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Theories on Social Inequality from a Functionalist, Conflict, and Symbolic-Interactionist Points of View

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Social inequality is the issue pertaining to the lack of housing, health care, education, employment opportunities, and status. It is the dismissal of people from participation in what we, the members of society distinguish as being valuable, important, socially desirable, and personally worthwhile. There are many different perspectives on social inequality within our society; the three areas I am going to focus on are those of the Functionalist, Conflict and Symbolic-Interactionist.

The Functionalist theory believes that society functions so that each individual plays a specific role. Their perspective of social inequality is the belief that "inequality is not only inevitable but also necessary for the smooth functioning of society." (Davis-Moore (1954) p. 214 chapter 8 Society In Our Times: The Essentials) Functionalists believe that all societies have important jobs and tasks that need to be carried out and that certain positions must be filled to do so. Functionalists also think that in order to attract people to both the important and less important roles there must be a variation in rewards that will motivate individuals to make the effort needed to gain the top positions within society, and that positions are rewarded based on the individuals abilities and credentials known as meritocracy. It appears that the view of social inequality as it would to the Functionalist perspective is greatly dependant on economic rewards and prestige as being the only motivators for people wanting to gain a higher position within society. They do not take into consideration that people may have been born into distressed circumstances and received below average education, making it impossible for them to maximize their skills and talents.

The perspective of social inequality from the Conflict point of view considers that society functions so that each individual and their related groups struggle to maximize their benefits, this argues against the ideas of the Functionalist theory. The Conflict perspective suggests that "the stratification of society is created and maintained by one group in order to protect and enhance its own economic interests." (p. 215 chapter 8 Sociology In Our Times: The Essentials) this is to suggest that the different classes in society are in conflict because the more powerful groups maintain and control the distribution of resources, rewards, privileges and opportunities by exploiting the less powerful. They also believe that inequality is a result of profits being generated from the cost of labour being less than the cost of the goods and

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