Social Stratification


Measures of class and related variables, as well as such other axes of stratification as gender and race, have long been the crack troops in sociologists' war on unexplained variance. Hardly an aspect of human experience—the clothes one wears, the number of siblings one has, the diseases one is likely to contract, the music to which one listens, the chances that one will serve in the armed forces or fall prey to violent crime—is uncorrelated with some dimension of social rank.
    This section focuses on two especially interesting and well-developed literatures: one on the relationship among stratification, life-style, and consumption patterns and one addressing the interactions among class, personality, and attitudes. Such work considers the consequences of stratification for the cultural styles and personalities of individuals and groups. But it goes beyond this, as well, to explore the effects of cultural style and personality on people's life chances. And scholars in each tradition have explored the role of history and social structure in shaping the relationships observed in studies in which individuals are the units of analysis.

Culture, Life-Style, and Consumption

The starting point for any discussion of life-styles and consumption patterns must be the work of Thorstein Veblen and Pierre Bourdieu. Although both authors believe that social stratification has profound effects on life-style, beyond this their approaches vary. First, they call attention to different aspects of stratification. Veblen uses the term "class" rhetorically, but his emphasis is on a continuous prestige hierarchy, "rated and graded" by similarity to a "leisure-class" cultural ideal. Bourdieu, by contrast, posits discrete "class fractions" sharing similar positions with respect to education, income, and occupation, each united by a habitus or worldview derived from similar life experiences and common images of the way...