If they find that investments are not proportional to outcomes, they feel accordingly dissatisfied. A group of persons who is superior in such investments as seniority and knowledge will feel dissatisfied if another group of persons inferior in seniority and knowledge gets better rewards such, as pay and autonomy.
Thus in order that people may feel satisfied there should be what Homans has called distributive justice. People feel discomfort when their profits are out of line with their investments because they were told that high investments bring high rewards. When this expectation is not met, they naturally feel sore.
II may be noted that people do not compare themselves with anyone and everyone. The people to whom a person compares himself and the degree to which he makes the comparison are determined by principles of distributive justice, the person’s perception of his power and the conditions allowing ease for comparison.
The following are the conditions under which status comparisons are made:
(i) Firstly, each person must be able to observe the rewards, costs and investments of others so that he can compare them with his own.
(ii) Secondly, each person must have approximately the same power to obtain rewards or avoid costs.
(iii) Thirdly, a person will compare himself only with those whose rewards and costs are not too different from his own;
(iv) Fourthly, comparisons are likely to be made with persons having similar investments because they should experience similar rewards and costs.
Sibling rivalry is a major example of status comparison. If the parent is to avoid sibling rivalry, he must be scrupulously equitable in giving rewards to children or he must create some sort of non-comparability between the children’s outcomes by providing them with different kinds of rewards.
Because of the tendency to maintain their status, people resist changes potentially disruptive of the status. Such resistance leads to the stability of the status structure. High status persons maintain the status quo by supporting values relevant to their status. There is always a desire in man to present himself in such a way as to maximise his status. It may, however, lead him to misperceive his place and the place of others in the social hierarchy.
(For a study of different characteristics which determine status, Birth, wealth and occupation have been the main criteria of status differentiation. A detailed analysis of these is given under Section IV-‘the criterion of class distinctions.’)
IV. Ascription and Achievement of Status:
There are two processes by which the status of a person in society is formed. These are the process of ascription and the process of achievement. Every society is confronted with the necessity of making a choice between the two.
There may be a society in which status is ascribed while in another society the status may be achieved. However, no society makes exclusive use of either of these two principles. Every society makes use of both. The Only question is to what extent the status in particular case has been determined by ascription and achievement.
The status, which a child receives at the time “he is ushered into the process of socialization is his ascribed status since he has not achieved it. This status is ascribed to him at a time when society knows least about the potentialities of the child. Since the capacities of the child are not known and since the process of socialization requires that he be placed in a status, therefore, the society ascribes to him a status on the basis of its own rules.
Generally, at this time the society considers the following four factors:
All societies prescribe different attitudes and roles to men and women. These differences are sought to be justified in terms of the physiological differences between the two sexes. However, a comparative study of the roles, assigned to men and women, shows that biological differences speak little for ascription of status.
It is going too far to assume that biological attributes explain directly the behaviour ascribed to the female sex, firstly, because the genetic differences between men and women are not great enough to explain the social differences between them, and, secondly, because the social differences themselves are not fixed but change from one society to another and from one time to another.
In some societies the men build the houses, in others the women do so. In some tribes the men serve as magicians, in others, the women do so. There seems only one reason for the status she is assigned and this is her bodily specialization for reproduction.
Forced to carry the parasitic embryo in her body for an extended time she is limited as to what she can do. She is given the kind of task that accords with her child bearing function. Keeping house, cooking, gardening, serving, and making pots etc. all fit in with bearing and rearing children.
These are the tasks that permit her to remain close to home, do not seriously interfere with pregnancy require routine endurance than physical exertion. Though in our society the statuses assigned to women have changed greatly yet it is doubtful if the ascription of status according to sex will ever disappear from society.
Age is an important factor used by all the societies for role assignments. Like sex it is a definite and highly visible physiological fact. Generally, a society recognises at least five age periods: infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age. Some societies in addition have two more peculiar age periods to which they attach importance, namely, the unborn and the dead. The transition from the status of the unborn to the status of the living is marked by ceremonies.
