Foothill College Sociological Theory Essay

Please Read Paper Option 2 to write 5-8 Pages Sociological Theory Essay

Post 4 Materials would be helpful

S-320; Sociological Theory
Paper Option #2
The Impact of Social Stratification on Family Position
and ‘Life Chances’
Social stratification refers to the ranking of people based upon the amount of
scarce resources– in industrial society those would be wealth, power, and prestige–
they possess. As you will recall from our class discussions, Kingsley Davis and
Wilbert Moore believed that stratification is based on the assumption that
individuals should be rewarded according to their abilities. But what factors
influence one’s ability to gain access to the training necessary to advance one’s
abilities? How do our life chances effect our potential path upward? Furthermore,
even if one is able to obtain advanced training, does it guarantee that one will
experience vertical mobility? Perhaps we will experience only horizontal mobility.
And to add to the complexity, how do the variables of stratification (“differential
functional importance” and “differential scarcity of personnel”) effect either or
both our intra-generational mobility and/or our inter-generational mobility (didn’t
know you have learned so much, huh? )?
The goal of this Paper Option to help you better understand the intricacies of
social stratification in American society by analyzing your own familial structure.
You will have the opportunity to discuss and apply life chances to your own social
position. As well, you will have the opportunity to demonstrate your mastery of
stratification concepts by examining how the many concepts of Davis & Moore
operate (or have operated) in your own two-generational structure.
This Paper Option will be graded in two, 12.5 point halves. The first
component addresses the significance of life chances to your own experiences. The
second component examines your ability to think critically about how stratification
concepts have operated in your family structure up to this point. Here we go!
Part I: The Significance of Life Chances
Simply put, “life chances” refer to opportunities throughout one’s life cycle to
live and to experience the “good things” in a society (Eitzen & Baca-Zinn, 2004).
From access to leisure, to better health care, to better educational opportunities, to
better inroads to occupational prestige, life chances most definitely differ between
the social classes.
a) Identify for me, and defend, which social class from which you hail (upper,
upper middle, lower middle, working, lower). Then, using the definition
of life chances provided by Eitzen and Baca-Zinn, select two social
constructs from the following list and discuss how your life chances
have been (or could be) influenced, either positively, or negatively for
1. housing
2. educational opportunities
3. medical care
4. employment opportunities
5. mate selection
Part II: Application of Stratification Concepts
Exactly how much social mobility has occurred in your family (or, based on your
completion of degree, will occur in your family!)? For the purposes of this Exercise,
focus only on yourself and your parents/guardians. From the following list of four
stratification-related concepts, select as many as apply to your situation and discuss
concisely how they operate (or will operate) in your family. Believe me, based on
what you present, I will know if you left a concept out !
1. vertical mobility
2. horizontal mobility
3. intra-generational mobility (of either type)
4. inter-generational mobility (of either type)
A total of five to eight pages should serve you well. Remember that this paper is
due by 11:59 p.m. on March 17th, no exceptions, in double-spaced, readable font.
And remember…you are S-320 students– nearly professional sociologists! That is
really cool!
Today we make a rather large shift in theoretical focus from the
conservative sociological ideas of the Structural Functionalists to the more
liberal, and in some cases radical, viewpoints of contemporary Conflict
Theory. The standard bearer for the development of this paradigm was the
notable and well respected C. Wright Mills. I use the adjective “notable”
because as you will learn, his contributions regarding the need for a public
sociology remain among the most noteworthy sociological insights of the
20th Century. I use the adjective “well respected” because to this day, the
top research award in the discipline, given every year at the ASA meetings,
is known as the “C. Wright Mills Award for Excellence in Research.”
But make no mistake. Mills was not liked by all. In fact, as I alluded
to in prior lectures regarding Talcott Parsons, Mills and Parsons had a great
dislike for one another personally. Parsons was trained in the private
university in Heidelberg, Germany and went on to become Chair of the
Department of Sociology at Harvard, focusing primarily on developing his
Grand Theory. Mills was trained in a public university,
Wisconsin-Madison, and focused the bulk of his career on the inequities of
power, particularly among members of the Military-Industrial complex,
what he called the “Power Elite.” As well, he became Chair of the
Department of Sociology at Columbia University. Their dichotomy couldn’t
have been clearer:
– Conservative Functionalist vs. Liberal Conflict Theorist
– University of Heidelberg (private) trained vs. Wisconsin- Madison (public)
– Coloradoan vs. Texan
– supporter of the political status quo vs. critic of the political status quo
– Harvard vs. Columbia
There is one other key piece of information regarding the relationship
between these two men about which you should be aware. The United
States in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s was still very much a “Functionalist’s
Dream.” Our society was quite conservative as a whole, and Parsons S.F.
viewpoints were widely accepted as representing “truth.” Think also about
the tumultuousness of the 1950s! We experienced the Korean War
through 1952, the McCarthyism “Red Scare” of Communism in 1954-1955,
and the threat of Soviet imperialism and escalation of nuclear armament
buildup through the early 1960s. Parsons was pro-family, pro-capitalism,
and pro-political establishment. AND, he was at Harvard, one of the most
respected Universities in the land. Mills, as mentioned previously, spoke
out against the political establishment of the day. He believed that the
members of the Power Elite (government bureaucracy, the military, and Big
Business) were hoodwinking members of society, pretty much creating
policies that benefitted only themselves and not the masses. As you can
well imagine, such a stance did not sit well with many Americans, even
though Mills was also at an Ivy League school, Columbia.
What I am illustrating for you here is the foundation of a very real
dislike between these two men. Was Mills jealous of Parsons’ success?
We don’t know that to be true with 100% validity. But what we do know
about Sociology during this period is that Mills needed to work incredibly
hard to have his C.T. ideas recognized by the general public because
Parsons’ S.F. views were in vogue. The social climate favored a Parsonian
view; and Parsons “milked” this climate at every opportunity.
I bring you….
The Conflict Theory of C. Wright Mills
* Mills sought to create a “public
sociology; to be a medium for
publicly engaged social discourse”
(i.e., get away from the Grand Theorizing
of the loony Talcott Parsons)
Despite the problems of “image” that Mills endured relative to
Parsons (chronicled above) there was one key conceptual contribution
made by Mills during his career than offset Parsons supremacy—the
sociological imagination! As Seidman points out in his Chapter, Parsons
envisioned a “Grand Synthetic Sociology” (thus Grand Theory) that would
furnish the basic premises of a unified science of society. Mills envisioned
sociology as a “publicly engaged discourse.” In other words, Mills sought
to create a “public sociology;” sociology for the common man (generically).
He believed that Parsons’ Grand Theory was in most ways inaccessible for
the common citizen. It was too abstract and Parsons’ students (i.e.,
Merton, Davis & Moore) felt similarly.
* Mills thus was a believer and the
creator of the “sociological
imagination”; the process of
transforming personal problems
into public issues
For those of you who have been a part of my Introductory Sociology
classes, you should already be familiar with this concept. But for others of
you this may be your first exposure to Mills’ ideas. What Mills was arguing
is that sociology has its greatest utility for the masses if we can take the
problems of day-to-day living and provide a forum for discussion and
Some examples? Sure!  For your consideration, what about
parents who were fed up with drunk drivers on the road that endangered
their children? I’m sure all of you have heard of the organization,
M.A.D.D. (Mothers Against Drunk Driving). It was started by a group of
mothers (literally) who were looking for some kind of legal and political
intervention to punish those who would drink and drive. What started out
as a problem in the “private” (personal) became a topic for public
discourse. And now the drunken driving laws are tougher than ever before
in most every State. Reality Check…why is this a “macro” sociological
issue? Notice how many organizations and institutions are influenced by
this “public” discussion. Family, Law, Crime & Deviance, Politics…to
name but a few. Catching on?
Another one? Sure!  When the late Christopher Reeve
(Superman) became a quadriplegic because of a cross-country horse
jumping course injury (a personal problem), his tireless efforts to get
stem-cell research funded in the Unites States was the “public” outcome.
Think about the amazing groundswell of support for such research after his
injury! And furthermore think about the number of institutions and
organizations that became part of the public discourse—Family, Medicine,
Politics, Religion, to name but a few.
What examples can you think of that depict this concept?
Discussion Board time! Indeed, it is your turn to demonstrate your
mastery of Mills sociological imagination. Review your definition—“the
process of transforming personal problems into public issues”—and then
provide for all of us an example of the concept at work. Your example can
be of a personal nature (meaning you and/or your family have experienced
the sociological imagination) or it can be a summary of a current event
that you believe demonstrates the concept at work. Be sure to defend why
you believe your example demonstrates Mills in action!
A. “The Power Elite” (1956)
In this major contribution to Conflict sociology, Mills challenged the
idea that a true democracy, with multiple bases of power, existed in the
United States. When I say, “multiple bases of power,” I am referring to the
democratic principle which assumes that both the citizenry and the elected
officials share in the decision making process. We, as voting members in
our city, State, and Nation, elect officials to represent our views. And
when those elected officials achieve a position of power using the
rational-legal authority of Max Weber (remember him? ) they reflect the
views of the constituents who elected them.
Mills rejected the idea of a “ruling class” of politicians because he felt
that such a concept fell far short of capturing the true essence of where
power in the United States was located. As you shall see, Mills located
power in the U.S. within military, political, and corporate structures.
Power, according to Mills, is defined as follows:
“Power has to do with whatever
decisions men make about the
arrangements under which
they live, and about the events
which make up the history of
their times”
“I should contend that ‘men are
free to make history,’ but that
some men are indeed freer
than others”
In this second statement in particular, I trust you can detect Mills’
pessimism regarding a free and open political system where every citizen’s
best interests are addressed and defended. What follows is an in-depth
presentation of where power in the United States is located, who has it, and
how they came to acquire such a lofty position.
