Sociology 2416 A
Inequality in Society

The Functionalist Argument

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Ashley Stairs:

Brym, Robert J. (2001).  New Society: Sociology for the 21st Century. Third Edition. Toronto: Harcourt Canada

To present the Functionalist Theory of Stratification the author presents Davis and Moore's theory. The author summarizes the emergence of the functionalist  view.  He describes how it is easier to understand it by looking at post-war views and attitudes.  He also writes about the functional necessity of stratification and how it is necessary and inevitable according to Davis and Moore.  It is inevitable since individuals are slotted into certain social strata according to ability and effort.  Then he finishes up the discussion with some criticisms that have been presented in reaction to Davis and Moore's theory.  This is found in Chapter 7 of the textbook.  The discussion in this text I found to be short but gives one a good look and introduction to the functionalist theory of stratification.  The author appears to be quite neutral with few criticisms.

I think that this theory has had such staying power because of the fact that most people agree that they should be awarded and placed in social classes depending on their effort and ability.  Most people believe that one has to work for what they get and that is why this theory has had such staying power.

Holly Burke:

The textbook I used was by:  Robert J. Brym, [title?]  second edition, 1998, Harcourt Brace &  Company Canada, Toronto.

The author gives a very clear description of Davis and Moore's theory, but it was not very detailed.  The functional necessity of stratification is described as being a necessary part of society because it exists in all societies. The author has only made a small reference to their theory in the chapter on inequality.  The author also has many criticisms for this theory; however, seems to agree with it.  The critical rhetorical questions seems to defeat the theory of the socio-economic hierarchy, but they do not seem to explain why this is happening.  The author seems to be more interested in why there are such large inequalities even though society is aware.  Also what interests the author is what drives people to accept inequality and who promotes it.

I think that there are [??]

This theory emphasizes that the roles of power and importance are given to those with the most money.  Gaining this power is based on power and ability.  There are a many inequalities within this theory; however, society still supports it knowing about it's consequences.  The author gives a great why to test the theory, which would be to explain the theory then ask a wealthy person what they think and the response would likely support the theory. However, if you asked a 'poor' person they would disagree with the inequalities within this theory.  According to the theory those who are wealthy are in power and have control so why would they feel the burden inequality.  The poor who are powerless go along and do not have the power to change.  Regardless of how money is attained you are still deemed powerful and important.  This theory is so prominent because it explains why 'money makes the world go round'.  The ability and efforts we put in to get it and the power and importance we get from it all has a great value within society.  As a society we like to know that we have achieved something or are 'better' than someone else.  It keeps society interesting and competitive.  I'm not saying this is a good thing, but I do think this is why a theory with
so many flaws works because society too is full of the same flaws.

Melanie Doucet:

Kendall, D., Linden, R., and Murray, J.L. (1998). Sociology in Our Times: The Essentials. Scarborough: International Thomson Publishing.

The authors (Kendall et al., 1998) refer to the social stratification theory as a “definitive functionalist explanation for social inequality” (p.224).  Kendall et al. (1998) summarize the Davis-Moore “thesis” as follows: 1) All societies have important tasks that must be accomplished and certain positions that must be filled. 2) Some positions are more important for the survival of society than others. 3) The most important positions must be filled by the most qualified people. 4) The positions that are the  most important for society and that require scarce talent, extensive training, or both, must be the most highly rewarded. 5) The most highly rewarded positions should be those that are functionally unique (no other position can perform the same function)  and on which other positions rely for expertise, direction, or financing. (p.224).

“The Davis-Moore thesis assumes that social stratification results in meritocracy – a hierarchy in which all positions are rewarded based on people’s ability and credentials” (Kendall et al., 1998, p.224).

Kendall et al. (1998).  Chapter 7: Social stratification and class.  In Sociology in Our Times: The Essentials (pp.215-243).   Scarborough: International Thomson Publishing.

The extent of the authors’ discussion on the subject is not very profound, since reference to this theory only takes about one page in this chapter. The authors’ stance on this theory seems to be critical:

What about people who have not been able to maximize their talents and skills because they were born in impoverished circumstances and received substandard education (see Kozol, 1991)?  The functionalist approach generally ignores such questions because it does not consider structural factors (such as racial discrimination, lack of job opportunities, and inadequate funding of many schools) that may contribute to the persistence of inequality in society (Kendall et al., 1998, p.224).