The transition from infancy to childhood is a smooth one and is seldom socially stressed. The change from childhood to adolescence and adulthood is marked by physiological changes. The change to adulthood is widely recognised in ceremony, custom and law. Marriage generally follows upon this change. However, physiological passage to adulthood does not necessarily coincide with the social transition of the individual from one category to the other.
The child becomes an adult not when he is physiologically mature but when he is socially mature. Modern society places a great strain upon the transition from childhood to adulthood for four reasons. Firstly, the period of learning is prolonged far beyond the period of physiological maturation. Secondly, man is all at once not considered socially competent in every sphere of activity.
The age at which he can marry is usually prior to the age at which he can vote, the age at which he can make a contract is lower than the age at which he can get a job. Thirdly, the parents continue to exercise authority even after he has acquired adulthood.
Often there is competition and conflict, the parents attempting to hold on to their authority for the good of the children, the children trying to free themselves from parental dominance. Fourthly, there is a long interval between the sexual maturity and marriage. The prolongation of the unmarried state and disapproval of pre-marital intercourse introduce an element of sexual strain that complicates the problem of adolescence.
The passage from adulthood to old age is harder to perceive. There is no clear physiological line though however a retirement age is prescribed which an arbitrary one is. The arbitrariness may be seen from the fact that some men lose vigour long before their retirement while others remain mentally vigorous long afterwards.
The roles assigned to the old in various societies vary greatly. In some they are relieved of labour while in others they are made to work hard. In some places they are disesteemed and considered a useless encumbrance while in others they receive reverence and their advice is sought. The charge is sometimes made that the old hang on to their positions and do not make room for the younger ones to rise.
That older persons seek to hold their power is generally true but they are able to hold their power because they have a kind of superiority, a superiority developed by the ascription of status on the basis of age and seniority. But In the present-day society the rights of superiority and respect are deteriorating as the modern family has become an individualized unit and is no longer united in a common economic endeavour. It is strange that the mature children do not care for their aged parents at an age when they most need the care.
Generally, there is a tendency in societies to emphasize the transition from childhood to adulthood and ignore the transition from adulthood to old age. Whereas this is so partly because of the difficulty of determining the onset of old age, it is largely because the new additions to the adult group contribute most to the perpetuation and well being of the society.
The dead also are given a status in society. This is especially so in those cultures where ancestor worship is practised. A monument is raised and people come to pray and make offerings. Among Hindus a festival, Shradh is observed for giving offerings to the dead.
Generally, the society ascribes status to a child on the basis of his relations to his parents and siblings. His status is identified with that of his parents. Though such identification is arbitrary as there is no necessary relation between the capacities of the parents and those of the offspring yet this is the most socially convenient way to relate the child to rest of the society and train him accordingly.
The ascription of citizenship, religious affiliation and community membership is in most cases a matter of identification with parents. In a caste system the child takes die parents’ status. In view of the close association between the child and the parents and in view of the fact that the parents are given the prime responsibility for rearing up the child it is but natural that at the start the child be given the status of his parents.
(iv) Social factors:
Sex, age and kinship do not exhaust all the bases for the ascription of status. Sometimes, purely social factors are used as a basis for ascription. All societies classify their members into a number of groups or categories and ascribe to such categories differing degrees of status. These groups may originate in many different ways. They may arise out of differences in technical skill or other abilities.
They may also originate through the formation of some social units such as teachers’ fraternity or officers’ club. Members of socially favoured group prevent the entry from the lower groups. This tendency to prevent the entry may result in the organization of society into a series of hereditary classes and castes. Such hereditary classes and castes are used as a reference point for the ascription of status.
While ascription of status is necessary so that the child’s socialization may start at the earliest moment, the determination of status cannot, however, be left entirely to ascription. No society depends solely upon ascribed status. It provides for an orderly and legitimate change of status according to the individual’s manifestation of talent and effort.
If the society does not do so and allow its members to change their status according to their talents and efforts it will drive exceptional persons into illicit channels. In order to make use of their capacities for common social ends the society must institutionalize the achievement of status. By doing so it will encourage people to put initiative and do their best. It would give fillip to their capacity and prevent incompetents from filling the high positions only on the basis of ascribed status.