1. Power Pyramid Structure
In your assigned reading from Farganis, you undoubtedly came
across Mills’ discussion of the Power Pyramid in the United States. As he
“The top of modern American society is increasingly unified, and
often seems willfully coordinated: at the top there has emerged an
elite whose power probably exceeds that of any small group of men
in world history. The middle levels are often a drifting set of
stalemated forces: the middle does not link the bottom with the top.
The bottom of this society is politically fragmented, and even as a
passive fact, increasingly powerless: at the bottom there is
emerging a mass society.”
a. The Power Elite
The Power Pyramid is comprised of three different levels. At the
very top you find the “Big 3” who came to power in legitimate fashion (as
you shall learn) but who continue to rule American society through deceit
and a “good old boys network” of favoritism and cronyism. The “Big 3”
* Big Business or Corporate
* The Military
Say, tell me…did Mills think highly of the Military institution?
Certainly he had a great deal of respect for those who fought in the war(s)
throughout history, but as a macro-sociological entity, what were his
sentiments? In other words, did Mills like them? Mmm…doesn’t look
like it :
“The military order, once a slim establishment in a context of
civilian distrust, has become the largest and most expensive feature
of government; behind smiling public relations, it has all the grim
and clumsy efficiency of a great and sprawling bureaucracy.”
* Governmental
Mills was very clear about precisely who comprised this component of
the “Big 3.” You might be tempted to place all politicians in this
classification, but indeed it was only the President and his Cabinet. These
individuals are the major brokers of power at this level.
The red line you see above is placed there [by me!] to represent Mills’
view that there exists an impenetrable boundary of power between the top
of the Power Pyramid and the lower two layers. Think about it for a
moment. Do the masses have the opportunity to vote on who is placed on
the Cabinet? Do the masses get to vote for who becomes a Two-Star
General in the Military? Do the masses get to vote on who become the
C.E.O.s of Fortune 500 companies? Did we have any say on whether or not
Amy Coney Barrett became a Supreme Court Justice? Will we have any say
on whether or not Ketanji Brown Jackson will become the next Supreme
Court Justice? No way! These are by “invite” or by cronyism. As Mills
“Politics is not an arena in which free and independent
organizations truly connect the lower and middle levels of society
with the top levels of decisions.”
b. “Legislative” Branch
* political leaders (both at
the National and State
As you look carefully at who the political leaders are in the middle
level, which politicians are conspicuously absent? Right! The “local
level” politicians are not part of the mix at the middle level because Mills
argues that they do not, in reality, have any political clout to speak of. Yes,
City Councils and Town Councils are a necessary part of government, but
they have no influence on the real “power decisions” in the United States.
He would refer to them as “Playskool Politicans” were he still with us.
Political “wanna-bees” who often like to think of themselves as “real
politicians” when in reality the biggest decisions they make are whether or
not to put in a new curb by the Courthouse or buy a new slide for the
community park!
Thus, the President of the United States (government bureaucracy)
has political power. The Governor of California has political power
(legislative branch). The Mayor of Vista has no real political power and in
truth is just another of the Masses like you and I! Stay tuned…
* interest groups
Often referred to as “lobbyists” or “lobby groups,” these individuals
also have a degree of power in the United States. Later in lecture, we will
address the “interest groups” and how their lobbying efforts can be
“bought” by politicians both at the top of the Power Pyramid and by those at
the Middle level. The “Tobacco Lobby” and the “Gun Lobby” (often N.R.A.
members or sympathizers) are but two examples of very politically
powerful groups in the U.S.
c. Masses
As it pertains to true political power and involvement, Mills is quite
pessimistic about whether those of us at the lowest level of power in the
United States have any real “say” in decisions at all. In setting the stage for
his discussion of how the masses have systematically been excluded by
those in the upper echelons of power and the apathy that it created, Mills
“…[there has come about] a situation in which many who have lost
faith in prevailing loyalties have not acquired new ones, and so pay
no attention to politics of any kind. They are not radical, not
liberal, not conservative, not reactionary. They are inactionary.
They are out of it. If we accept the Greek’s definition of the idiot as
an altogether private man, then we must conclude that many
American citizens are now idiots.”
Could his viewpoint be any clearer?  If it will help, think about your
friends or family members who are either registered to vote and do not, or
who are old enough to be registered and never seem to get around to
registering. What is the excuse they commonly give? “Oh, my vote
doesn’t matter anyway. So why waste my time?” How many of you have
heard (or even said ) something to this effect? Do you see how this
mindset depicts precisely Mills’ point about “inaction?” The collective
viewpoint is that we masses…
* have little or no say in
policy formation
I encourage all of you to read carefully Mills’ discussion of how
democracy as preached in America is nothing more than “the assertion of a
legitimation masquerading as fact.” While doing so, keep your eyes open
for evidence of his second key point about the Masses; the fact that we are:
*politically unorganized
2. Historical Formation of the
Power Elite
So how did the “Big 3” members come together to create a self-serving
oligarchy (ruling elite) at the top of the Power Pyramid? Although the
focus of your assigned reading was on the Cold War politics of the 50’s,
Mills’ believed it was World War II brought the “Elite” together for the first
Think about this carefully for a moment. Political (government)
Bureaucracy, Military, and Big Business as brokers of power in the United
States… We certainly saw evidence of the “Big 3” working together during
the Civil War, didn’t we? And what about World War I? They worked
together during this global conflict as well. What was so unique about
World War II as it pertains to the formation of a Power Elite? For those of
you who are military historians, you already know the answer! During the
Civil War we were obviously a country divided. For World War I the war
was fought on foreign soil. Or as the great war song from 1917 stated,
“Over there. Over there…. And we won’t be home ‘til it’s over, over there!”
The war was fought in Europe, not on American soil. But as you will recall,
when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7,
1941, for the first time in recent U.S. history we were attacked on our own
soil. Thus:
a. World War II brought the
“Elite” together for the first
b. The “Elite” were given the
legitimacy to craft national
policy decisions and secure
“national” safety
As discussed above, because for the first time American citizens
actually felt threatened individually and collectively, the cries for “help!”
rang out to the nation’s Capital. “Save us!” were the pleas. And members
of the “Big 3” went into action to secure our safety. The Government
Bureaucracy (President and his Cabinet) went to Congress to seek aid for
the war effort. The decision was made to utilize the auto industry and the
weapons manufacturers and the aircraft manufacturers (Big Business) to
devote a large portion of their assembly lines to the production of war
machinery. Obviously, the Military benefitted.
Reality check! Do not be mistaken here…Mills was not at all critical
of the “Big 3” working together to help us “win” the war. In fact, based on
the magnitude of the crisis and the speed with which decisions needed to be
made, he recognized that there needed to be a concerted effort on the part
of all groups to ensure a successful outcome. Furthermore, this was an
effort that the Masses desired! The authority of the “Big 3” at that time
was indeed based on the rational-legal authority of Max Weber. The
Masses had some “say” in what transpired in a few short months. This
“say” would ultimately be lost once the war was over.
c. Post-war, “Elite” legitimacy
was further accepted; the
“Big 3” became more
Let’s face it, everyone—the “Big 3” did ensure an American “victory”
in World War II. Citizens were totally “stoked” about the outcome, and it
provided “Big 3” members a degree of status and trust never before
experienced in American history. To put it another way, because of our
“win,” members of the Power Elite had a “blank check” to do pretty much
whatever they wanted. Who were we, as the Masses, to question their
decisions from that point forward? After all, “they rescued us in time of
need. We owe them that!”
Can you see where this story is headed? Can you see the ending,
“pages” away from the conclusion of the “who done it?”  You guessed it:
d. End result? The “Elite”
shapes society; masses
adapt to “Elite” decisions
As Mills stated:
“The triangle of power is now a structural fact, and it is the key
to understanding of the higher circles in America today…the
economy, once a great scatter of small productive units…has
become internally dominated by a few hundred
In essence, Mills argued that once legitimated, the authority of the “Big 3”
was unquestioned. And as a post-World War II society, we were now
subject to subtle and at times, not so subtle forms of domination. It is to
this issue that we now turn.
3. Contemporary Evidence for
“Interlocking Directorates”
On pages 191-193 in Farganis you will find a wonderful discussion of
the formation and intent behind what Mills referred to as an “interlock”, or
in his full volume, an “interlocking directorate.” More specifically, he
comments on the…
“…interconnections and points of coinciding interest…they tend to
form a coherent kind of grouping.”
Don’t get me wrong! This is a fine partial description of what an interlock
is all about. But for our purposes in S-320, I have a different working
definition for all of you. Please remember for the Test that an
“interlocking directorate” is:
a. interlocking directorate- A
I’ll-scratch-yours” policy of
oligarchy between “Elite”
Huh? Yes, I know; my definition may be a bit too folksy for some of
you . But in reality, this captures precisely what an interlock is all about.
Earlier in lecture I made reference to “favors” and/or “cronyism.” Once
Elite leaders have achieved a lofty position they end up doing huge favors
for one another just to make certain that they can all enjoy the “perks” of
Elite rule. And the “kicker” in all of these goings-on is that you nor I as
members of the Masses have “thing one to say about it!” After all, we
legitimated the lofty position of the “Big 3” for their huge role in saving our
collective “behinds” during World War II. We can’t wrestle the power
from them anymore, and they have stopped listening to what we say, so
Mills argues.
For those of you who still believe that Mills is perhaps too pessimistic
about the role of Masses in decision making, I would like for you to consider
the following scenarios that have occurred since 2000. As I always say, the
beauty of sociological theory is that it stands the test of time!
Scenario #1—United Parcel Service Weight Limits
“Karen Dawson felt her back pop as she tried to life a package from
the top shelf of her UPS truck. Six months earlier the 85-pound
parcel would not have been there. It was on the truck only because
UPS raised their weight limits from 70 pounds to 150 pounds!”
The weight limit increase helped boost profits at UPS. But it is also known
as a hard-driving company (no pun intended) with a worker injury 25%
higher than the industry average. The privately held Atlanta company also
enjoys another distinction—it is the #1 corporate giver to Congressional
elections races.
UPS lobbied hard to have OSHA safety regulations for their company
curbed to allow for the heavier parcels. And their primary allies in
Congress? C. Ballenger from North Carolina and J. Gregg from New
Hampshire. In return, UPS contributed $100,000 each to their re-election
The interlock, my 320 friends? Big Business (the Power Elite level)
working with members of Congress (the Legislative level) to provide
beneficial outcomes to both. Do you see the “back scratching?”
Scenario #2—Indian Gaming & the Buying of Politicians (2000-2022)
Wealthy Indian gaming tribes (many in California) were suddenly
pouring millions of dollars into political campaigns at both State and
Federal levels to protect their interests. In the year 2000, Indian tribes
spent more than $9.5M on Washington lobbying.
To demonstrate the nature of the “back scratching,” we can go all the
way back to the Clinton Administration in the early 1990s. Between 1993
and 1999, Indian tribes contributed most of their $8.6M to Democrats.
But immediately after Bush took office in 2000, the lion’s share of
donations went directly to Republican candidates. In 2000-2001 tribes
spent $20M lobbying candidates on such issues as preserving tax-free status
of casinos, expanding gaming operations and protecting Indian sovereignty,
which allows them loopholes to avoid regulations imposed on other
businesses. Can you identify which groups were involved in the “back
Scenario #3—The Tobacco Industry and Political Contributions (2002-)
Only five years or so after absorbing what was supposed to be a death
blow, the tobacco industry was once again very healthy. Do you all
remember the lawsuits smokers brought against the industry for “spiking”
their cigarettes (in other words, adding more than the allowable amount of
nicotine and in the process, increasing the chances for addiction and lung
cancer)? The tobacco companies were ordered to pay $145B (yes, billion)
in settlement claims. But in 2003, the Department of Justice under Bush
said it was cutting the amount of such claims to $20B and putting a cap on
future liability claims. Do you suppose this stance had anything to do with
the tobacco companies providing a $7m “gift” to the Republican Party in
the months leading up to that ruling? Once again, can you identify the
groups who were involved in the “back scratching?”
The bottom line, my S-320 friends, is that in each of the scenarios presented
above, members of the Power Elite, at times with the help of those in the
Legislative Branch, formed an interlocking directorate to aid each other’s
“cause.” I encourage you in preparation for Test #3 to constantly
challenge yourselves, watching current events for examples of “interlock”
that demonstrate Mills’ argument.
As Chair of the Department of Sociology at Columbia University, C.
Wright Mills believed that sociology should be a voice for change in the
United States during a period of upheaval. The period of years from the
1940s through the 1950s was riddled with tension and conflict not only in
the United States, but in foreign matters as well. His analysis of the Cold
War and how it helped further the position of the Power Elite in the United
States was his primary claim to fame. In his pessimism over lack of
progress in such matters he stated:
“We come to realize—indeed they continually remind us—how a few
men have access to the means by which in a few days continents can
be turned into thermonuclear wastelands.”
But don’t forget that there was an optimistic Mills as well! His
concept of the sociological imagination was devised to remind Americans
that sociology was not a discipline that was to remain in the lofty halls of
academia (like Parsons Grand Theory). Rather, the goal of sociology was
to take problems experienced in the “private” (the personal level) and use
them as a springboard for “public” discussion of the issues. Only in doing
so would sociology legitimate itself as a discipline; one devoted to
understanding the patterns of human behavior and healing the human
P.S. Oh yes… I almost forgot! My good friend, Steve, a devout socialist
() sent me a turn of the 19th Century political and editorial
comic/drawing. Although it does not depict precisely the tiered system of
power that Mills discussed, it has its merits in terms of who is really
working for whom AND who really has the power.
You can find this on Library Reserves which is accessed at the top
materials on the course Homepage. Enjoy!
Good day, Theorists! As you looked at the syllabus for today you
undoubtedly noticed that we were going to begin our analysis of the
Critical theorists in Sociology. Some of you may have been thinking,
“Are we done with Conflict Theory already?” The answer is “no, of
course not!” But my goal for today and the topics leading into Test #3 is
to introduce you to the key players in a significant branch of Conflict
Do you remember the first lecture of the semester? On that day I
provided an overview of the different viewpoints within our wonderful
discipline. I commented at that time regarding the key distinction
between Conflict Theory and Critical Theory. Do you remember what
that key distinction is? RIGHT! Good for you . Conflict Theory has
its roots in Marxian viewpoints regarding economic differences between
groups in society and how the inequities of economics create a social
environment ripe with tension and conflict. Critical Theory we decided,
as a branch of C.T., focuses more on power differentials as the key
variable. They agree with Marx that economics is certainly one of the
hotbeds of discord. But proponents of Critical Theory also maintain
that sociological variables such as “gender,” “race,” “ethnicity,” and
“sexual orientation” play a major role in determining who has the power
in society and perhaps more importantly, how they wield that power
over others.
As you shall learn today, W.E.B. DuBois was ahead of his time!
Even though the Critical Theory perspective in sociology had not yet
been created formally, his ideas about race relations and ideas for change
paved the way for further discussion and debate on “race” as a key
variable of power in the United States. As a key African American
figure, he laid the groundwork for other theorists of “race” and “gender”,
most notably Ida Wells-Barnett and Anna Julia Cooper (who we will
discuss in a “Question & Answer” format on Tuesday).
Chronologically I am going out of order , but there is a method to
my madness. To set the stage for DuBois, I am going to provide you a
history of the Frankfurt [Germany] School of Thought from which the
Critical perspective was born. I will also share with you the ideas of
Jurgen Habermas, the theorist who was the standard-bearer for the
Critical theoretical perspective through the 20th Century. Once you
understand the goals of his theorizing in terms of variables of power, we
will go back in time to the great W.E.B. DuBois! Hopefully you will
recognize that his arguments about race relations in the U.S.—“race” as a
variable of power—pre-dated the formal Frankfurt School. Did his
viewpoints influence the discussion in Frankfurt? You bet! Stay
I. The Emergence of Critical Theory Within
the Sociological Discipline
* Critical Theory aims not only to
understand society but to change it!
For those of you who are theoretically astute, you may be thinking
to yourselves, “I thought one of Marx’s goals in Conflict Theory was to
change society as well. What’s the difference?” Good question! Do
you remember a key criticism levied against Marx? Critics argued that
Marx “flapped his gums” extensively regarding positive social change for
the masses without ever really providing a recipe for that change.
Remember also that Marxian critics argued that widespread revolution
freeing the proletarians from bourgeois rule did not in fact take place.
The Critical Theorists from the Frankfurt School believed they had
the “recipe” for necessary social change! In large part it relied on a
reformulation—not abandoning—of Marx. As a student of the early
Frankfurt School, Habermas is the theorist who called for shift in
paradigm (perspective ) that incorporated Marx’s central ideas while
“refocusing” others. “Social change for the better? Comin’ right up!”
* The value neutrality of Weber? HAH!
Frankfurt School scholars were not at all in favor of their
country-person’s approach to sociology. They believed that not only
were Max Weber’s ideas on value neutrality utterly impossible, but any
attempt to entertain such neutrality would actually hinder or retard
progress for society.
Reality Check! Do you remember which other German scholar
thought Max Weber’s ideas of value neutrality were not only incorrect,
but also dangerous in terms of preventing positive social change in
Germany? RIGHT! You are all so smart  Marianne Weber. I hope
you recall that she argued against value neutrality as it pertained to the
issue of gender progress. If positive change for women in Germany
were to occur, a clearly liberal/radical viewpoint was needed. “Value
neutrality, Max darling? Certainly not! How are we going to change
German gender norms by remaining too neutral in the name of sociological
objectivity?” Is it coming back to you now?
Our goal (Theodor Adorno, Max
Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse,
Jurgen Habermas) is to:
1. unite philosophy (the abstract
whole) with positivism (the
“science” in social sciences)
Adorno, Horkheimer, and Marcuse were the founders of the
Frankfurt School. And Jurgen Habermas was their star pupil. Take a
close look at their combination of paradigms! Philosophy united with
positivism (or scientific method)…Mmm…this in some ways looks very
much like Marx, correct? Remember that Marx was a student of the
Enlightenment (with its emphasis on science) and borrowed Hegel’s
philosophical ideas of the “dialectic” to build his theory. So once again,
how is the Frankfurt School different from Marx? Don’t forget that
Marx cast off the assumptions of Hegel’s dialectic once it served its
purpose of achieving pure communism. Furthermore, don’t forget that
Marx was critical of the “idealistic philosophers” for not grounding their
arguments on real-world social conditions.
Unlike Marx, the Frankfurt School founders believed that we had
much to learn from pure philosophy. They did not at all believe that
philosophers were starry-eyed idealists as did Marx. Thus, they
believed in taking abstract thought and coupling it with scientific
principle! What an unbeatable combination!
2. utilize a multi-disciplinary
approach in solving social problems
As many of you are well aware, there are very nasty fights at times
between branches of the social sciences. Sociology and Psychology are
often at odds. History and Political Science and Economics fight for
supremacy. The historians fight with the sociologists about Marxian
views. Whew… As the late Rodney King said, “Can’t we all just get
along?” Well, often “no.” We should, but we just can’t seem to. It
most likely stems from the fact that Departments are all fighting for
accreditation, and increasing their number of majors relative to others is
a great way to justify one’s existence.
But we are here to make the next generation of social scientists
better! Not repeat the same mistakes of the past. This viewpoint
mirrors what those in the Frankfurt School believed—that by utilizing all
academic resources at our disposal we have a better change of changing
society for the better. When I was working on my Ph.D. at U.S.C., I was
part of the Study of Three Generations, a multi-disciplinary team put
together by various professors to better study the patterns of change in
family structure longitudinally. We had sociologists, psychologists,
gerontologists, economists, medical professionals, historians, and
political scientists as part of the team. And each brought their unique
perspective and expertise to the table. It was in many ways one of the
more rewarding educational experiences I ever encountered. The key
point here is, obviously, to utilize the strengths of as many academics as
possible in a collegial setting. In the process you will craft a better
theory that provides for positive change. In other words:
3. use theory as a force in human
Reality check !