Generally, in primitive societies greater emphasis is laid on ascribed status. In civilized societies there is an emphasis on achieved status. The urban conditions of life, the extreme division of labour and the rapid social change have made it possible for individuals to achieve status on the basis of their accomplishments.
The feature of social change has provided new statuses which, because they are new, cannot be filled by ascription. Similarly, the city has enabled people to be selected for particular positions according to their manifest achievements. The commercial activities of the modern society offer the individual a better opportunity to advance by the use of his capacities.
The emphasis on ascription or achievement criteria depends very much on the whole package of social values. Whether a society tends to stress the concept of ascription or of achievement finally is determined within a social matrix. The emphasis upon achievement in American society, is not isolated but is highly bound into the emphasis upon individualism, freedom of choice political democracy and equality of opportunity. American stratification has been an open system
The Indian stratification system is a closed one. But it is not as rigid as it appears to be, since there are regularized outlets to circumvent caste barriers that are in practice.
In modern society the emphasis is upon achievement. The shift to achievement criteria followed the complex changes associated with the rise of industrialism and all that went with it. In the developing nations of Asia and Africa this shift is taking place. They are moving away from the traditional descriptive forms of stratification towards achievement. It may be said that the shift to achievement is an unavoidable pre-requisite for the transition to modernity.
It may be noted that not all statuses are thrown open to achievement. Only some of them are thrown open to achievement The statuses (i) requiring the possession of unusual talent, (ii) depending on the informal and spontaneous approval of the populace and (iii) requiring long and costly education are more thrown open to achievement.
Should there be any limitation on the achievement of status? As already pointed out, the factors like sex, age and social affiliations limit the achievement of some statuses which requires special gifts. But society also places limitations.
A naturalised citizen cannot become the President of the United States, nor any woman has been the President so far and it is doubtful if any woman will likely become the President. In India on account of rigid caste structure social status is fixed. The fields of competition are delimited. Membership of a rigidly organized society deprives the individual of opportunities to exercise his particular gifts.
It is said that limitations on competition for achieved status may discourage people from putting initiative and doing their best and may thus deprive the society of exceptional persons. However, social systems have to be built on the potential ides of the average individual who can be trained to occupy and to perform almost any role adequately, if not brilliantly. As said by Lundberg, “The ascription of a particular status with the intensive training that such ascription makes possible is a guarantee that the role will be performed even if the performance is mediocre. The ascription of status sacrifices the possibility of having certain roles performed brilliantly for the certainty of having them performed passably.”
When a social system is well adjusted to its environment, it can get along quite well without utilizing special gifts. But when social change occurs, it has to utilise and recognise these gifts. Thus, societies living under new or changing conditions are usually characterized by achievable statuses and broad delimitations of the competition for them. However, well adjusted societies are generally characterized by preponderance of ascribed over achieved statuses. Even in competitive societies, ascribed overshadows achieved status.
V. Social Need of Status System:
The social status is of great importance both for the individual and the society. An individual wins respect in society by virtue of his status. An increase in the individual’s status entitles him to more respect than before. Marriages in almost every society are contracted on the basis of status. Everyone wants to marry his sons and daughters into a family of an equal if not superior status. Role and status go together.
The role of an individual determines his status and his role changes along with a change in his status. The role structure of a group is the same thing as its status structure. Status entities a person to enjoy several prerogatives, for example, in England no one can file a suit against the royal family. Thus an individual gets many direct and indirect advantages from social status.
As we have seen, a status system is a universal characteristic of human society. It constitutes the basic organization of group life and determines who is to carry what. Status system is necessary in the specialization of functions, and in the co-ordination of the specialized functions of a community.
It is important for affording incentives for effort and in promoting the sense of responsibility, dependability and stability so necessary for co-operative living. But status system should not be rigid. It should be flexible. A status system which lacks flexibility and is not subject to change with changing conditions may produce strain upon the individual and exercise a deleterious effect upon the life of the group.