C’mon….you mean craft Grand Theories of
social change?
You must admit, such a viewpoint sounds very much like Talcott
Parsons. How did the views of the Frankfurt School differ? Take a look
at the following observations regarding Parsons, the Functionalist, and
Habermas, the Critical Theorist:
– Parsons– a “rosy”, “dreamy” hope of
ongoing smooth progress (Seidman)
– Habermas,– a reformulation of Marx
with the goal of bringing about
necessary” change
Are you seeing the difference in terms of social change? The
smooth, gradual, adjustive approach of the Parsonian Functionalists as
opposed to the more liberal/radical ideas for rapid change espoused by
Marxian sympathizers on the other. Toward that end, I bring you…
A. The Influence of Jurgen Habermas
1. He wished to return to the original
aim of the Frankfurt School post
WWII and integrate philosophy and
empiricism to bring about rapid
social change
For those of you who have read your Chapter in Seidman, you
know full well that to be a “social change scholar” in Germany during
the time of Adolph Hitler meant almost certain death or at least,
“disappearance.” So during the height of Nazi control in Germany
during WWII, the founders of the Frankfurt School went to the United
States where they met a very receptive audience. Herbert Marcuse, in
particular, was a fiery, effervescent theorist and lecturer whose impact
was widely felt.
2. “He should be considered one of
the great social theorists of the 20th
century” — S. Seidman
As we have discussed from time to time throughout the semester,
Steven Seidman does not give praise easily. As such, for him to make
the above observation regarding Habermas’ influence is quite a feather
in his cap, wouldn’t you say?
3. He believed that reconstructing
Marxism was the key to social
renewal… Why?
a. Marxism was too easily
dismissed as ideology; but
Critical Theory based on
Marxism reflects sound reason
I refer all of you once again back to the key criticisms levied against
Marx. You will recall that the detractors of Marx held him accountable
for his emphasis on Enlightenment “science” when indeed his dialectical
materialism showed no evidence for the positivistic model. Habermas
agreed with this criticism, but only to a point. He agreed that Marx had
fallen short in demonstrating the value of “science” in his theory, but he
also felt that Marx was on the right track when it came to his discussion
of economics as a variable of power.
b. Marxist foundations were
flawed… i.e., no revolution in
the West? Only shades of
dialectical materialism in the
East (Russia under Lenin)? The
rise of fascism (dictatorships)
under Hitler and Mussolini?
Habermas joined the earlier critics of Marx on this key point. If
Marx felt his theory captured the essence of social class alienation from
labor and exploitation of the proletariat, why did we not find “global”
evidence for his hypothesis? The United States was flourishing in its
capitalistic society at that time. There were no revolutions here! I
alluded above to Russia under Vladimir Lenin. When he led the
successful Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 there was no change to pure
communism. Granted, Marx supporters would argue that the Socialist
government Lenin created was still a step in the dialectic toward pure
communism. But history certainly tells us that once in power, Lenin did
not have a plan for progressing Russia to a purely communist State.
And certainly the dictatorships that were to come later in Germany and
Italy during WWII suggest that Marx’s “global” vision for radical change
was flawed.
c. The Marxist theory of
capitalism was inadequate for
clarifying the major changes
taking place in the modern
world…i.e., the power of the
“race” and “gender” variables!
So here we now come full circle to the key assumption that
separates Marxian Conflict Theory from Critical Theory. To refresh
your memories, Marx focused only on the economic variable as a means
of exploiting the masses. Critical theorists such as Habermas focus on
the many variables in society where power differentials are misused.
For our purposes in S-320 this semester we will address two of those
variables: “race” and “gender.” But for those of you who are interested
in the power politics of “sexual orientation,” please read Seidman’s
treatment of Lesbian, Gay, and Queer Theory. This Chapter will not be
on the Test, but it will provide further insights into the mindset of the
Critical theorists.
Reality check 2!
Do you suppose the ideas of Habermas,
then, were an inspiration to those current
authors on Critical Race and Critical
Feminist Theory? You bet…!
“…the new social movements are the
harbingers of a new moral consensus,
that will provide the basis for a
revitalized democratic order”
You know what a “harbinger” is, don’t you? It is a foreshadow; a
sign; a revelation of that which is to come. For example, from the world
of biology it is often said that the robin is a “harbinger” of Spring.
When you see the first robin of the year, it is a sure sign that Spring is
soon to follow. Get it ? Habermas believed the social movements
that were developing in the areas of race/ethnicity, gender, and sexual
orientation were “signs” of a new society that would ultimately emerge.
As we move into next week, particularly Thursday’s lecture, you
will learn about the next generation of Critical Race theorists: Molefi
Asante, Patricia Hill-Collins, Kwame Appiah, and the views of
Theorizing Whiteness. Then you will learn not only about the early
Critical Feminist theorists, but also two contemporaries: Dorothy Smith
and Judith Butler. Stay tuned!
B. The Influence of W.E.B. DuBois
(1868-1963) on Critical Race Theory
* Embrace the legacy!…
And I DO mean the “legacy!” DuBois is one of my favorite
sociologists of all time not only because of his theoretical contributions,
but because of his tenacity! I hope you enjoyed reading the selection in
Farganis from DuBois . His writing style is more prose than
academician, and I feel that it makes his key arguments come alive.
Take a look at just a few landmark biographical components for W.E.B.
1. The first ever black Ph.D. from
And not just in Sociology. We are talking about the first black
Ph.D. from Harvard, period. You also know from reading Farganis that
his road to Harvard was not at all smooth. After all, we are talking
about an African-American 16 year-old high school graduate hoping to be
admitted to Harvard in 1884!
2. Studied at the University of Berlin
under Max Weber (1864-1920)
and became enamored with
the ideas of “verstehen”, or
interpretive understanding
(put yourself in the place of
those whom you study)
At this point in the semester I have no doubts but what you are all
well versed in Weber’s concept of verstehen. During his work on the
doctorate at Harvard, DuBois went to Germany for a time and studied
with Weber. How cool is that? This was a landmark experience in
DuBois’ life; one that would influence his sociological methodology for
an entire career.
3. This laid the groundwork for his
studies of the “black experience” in
the United States. More
specifically, the “double
consciousness” of being “American”
and “black”
“Double consciousness” is perhaps the most key concept DuBois
developed. He argued that through the use of verstehen it was possible
to understand the simultaneous experience of being a citizen of the
United States while having no legal rights to speak of. A “double
existence,” a “double life”; and one in which norms of acceptable
behavior were expected while no privileges of citizenship were extended
by those in power. Stay tuned for a discussion of The Philadelphia Negro
(not assigned) and The Souls of Black Folk for evidence of this
3. One of the founders of the NAACP,
although his “radical” stances
in Crisis led to his forced
resignation from the editorial
As I will discuss in more detail very shortly, the sociological career
of W.E.B. DuBois was marked by two phases; one, quite optimistic about
the future of race relations in the United States. The other, a phase
marked by extreme pessimism over the lack of racial progress in this
country. As a founding member of the NAACP (National Association
for the Advancement of Colored People), he was entering his pessimistic
phase to say the least! Crisis was the newsletter for the Association and
as the editor of that publication DuBois had a newfound “voice” for his
skepticism on racial progress. Unfortunately for him, his views were so
far to the “left” that other board members of the Association sanctioned
him. They threatened to remove DuBois from the editor post if he did
not “soften” his message. They felt his radical views were bringing
unnecessary criticism to the entire organization and instead of furthering
its cause, they were hindering progress. As noted above, he was
ultimately removed from the editorship position. I guess he didn’t
”soften” his message, huh?
5. Joined the Communist Party in 1961,
and moved to Ghana on a
voluntary exile!
“…the promised land was a cruel, receding
mirage for people of color”
In this citation, we see the resignation in DuBois’ voice. Despite
decades of toil in trying to bring about positive change in race relations,
he reached a point where he believed that the United States was beyond
hope—beyond saving—in the attempt to change the normative structure
on the variable of “race.”
6. He died in 1963, less than a year
before passage of Civil Rights
Legislation of 1964
It is simultaneously sad and ironic that DuBois did not live long
enough to see his dream realized. He certainly was informed by his
friends back in the United States that change was imminent. But it did
not change the pessimism that now defined the man. DuBois died at the
age of 95 in Ghana.
7. In November of 2006, members of
the American Sociological
Association voted in favor of
changing the name of the “Career
of Distinguished Scholarship
Award” to the “W.E.B. DuBois
Career Award for Distinguished
Scholarship.” I certainly voted for
the change !
I am packaging the important information about DuBois’
theorizing a bit differently today. I want you to test yourselves on the
ability to read the assigned article with an eye for important points. So
before you go any further in lecture today, if you have not read the
assigned pages for DuBois, please do so. I want to remind all of you
once again that DuBois pre-dates the formation of the Frankfurt School
of Critical Theory. No such perspective in sociology existed at the time
DuBois was doing his early work. But also notice how the clear focus of
his theorizing was on how “race” was being used unfairly as a variable of
power. And after all, isn’t that precisely the variable on which Critical
Theory is based?!
Will I know whether or not you just skipped your reading and
moved on directly to the questions and answers (which I have graciously
provided)? “No,” I will have no way of knowing for certain . But
ultimately, your performance on Test #3 will demonstrate whether or not
you have been doing your reading, especially with an eye for key points.
So humor me, my 320 colleagues! Play along and see how many of the
following questions you are able to answer based on your retention
skills. I’ll even change colors for sake of interest! Mmm…what color
goes well with blue? Orange! That’s it! Oh yes… in his “infinite
wisdom” Farganis decided to remove the classic, The Philadelphia Negro
from his 7th Edition. Ugh . It was one of my favorites. So as you
encounter the Q & A on this reading, just go with the flow, OK?
Hey everybody…demonstrate your mastery
of DuBois by answering the following
 What was the goal of the Philadelphia
Answer: To build a database for
policy makers… provide sufficient
accurate data to help scholars craft
effective policies of social change
I will remind all of you that your assigned reading reflects the early
career of the “optimistic” DuBois. From his perspective, there were
many misnomers, or false stereotypes, about African-Americans in
Philadelphia. And how better to dispel those myths than to amass a
large data set which reflected the true patterns of behavior for “Negro”
citizens of Philadelphia?
Do you know just how painstakingly and thoroughly DuBois
researched this topic? He conducted a door-to-door survey of 4,500
African-Americans living in Philadelphia. Can you imagine? 4,500
door-to-door surveys? Unbelievable! And he did so without the help
of any graduate assistants whatsoever. He did it all.
When he provided his in-depth findings for the politicians in
Philadelphia, they mostly ignored his work. They gave it “lip service”
in terms of the exhaustiveness of his survey. But in terms of taking his
findings and crafting policy for all Philadelphians, black and white, they
fell woefully short. This was a “wake up call” for DuBois concerning
the racial barrier he faced, even in academic circles. And unfortunately
it started some of the feelings of bitterness which would ultimately lead
DuBois to call the United States a, “…cruel and receding mirage for people
of color.” A mirage? You bet! An appearance of reality and hope in
the distance that ultimately turns out to be imaginary.
 Finish this sentence: “…for the problem
of the 20th Century is the problem of
Answer: The color line!
I mentioned only moments ago that the assigned reading comes
from the era of “optimism” for DuBois. Take a look again at the
opening paragraph from The Souls of Black Folk. Furthermore,
remember that I stated earlier that DuBois’ writing is at times more prose
than academic? His references to “Gentle Reader” and “…receive my
little book in all charity…” reflect the warm, open DuBois of the early
 According to DuBois, were all Negroes in
the lower social strata in Philadelphia?
Answer: No…The lower sections of
the 12th Ward housed caterers,
clerks, teachers, professional men;
those who constitute the aristocracy
of Negroes.
OK…I know, I know! Some of you are thinking, “Duh…it’s the
early 1900s. Of course they were all from the lower social strata!”
Guess again, my 320 friends. And in so doing, put yourself in the
position of DuBois. One of the many misconceptions about
African-Americans of the day was that “Negroes”—simply by virtue of
their skin color—must be from the lower class. DuBois knew going into
his research that this was one of the larger stereotypes he needed to
dispel as “myth.” And clearly he was able to do so. Unfortunately,
knowledge does not always lead to reform. The politicians of the day
simply shrugged their shoulders at these findings, and moved on as if
they were not aware.
 How did DuBois answer the commonly
posed question, “How does it feel to be a
Answer: “At these I smile, or am
interested, or reduce the boiling to
a simmer…I answer seldom a
I would encourage all of you (especially those of you who decided
NOT to do your reading prior to “answering” these questions…Caught
ya! ) to open Farganis to pp. 407-408 and read his entire response. Are
you moved by his diplomatic stance? And whom does he remind you
of? Who was the primary voice of “peaceful demonstration” in the 1960s
before an assassin silenced one of the most important voices of a
generation? Right…Martin Luther King, Jr. (rest his soul).
DuBois—the optimistic Dubois—was in many ways an early version of
King, Jr.
 What is the concept of “double
consciousness” again?
Answer: Please read the second
column on page 408. I feel compelled
to provide his observation within
cyber-lecture because the words are so
“…the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted
with second-sight in this American world—a world which yields him
no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the
revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double
consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the
eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that
looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twonessan American, a negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled
strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged
strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”
That, my 320 friends, is “double consciousness!” I now encourage you
to look back at the definition provided earlier. Catching on?
 Reality check 3!
Read the following citation from DuBois
and tell me, whom from the
Functionalist perspective (of all things!) does
this reflect and why?
“He simply wishes to make it possible for a
man to be both a Negro and an
American, without being cursed and spit
upon by his fellows, without having the
doors of opportunity closed roughly in
his face”
Answer: Yes, you’re right…it’s Bobby
Merton! Because…? Anomie is
caused by
Please take a close look again at the Typology of Deviance provided
by Robert Merton. Remember that Merton was praised by many in the
C.T. world because of his objectivity; his awareness that not all in
American society had the same access to upward mobility. DuBois
argued that for racial minorities, the doors of opportunity (for upward
mobility) were often not open. And the “gatekeepers” of those doors
guard them with venom. Take a look…
“To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is
the very bottom of hardships. He felt the weight of his
ignorance—not simply of letters, but of life, of business, of the
humanities; the accumulated sloth and shirking and awkwardness of
decades and centuries shackled his hands and feet.”
Can you see how DuBois’ ideas rang true roughly 60 years later when
Robert Merton devised his “Goals-Means” scheme for the Typology of
Today, the foundation was laid for the study of the Critical
Theoretical perspective in sociology. With its roots in pre-Nazi
Germany during the 1920s and 1930’s, members of the Frankfurt School
sought to unite the social scientific disciplines with the goal of
addressing the variables of power. Jurgen Habermas, the “second
generation” of Critical Theorists carried the torch for the founding
members through the 20th Century, reformulating Marx in an attempt to
demonstrate how multiple variables of power, not just Marxian
economics, were responsible for social inequality.
Chronologically, W.E.B. DuBois predated the Frankfurt School.
But his ideas regarding “race” as a variable of power provided some of
the impetus for Habermas and his mentors to investigate additional
variables—“gender” and “sexual orientation” to name but a few—as
organizing principles in society. DuBois’ claim to fame was his concept
“double consciousness”; the simultaneous and overlapping experiences
of being an American citizen, yet minority with lack of rights. His time
consuming and painstaking analysis of the Philadelphia Negro remains a
classic in terms of its attention to detail and goal of bringing about social
What was the influence of DuBois on Asante, Collins, and Appiah?
And what were Ida Wells-Barnett and Anna Julia Cooper theorizing at
roughly the same time as DuBois concerning “race” and “gender” as
variables of power? See you Tuesday !
Today we begin our investigation of one of the most influential
Structural Functionalists of the 20th Century—Talcott Parsons. Last
week I alluded to the fact that we were discussing our contemporary S.F.
thinkers a bit out of chronological order. More specifically, we addressed
one of Parsons’ students, Robert Merton, before analyzing the mentor.
As you will discover, the “Middle Range Theory” of Robert Merton is much
more “user-friendly” than the “Grand Theory” of Talcott Parsons! In
fact, Parsons believed that with his Grand Theory he could account for
every single pattern of human behavior—in ONE THEORY! Is such a
theory possible? Parsons believed it was. I will let all of you budding
theorists be the judges .
At this point some of you might be thinking, “Well why did Merton
go with the Middle Range instead of following in the Grand Theory
footsteps of his mentor?” An appropriate question, indeed. To
foreshadow one of the conclusions of today’s lecture, Parsons’ students
did not always see eye-to-eye with their notorious leader. In fact, they
felt that Parsons’ theorizing was in most cases too abstract for the
average sociological consumer. As such, Robert Merton (who you know
quite well!), Kingsley Davis, and Wilbert Moore broke away from their
mentor in terms of level of abstraction. They remained true to the
assumptions of S.F., but developed theories that had more day-to-day
application (such as Merton’s Typology of Deviance). Stay tuned!
The other juicy item regarding Talcott Parsons is that some
sociologists loved him (usually S.F. thinkers) and others flat-out hated
him (usually C.T. thinkers). As you will discover, he was quite a “piece of
work” in many different ways!
The Grand Theory of Talcott Parsons
Just a few preliminary statements and
“Parsons’ social imagery is inspiring, even
dreamy” — S. Seidman
Please note that the ever-critical Steven Seidman is using the term,
“dreamy!” That is quite the compliment, isn’t it? Indeed many
theorists believe that although abstract, Parsons’ concepts and theories
were quite elegant.
“ {I} am an incurable theorist.”
— T. Parsons
“…his contributions are the record of a
lifetime of writing in the area of social
theory.” — J. Farganis
“A lifetime of writing in the area of social theory.” Farganis
couldn’t be more correct on this point. Parsons was well known for his
prolific writing. He produced volumes of pages in the area of social
theory; more pages than perhaps any other sociologist ever generated!
Could he have said the same thing with fewer words? You bet! His
1,000 page volumes probably could have said the exact same thing in
about 350 pages. Elegant? Dreamy? Prolific? All of these. But in
the same breath we must also add, “verbose!”
“He is a loony.”
— C.Wright Mills
As I mentioned above, the detractors of Talcott Parsons came
disproportionately from the Conflict point of view. When we have
completed our discussion of Parsons and two of his protégé’s—Davis &
Moore—we will begin our exploration of the Power Elite Theory of C.
Wright Mills.
“His grand theorizing is about as valuable as
the lint you pull from your belly button;
thus from this point forward, I shall refer
to Talcott Parsons as the ‘belly button
— D. Mileti
I do not expect any of you to recognize the name, Dennis Mileti
(rest his soul… he died of COVID-19 in January of 2021 at age 75 TWO
DAYS before he was to receive his first vaccination ). Suffice it to say
that he was one of my mentor professors both during my undergraduate
and Masters’ career at Colorado State University. I will never forget this
observation on Mileti’s part . During my Ph.D. career at U.S.C.,
however, the highly respected Herman Turk (rest his soul) loved Parsons!
So I had the most difficult of times not laughing during seminar when
Turk would effuse high praise for the writings of Parsons.
What is my opinion of Parsons, you ask? I’m not saying. Besides,
what I think of a particular theorist is of no consequence in how I instruct
you in Sociological Theory.
I am training all of you to be objective!
You do your reading, develop your critiques, be able to defend them, and
prepare for the intellectual warfare that results when Parsons (at Harvard)
squares off against Mills (at Columbia)!
* As you can see, the opinions about
Talcott Parsons’ work are quite
diverse. Where will your sentiment
ultimately lie?
A. The “Voluntaristic Theory of Action”
1. Human action involves two social
a. individual choice
b. social constraint
“People do not simply adapt to objective
conditions and are not merely driven by
them, but direct their own behavior
according to subjective interest and
One of my greatest pleasures in teaching S-320 is taking what can
be very abstract ideas and making them more user-friendly for all of you
. Parsons developed Grand Theory, but that does not mean we need to
“wallow in the mire” of his intellect (do you like the “Doors” lyrics?).
Let’s keep things as simple as we can in making sense of Parsons’ ideas.
In this first major point regarding the Voluntaristic Theory of
Action, Parsons is stating that all of us have simultaneous processes
influencing our decisions. Certainly we all have individual choice(s).
Think about your day thus far…what did you have for breakfast? What
did you decide to wear? How fast did you drive on the Freeway? Should
I tell my significant other that s/he looks great in that outfit (choose
carefully here!)? Which friend did you decide to call first? Should I do
my S-320 reading (you had better!)? Our daily lives are filled with
individual choices; so many in fact, that if we took the time to record a
complete log of all those choices it would take hours.
In demonstrating how these choices for all of us fit within the
“macro” sociological tradition, however, Parsons is quick to demonstrate
that all of our choices in the “micro” have ramifications and/or are
influenced by the “macro” world of institutions and organizations? Don’t
believe him, huh? Take a look at the “choices” offered above. Which
institutions or organizations influence those decisions?
Breakfast? Mass Media (commercials; Lucky Charms might not be
good for a person, but I sure do love those little marshmallow
thingies); Family (perhaps your choices are influenced by what
parents or siblings suggest)
Clothing? Mass Media (ads in magazines, newspapers, television,
the internet, regarding what is cool); Peers (can anyone say that
their peer groups have never influenced their clothing choices?)
Catching on? Think about the remaining four “choices” identified above
and identify which institutions or organizations influenced those
“choices.” In sum then, Parsons argues that all of us have the
opportunity to make myriad individual choices throughout the day, but
each of those choices takes place within social constraints, or the macro
social setting. The norms of organizations and institutions play a key
role in how those choices are formed.
2. Definition: The theory assumes
an actor who exerts effort in a
situation in which some aspects
are unalterable, while other
aspects can be used as means to
achieve goals; both the selection
of means and goals are guided
by norms
OK, Theory pros…take a look at Parsons’ definition of the
Voluntaristic Theory of Action very closely. Do you see the mention of
means to achieve goals in that definition? And who might that remind
you of as you were preparing for Test #3? Right! Robert Merton! As
you well know, the Typology of Deviance for Robert Merton was based on
the acceptance or rejection of cultural goals and the corresponding
acceptance or rejection of the means for achieving those goals. Can you
all see how Merton was influenced by his mentor and the Voluntaristic
Theory of Action? So here for the first time, you can see how even
though Merton broke away from his mentor and developed theories of the
“Middle Range”, he paid homage to his professor by utilizing his concepts
in developing his own Typology.
3. Two concepts crucial to his
future theorizing were
“internalization” and
“whereas the former refers to culture
becoming part of the self, the
latter is a parallel process of
culture becoming part of the
institutional order; roles, statuses,
norms and goals”
Once again, let us not make Parsons too difficult! In the
sociological discussion of socialization processes—be they childhood
socialization or adult re-socialization—“internalization” is the process by
which we learn the agreements in a society and make them part of who
we are. In other words, we no longer need to stop and think about our
actions, they are almost “automatic.” If it will help, think about your
classroom behaviors. In “live” classes, does the professor have to ask
any of you to sit down, take out a writing implement, take notes, raise
your hand to be called on, etc., etc.? Probably not. You are so well
socialized—you have internalized—the agreements of the social setting
that you do not need to consciously stop and think about how you will
behave. Now compare your classroom behaviors to those of your average
1st grade class. Have these kids internalized the codes of appropriate
classroom behavior? …nope. For those of you who have done student
teaching or observation you know this to be true. First graders
constantly need to be reminded to sit down, behave, follow instructions
and so on. They are ultimately “trainable,” but they have not yet
internalized the appropriate codes.
The second component Parsons discusses here is
“institutionalization.” The argument he crafts for the reader is
consistent with what he provides for the reader in his earlier discussion of
individual choice & social constraint. Parsons believes that
“internalization” does not happen in a vacuum. All normative codes, be
they educational, familial, or religious, occur within the larger “macro”
context of institutions. Earlier I mentioned the concept of “adult
re-socialization.” Take the Military institution, for example. Certainly
those who enter the military must conform to the norms of the
collective—they must internalize the norms. But notice also how this
takes place within the larger institutional context. The internalization
of classroom norms takes place within the larger institutional context of
Education, and so on… Thus, parallel processes, as he calls them, of
culture becoming part of the institutional order.
As mentioned above, Talcott Parsons believed that he could account
for every pattern of human behavior in one single theory, a “Grand
Theory” of human behavior. What follows in today’s lecture is a detailed
analysis of Parsons’ Pattern Variables—the building blocks of human
behavior. Don’t forget! Keep it simple . I will, likewise, attempt to
keep my examples as user-friendly as possible.
B. The “Pattern Variables
* Parsons & Shils (a colleague and
former student) developed a set of
concepts characterizing all action
systems…they termed these the
Pattern Variables
“An actor in any situation is confronted by a
series of major dilemmas of orientation, a
series of choices that he must make
before the situation has meaning for him”
1. Affective vs. Affective
Neutrality…refers to the amount of
emotional involvement involved in
an interactive situation
a. Parent-child interaction?
All of us would certainly hope that when parents interact with their
children they do so in an “involved” fashion. When I use the term
“involved” I am implying the use of emotion in either direction. Parents
should definitely demonstrate their love to the child (or children), but
also illustrate “discipline” with a more stern affect should the situation
merit. The point Parsons makes here is that affect (emotion) is
appropriate for this first of the two Pattern Variables.
Likewise, I trust that when you are interacting with your significant
other you demonstrate “affect,” or emotion in your patterns of behavior.
Can you imagine a significant other behaving with robot-like
mannerisms? “Yes, dear.” “No, dear.” “Whatever you say, dear.” Can
you hear the monotone voice? 
b. Doctor-patient interaction?
Affective neutrality!
When was the last time you visited the doctor for a check-up? Do
you recall the nature of the interaction from that visit? Unless you are
very good friends with the family physician, your interaction was most
likely “neutral.” In other words, there was a degree of professional
distance that occurred because that form of interaction was appropriate
given the set of social conditions.
Would it make you feel a bit uneasy if
your physician started asking personal questions? Men or
women…would it make you feel uneasy if your physician was just a bit
“too friendly” in their discussion when examining more personal areas?
I would think so, yes! The situation calls for affective neutrality, or
adherence to the norms of appropriate social distance.
The same can be said for the classroom experience. When I taught
“live” the nature of our classroom interaction was certainly friendly and
fun (and I certainly strive for that on-line as well!), but also within the
confines of professionally and affectively neutral. You are my
“colleagues” and as such I treat you in that fashion. Do friendships form
from the classroom environment? You bet! I have many former
undergraduates who Rox and I now call “good friends.” We are involved
in each other’s lives; we know each other’s likes and dislikes; just like
good friends would. But during the educational experience, affective
neutrality is the order of the day! On a side note, I consider myself
extremely fortunate to have so many former students who are now
friends! My e-mail accounts are filled every week with “How’s It Going?”
from many. We TALK FOOTBALL, life, family, exchange baby pictures
(human and animal!), give movie and book tips, talk travel, TALK
HORSES, get together for dinner when in town…you name it  We have
morphed from the required and appropriate affective neutrality to the
affective form of interaction.
2. Diffuseness vs. Specificity… concerns
the range or scope of obligations in
an interaction situation
a. A parent’s concern with all
aspects of the child’s life
Talcott Parsons wrote extensively about the family in terms of role
structures. For you S-101 veterans you remember our discussions about
“instrumental” and “expressive” roles. Consistent with his research
focus, Parsons incorporated many examples of family into his second of
four pairs of Pattern Variables. And parents?… You will be able to relate
to this one.
Think about the many different aspects of a child’s life on which
parents must focus. Education, nutrition, health, peer groups, religion,
family, sport…the list is vast. Or as Parsons described it, “diffuse.” In
quantum physics “diffuseness” refers to the scatter of molecules. In
chemistry, “diffuseness” refers to the density of elements. In biology,
“diffuseness” refers to the osmotic properties of movement from a higher
to a lower concentration in solution. In sociology, “diffuseness” refers to
the larger or wider range of scope. Parents must focus simultaneously on
a wide array of involvements for their children.
In your student lives, you must focus on multiple classes at one
time. Just remember that S-320 is the most important of them all, OK ?
Your educational lives are quite “diffuse.” Catching on?
b. A specific context of the child’s
life; i.e., medical condition?
Performance in school?
OK parents, your turn again! Of all those diffuse responsibilities of
yours there are times where one component must come to the forefront.
For example, the “specificity” of parent-teacher night when you meet
your child’s teacher and monitor progress. The “specificity” of meeting
the coach of your daughter’s AYSO team and talking to him/her about the
emphasis on winning. The “specificity” of talking to your son’s best
friends’ parents regarding their alleged pranks on the way home from
school. The point Parsons is making I trust is clear. At times, the
situation calls upon you to narrow your focus to just one element of the
child’s life.
Student life…Wow! Get real! I encourage all of you to think about
how, in preparation for Test #3, you needed to devote your time and
energies to the task at hand. S-320 became your point of “specificity”
and when you completed your Test, on to the next “specific” component
of education you went.
As a reality check, don’t forget the components of Parsons’
Voluntaristic Theory of Action. We all have individual choice that takes
place within the social constraints of daily life. Furthermore, as adults
we have internalized the norms and apply that knowledge within the
institutional context. The Pattern Variables of Parsons & Shils identify
the range of choices we make, depending upon the social context. Shall
we continue?
3. Universalism vs. Particularism…this
dilemma is generated by
interactions where the type of
standards to be applied are either
general and consensual criteria or
ones quite unique to particular
Of the four pairs of Pattern Variables identified by Parsons, the third
pair is the most abstract of the bunch to grasp intellectually. Do your
best to understand, as shall I do my best to illuminate!
Although Parsons was without doubt a very “macro” theorist, there
are at times threads of a “micro” man that come through. His
Particularism is one of those times. As an example of the “Universal” we
will review the basics of Weber’s ideal type. And as our exemplar of the
“Particular” we will look at the variations in rules for modern courtship.
a. The procedures of modern
You certainly remember Max Weber, don’t you . Of course you
do…you know, the guy about whom you answered many questions on Test
#2? Please think again about the assumptions of his ideal type
bureaucracy for a moment. Did he claim that these traits were applicable
only to bureaucracies in Germany? Did these traits apply only to
business bureaucracies? No; not at all. Weber claimed that the
characteristics of the ideal type were applicable across all complex
organizational settings, from the U.S. to the Middle East. In other words,
the traits were universal. Furthermore, in the year 2022 can the claim
be made that Weber’s ideal type holds true for a variety of institutional
settings? Ahh…the beauty of sociological theory! It stands the test of
time. OF COURSE the claim can be made. From politics, to sport, to
economics, Weber’s bureaucratic observations still hold firm.
b. The “rules” of courtship? !
Mmmm…I’ll bet all of you lunch (no, really!) that for members of
this class no two of your “first date” experiences were identical. And do
you understand why? Because the rules of courtship are not Universal;
rather, they are quite Particular. I know…I know…you detractors out
there are saying, “Sure they were the same! Everyone abides by the
basics, don’t they?” Well, what are those “basics?” Are these among
the items on the list?
No sex on the first date
Guys…you pay for dinner
Open the door for her, guys
Don’t tell your life story…it’s a turn off
Don’t discuss your prior relationships. “Wow, am I glad I’m out
with you tonight. My prior girlfriend/boyfriend ______________.”
Well? Are these the Universals? No! For each of you your first dates
were different in terms of the do’s and don’ts. Think back to the way(s)
in which you hoped to let the other know you were really interested in
him/her. It is quite likely that your “Hi, I think I love you XOXO” look
might have been interpreted as, “Oohh, they look really dorky!” For
others of you the topic(s) of conversation about favorite colors, TV shows,
music, and football were highly “successful.” For still others of you, the
same topics of conversation were woeful failures.
Are you seeing the big picture here for Parsons? Truly some
patterns of behavior are universal; they hold true and can be applied
across similar social settings. Conversely, some patterns of human
behavior are quite specific to the situation.
4. Achievement vs. Ascription…covers
the dilemma posed by whether to
assess someone’s status based on
what they have socially “earned”
rather than attributes “given to one
at birth, for life” (i.e., age, sex, race)
Since most of you have completed S-101 (Introductory Sociology)
you are quite familiar with the differences between “achieved” and
“ascribed” statuses. Indeed, it is to these differences that Parsons
alludes when describing the last of four pairs of Pattern Variables.
a. Educational achievement?
Again, as all of you should know at this point in your sociological
career, an “achieved status” is a social position that you earn. On the
positive end, “college student,” University professor,” “professional
baseball player”; all three of these examples have to do with one earning
their position. “Nothing in life is free” as they say. And these statuses
require concentration of effort, focus and sweat! Remember however,
that some achieved statuses are negative, too. “Prison convict” is an
achieved status of questionable notoriety. So, too, would be the label of
“Wall Street executive” (at least those who were involved in the scandals).
b. Male vs. Female?
“Ascribed Statuses” on the other hand are those which are given to
us at birth and are unchangeable. Above you see the examples listed
including age, sex, and race. Many of you are probably thinking that age
is an achieved status, aren’t you? You know, “S/he achieved a ripe old
age!” In reality, we all enter a chronological age scale in this culture at
birth, and no one can alter its progression no matter how hard they might
try. Plastic surgery, telling individuals at every birthday that you are
“only 29;” these represent falsehoods. Chronological age is ascribed!
Can we change our race (except for the late Michael Jackson’s attempt)?
And although sex change operations occur, are the “internal realities” of
our makeup altered? Notice that in each case the “ascribed” nature of our
social statuses holds true.
“Social actors will learn, be it in childhood or
adult socialization, which set of
orientations would be appropriate for
specific interactive situations.”
In conclusion, my 320 friends, Talcott Parsons is arguing that every
single pattern of human behavior can be accounted for situationally using
the Pattern Variables. Also please note that our daily lives are often a
combination of the Pattern Variables in action. For example, your
“achieved status” of university student overlaps with the “affective
neutrality” of the classroom setting while you attend to the “specificity”
of S-320. Perhaps your “ascribed status” of female or male (in a
traditional sense) overlaps with the “affective” nature of the love
relationship as you simultaneously attend to the “particularlism” of your
unique bond.
Critics of Parsons?
You bet! Take a look…
1. Parsons hoped that his theory
and science would benefit
humanity, but nowhere are the
steps to application laid out or
Here the critics of Parsons fire their first major salvo. Remember
Comte and his discussion of positivism? Based on your assigned
readings and what I have shared in lecture, do you find any evidence of
the scientific method? No; not in the least. If his Grand Theory was to
be a statement about the direction of society and the social condition
(philosophical theory according to Seidman) then so be it. But he did not
achieve a truly “scientific” theory in his endeavor.
2. Nowhere does Parsons clarify the
moral or political meaning of his
Once again, put on your critical thinking caps please. He claimed
that his Voluntaristic Theory of Action would help create a better society
in the long run…a “moral sociological theory” in the eyes of Seidman.
Based on what you have learned does Parsons ever make a value judgment
about his Pattern Variables and their impact? Or does he merely claim
to be able to account for every aspect of human behavior in ONE
3. His overemphasis on “Grand Theory”
left his pupils in a career position of
either smoothing out the “rough
edges” of his theories, or branching
out to create new theories of their
own. He certainly preferred the
* He got the latter!
– Merton
– Davis
– Moore
Do you remember my foreshadow from earlier in lecture? All
mentors of graduate students want their protégé’s to follow in their
footsteps—to expand their legacy. Although Edward Shils (the Pattern
Variables) indeed carried on the Parsons legacy, the other key figures in
graduate cohorts through the years branched out on their own to create
Middle Range Theories of sociology. As noted above, Robert Merton,
Kingsley Davis and Wilbert Moore were among the “legends” of the next
generation of S.F. to leave their mentor’s Grand level of theorizing behind
and craft theories that were more accessible to the public. This left
Parsons feeling quite bitter, and despite the references made to his
concepts in their theories (Merton’s “goals” and means”?) the intellectual
departure left scars on Parsons which he would never forgive.
So? Is Parsons’ theorizing “dreamy,” or is it as valuable as the lint
you pull from your navel? I leave it up to you to decide. But no matter
what your conclusion, it cannot be questioned that Parsons had an
immense influence on generations of S.F. to come. As you continue on to
your second lecture presentation for today, you will learn about the
concepts of social stratification. Kingsley Davis & Wilbert Moore were
the two Parsonian disciples to advance the discipline in its quest for
better modeling of the differences between the social classes in the United
States. Stay tuned!
Are you hanging in there? Is sociological theory starting to make more
sense and sink in? I hope the answers to all questions are a resounding, “Yes!”
Remember, you are students of sociological theory at this point. I do not
expect for all of you to have mastered the theoretical viewpoints just yet. Stay
with it! You can do this! 
In our second of two topics today we will explore the social stratification
concepts and insights of two major figures in 20th Century Structural
Functionalism—Kingsley Davis and his colleague Wilbert Moore. As I mentioned
in lecture on Talcott Parsons, Davis & Moore were graduate students of Parsons,
right alongside Robert Merton. What a famous triumvirate (trio) they became!
Do you also recall that although Merton respected his mentor Parsons very much,
he broke away from the “Grand Theory” approach and helped establish “Middle
Range Theory?” Davis & Moore felt similarly to Merton. They respected their
mentor a great deal but felt that the direction of sociological theory needed to
focus more on “user-friendly” theory, not on the vast abstract wilderness [my
emphasis] of Grand Theory. I trust that this perspective will emerge for all of
you in today’s discussion.
One final note about Kingsley Davis. On occasion throughout this
semester I will share stories with you about several of the theorists under study.
Today is one of those days! When I started my Ph.D. program at U.S.C., Davis
had become Faculty Emeritus (meaning he had retired). But Davis still came
back to U.S.C. every year or so until his death to lecture on theories of social
stratification. I had the very unique opportunity to learn from one of the
masters of Functionalism first-hand! He told great stories about Parsons and
Merton, and told the worst jokes known to “person-kind.” But he was such a
loveable character that you HAD to laugh at his jokes to make him feel good
. And try to put yourself in my place for a moment. There were times you
had to sit back and pinch yourself during seminar and think, “Oh my God…I am
learning Stratification Theory from the great Kingsley Davis!” It was a
humbling and very cool experience wrapped into one!
On we go…
I. Kingsley Davis & Wilbert Moore: Pioneers
in the Study of Social Stratification
* Social stratification is the study of
social statuses (social positions)
individuals occupy
I fully expect that at this point in your sociological careers you have been
exposed to a discussion of the basics of social stratification. For those of you
who came through my Introductory Sociology classes I KNOW you’ve been
exposed to this discussion! Stratification deals with how society layers itself
into social class entities. It further analyzes the variables of stratification—
income, occupational prestige, educational attainment— to name but a few, that
impact this placement.
“It must thus concern itself with
motivation at two different levels:
to instill in the proper individuals
the desire to fill certain positions,
and, once in these positions, the
desire to perform the duties
attached to them.”
This observation by Davis & Moore may seem “obvious” at face value. But
take a closer look, please. The proper individuals who have desire to fulfill the
duties attached to them. How can we determine who the “proper” individuals
are? Furthermore, how can we know with assurance that even if the “proper”
individuals are in place, their “desire” to do the job long term will remain
* All study of stratification is based on
the assumption that individuals should
be rewarded according to their
(Ah…but what kind of rewards?)
[A quick reality check for you, my 320 friends! Before we look at the
different types of rewards society offers, is it evident to you how Davis
& Moore represent the S.F. view relative to Karl Marx’ C.T. view? Marx
stated, “from each according to their ability, to each according to their
need.” Davis & Moore state, “to each according to their ability; let
those in need work harder to attain improved social status.” Does this
mean Davis & Moore are callous? Unfeeling? Not at all; rather, they
would argue that society must use the rewards component of upward
mobility to inspire those who might otherwise not try to give back to
society through hard work.]
[Oh yes, quick reality check #2 . “Upward mobility” as a goal, huh?
Where else have you heard that insight? Right! From Robert Merton;
and he was trained by Parsons just as were Davis & Moore. Don’t forget
though that Merton, unlike Davis & Moore, believed that for some in
society the goal to upward mobility was blocked. Thus, his Typology of
Deviance emerged. Are you starting to see the sociological “tree”
growing here?]
Oh, yes…rewards. Here we go:
– “…things that contribute to
sustenance and comfort”
Don’t make the interpretation of this reward too difficult. D & M (may
I have your permission to call them D & M instead of Davis & Moore from this
point forward? Thanks ) are simply talking here about the basics of food and
shelter as reward. Granted, some individuals in society have Beluga caviar as
a snack; others, canned sardines. Some individuals have imported Stilton bleu
cheese as a snack; others Cheez Whiz. Some individuals live in gated
communities with $5M homes; others, in apartments with “gates” on the windows.
So long as the rewards are commensurate with their ability, all is “right” through
the S.F. lens.
– “…things that contribute to humor
and diversion”
My 320 friends…don’t forget to have some fun in your lives! I realize that
while you are holding down 2-3 jobs, taking care of families (some of you), and
working toward your degree, “fun” might be a bit more hard to come by. But
I hope you are finding ways to maintain some balance. What do you do for fun?
You know my passions . Equestrian sports—especially jumping (in the past)!
There is nothing like the approach to a 4’ tall spread oxer jump, the challenge
of getting your horse to the right takeoff spot, the power as you gather to go
over, and the exhilaration of getting him/her back on stride on the other side!
And now Rox and I ride our 17-year old Arabs (“Norm” and “Fog”) for Endurance
competitions of 25 and 50 mile distances. Cooking! I especially like working on
different pasta and seafood recipes. If you have any, I’m in a position to swap
recipes with you. My beloved Denver Broncos! Oh yes, my wonderful wife of
almost 40 years! She is in the mix, don’t worry . Anyway…
– “…things that contribute to self
respect and ego expansion”
Ego expansion? It almost makes us all sound egotistical! But that is not
at all D & M’s argument. One of the greater rewards in our lives is the
accomplishments we achieve. These do not have to be of the “name on the front
page of the Union-Tribune variety. They can be as simple as personal bests in
the weight room, engaging in activities that bring joy to family members, going
out of your way to make a complete stranger feel better about him or herself.
True, D & M do argue that our social class position might give some of us more
access to opportunities for “ego expansion” than others, but this is an
opportunity that exists for all, regardless of social class standing. I would
imagine that completing your B.A or B.S. is an achievement that will definitely
fill you with great feelings of accomplishment. And it should! For those of you
who will be the first college graduates in your family, the “ego expansion” will
be experienced by all. Ah…rewards!
For those of you who are planning on completing Paper Option #2, the
following discussion of D & M’s concepts of stratification is of utmost importance.
But then again, since all of you have the wonderful opportunity of taking Test
#3 on 3/29-3/30, it is of utmost importance to you as well . So pay close
attention, if you will. Think along with D & M and me as “we” present examples
of the different types of mobility.
A. The Concepts of Davis & Moore
1. Social class– this refers to a
category of people who have
approximately the same amount of
power and wealth and the same
life chances to acquire wealth
Paper Option #2 provides you the opportunity to discuss the impact of “life
chances” on your current social position. Using the definition provided by Stan
Eitzen and Maxine Baca-Zinn (2004), life chances refer to, “opportunities
throughout one’s life cycle to live and experience the ‘good things’ in a society.”
Did the social class background of your parents or guardians have any influence
on your educational opportunities, access to medical care, and/or neighborhood
(to name but a few)?
2. Social mobility- this refers to
movement within and/or between
the different social layers…
I would like for all of you to think of these first two types of mobility as
the “shell” or the “template” of social mobility. They are quite basic, but they
allow for added layers of complexity as you shall see shortly.
a. “vertical”– movement up or
down the social strata in terms
of prestige
Would you agree that a sanitation worker who goes to college and gets a
degree would experience vertical mobility in the upward direction? Likewise,
would you agree that a business executive that loses her/his job because of
corporate downsizing and works at Nordstrom’s in the shoe department is
experiencing downwardly vertical mobility?
b. “horizontal”– movement
across the social strata in
terms of prestige
How many of you know of individuals who have changed career tracks that
are of roughly similar levels of prestige? A plumber to an electrician? An
accountant to a tax consultant? A middle school teacher to a high school
teacher? Notice that in each of these examples the shift in job or career is
between occupations of roughly similar prestige.
c. “inter-generational”– refers
to changes between the
generations in terms of social
In Paper Option #2 you will have the opportunity (in Part II) to discuss
and apply stratification concepts to two generations in your family. As the
concept definition suggests, inter-generational mobility refers to movement on
your part relative to that of your parents or guardians.
For any of you who complete your university education and your parents or
guardians have achieved a high school diploma, you will have demonstrated
intergenerational mobility, correct? Yes, and of what type? Upwardly vertical
relative to your parents or guardians. Thus, upwardly vertical
inter-generational mobility. What a mouthful!
My father (rest his soul) was a clergy, and a darn good one at that! His
children became (in child order) a surgeon, a physical therapist, an
anesthesiologist, and a Ph.D. sociologist (yup, I’m the “baby”). Upwardly
vertical inter-generational mobility? I think so.
d. “intra-generational”– refers
to the changes upward,
downward, or across the social
strata within your own lifetime
Notice that the “intra-generational” concept focuses solely on you and your
movement in the social strata. It could be vertical or it could be horizontal.
Based on your life course, it may end up being both. In terms of the “education”
component of social status, once you complete your degree here at CSUSM all
of you will experience upwardly vertical intra-generational mobility. You will
have achieved an advanced degree which, of course, you did not already have.
In terms of your income, it might happen (although I don’t foresee it) that
once you obtain your B.A. or B.S. you still end up making roughly the same
amount of money as you do now with your current job. Economically then, you
will be experiencing horizontal intra-generational mobility. Are all of you seeing
how depending on the aspect of social status under investigation, different forms
of social mobility may be experienced?
3. Status inconsistency/consistency–
this refers to the similarity or
difference between the SES
variables of educational
attainment, income (wealth), and
occupational prestige
At face value, these may appear to be very confusing concepts. In
reality, they are quite straightforward so long as you are clear on which
components of SES are being compared. Take a close look at each of the
following two examples and think along with D & M (and me) on how the
components of SES are operating.
* wealthy, respected M.D.?
In American culture it is no secret that M.D.’s are very well paid relative
to other career tracks. In other words, income is “high.” Would you also agree
that M.D.’s receive a great deal of respect and prestige? It is 2022 and many
parents still want their sons or daughters to “marry a doctor!” So occupational
prestige is also “high.” There is “consistency” between the elements of SES
under study.
* Ph.D. Wal-Mart greeter?
These individuals really do exist, by the way! Through no fault of their
own, the academic market has become so limited that despite their level of
training, they must take jobs that pay less just to make ends meet. Are you
seeing how although their educational attainment is “high,” their occupational
prestige is “low?” D & M would say that there is an “inconsistency” of status
between the elements of SES under study.
To repeat, those of you who are planning on completing Paper Option #2
will have the opportunity to apply as many of these concepts as fit to your own
two generational family structure. But for those of you who are not planning on
doing #2, I would encourage you to go to the Option on the Homepage and follow
along. In that document I have provided additional examples for each of the
concepts to assist you in your learning.
Now that all of you are well-versed in the concepts of stratification
developed by D & M, it is time to look at the assumptions of their Theory in more
detail. I bring you…
B. The Theory of Davis & Moore
* The best rewards go to those
positions that have the greatest
importance for society and…
that require the greatest
training or talent
Based on your assigned reading in Farganis, D & M argue that there are
two primary components in American society that determine where each of us
rank. Let us investigate each of these in turn.
1. Two Determinants of Positional
a. differential functional
D& M write,
“If a position is easily filled, it need not be heavily rewarded,
even though it is important. On the other hand if it is important
but hard to fill, the reward must be high enough to get it filled
anyway. Functional importance is therefore a necessary but not a
sufficient cause of high rank being assigned to a position.”
* What are some “easy to fill”
positions? Pay?
You tell me . Where do the proverbial “burger flipper” and “hourly wage
convenience store clerk” fit into this discussion?
* What are some “not so easy
to fill” positions? Pay?
Again, you tell me . Where does the “Port-a-Potty” transport worker
fit into this discussion? I had a student five years ago whose husband worked
in this “odorous” job that no one else seemed to want. He made twice as much
as I will ever make in the “Professor business.” Ah…D & M “alive” in 2022!
b. differential scarcity of
As it pertains to this “determinant,” D & M write:
“There are ultimately only two ways in which a person’s qualifications
come about: through inherent capacity or through training…Some
positions require innate talents of such high degree that persons who fill
them are bound to be rare. In many cases, however, talent is fairly
abundant in the population but the training process is so long, costly,
and elaborate that relatively few can qualify.”
* modern medicine?
As you are well aware from reading your assigned pages in Farganis, D &
M point directly to M.D.s as the primary example of those who are scarce for
the exact reasons listed above. And try these on for size…!
* professional athletes?
Think about the amazi…

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