I think this theory has staying power because it justifies the system of meritocracy that we presently have in place in our society.  This is so people (who think their occupation is worth more money than other jobs) can justify their position in society and maintain that status/income.

Kelly Hodgins:

Hale, Sylvia. Controversies in Sociology A Canadian Introduction. 2ed. Toronto: Copp Clark Ltd, 1995

Chapter 15 Stratification; Meritocracy as Ideology: Hale summaries, Kingsley and Moore's theory as being one of the clearest functionalist explanation for why stratification occurs and what are the factors that rank individuals: their importance to society and the limited numbers of skilled persons for the position. Her stance is I think is a neutral one, unless you actually read further on.

I think that this theory is practical and people can use it in terms of ranking rewards. If we look to the newly formed nurse practitioners, we can see that this theory was used.  They (NP) are important to society more than ever, not everyone can do it, skills are needed, they can do more in terms of patient assessments then RN's, give out prescriptions, but they are not as highly skilled and educated as doctors.  Therefore NP, reward should be greater then that of RN's, but less than that of doctors. I think that this theory has had such staying power because it can justify the means in which you reward someone's occupation

Kelly Jones:

Czerny, S., Swift, J., and Clarke, R. (1994). Getting Started on Social Analysis in Canada. Third Edition. Toronto, Ontario: Between The Lines Publications Society Inc.  ------I could not find anything here.

Anderson, K. (1996). Sociology a critical introduction. Scarborough, Ontario: International Thomson Publishing.  -----I could not see any direct reference to the theory.  The definition of stratification was there- “the division of society into separate groups.”  This was in part 5: Differences and Inequalities and Chapter 14: Social Class in the book.  Davis is used as a reference in other areas in the book.

Straus, M., and Nelson, J. (1968). Sociological Analysis: An Empirical Approach Through Replication. New York, New York: Harper & Row Publishers Inc. ------The author talks about how stratification is a problem.  He states whether persons of similar socio-economic status actually form a social class.  He says a way to find out is to look at the style of life one  maintains, the resources one commands (income), the potential one possesses (education), the work one experiences (occupation).  That creates more problems because how does one decide on what is and is not proper indicator?  This reference appears in Chapter 5, Social Differences.  The discussion is not extended.  I'm not even sure if this is relevant.  There is a citation to the original article in 1945.  I think this theory is still here today because all societies are based on a hierarchy of social classes.  Until it goes away maybe the theory will to.

Angela Fushtey: -- The author discusses why stratification arises. Some of the reasons they give are that people have talents and modivations that differ from others.  They discuss the supply and demand argument by stating that money, power,and prestige are used as incentives.

He discusses society as a system of roles and positions.  The reason why inequality exists is because these roles need filling and inequality is "built" into these roles.  Stratification arises because in the roles in society there are certain degrees of replacability.

Aimee Hare:

Charles Allyn. 1972. Sociology: An Introduction. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc.

The reference to the Davis-Moore Model is under Section 14  "Class and Caste", of the text. This section is 60 pages in length, and 10 pages are devoted to "Status Rewards and Functional Contribution: The Davis- Moore Model".

Allyn handles this theory in a very neutral discussion. He defines Davis-Moore Model as focusing on the relations between the rewards offered by a social system and the contribution made by its members. They also argue that to achieve a given set of goals, a society or any social system must manner functional to such goals. They seem to stress motivating individuals to compete for and occupy specific positions.  He defines stratification as a hierarchical ordering of individuals or groups of individuals in community. organization, or any social system. Allyn discussion on the Davis-Moore Model is quite short, 5 of the pages is on this topic, but the rest are tables of ranking of occupation in difference years. Allyn demonstrates in his writing that he doesn't favor or disagree with what the Davis-Moore Model states, he is just presenting the facts about the Model (In comparison to the Americans, no Canadian stats).

My own idea's about this theory need more time to develop completely. This way of viewing society and these so-called classes" are imprinted in us from such a early age. What you don't really realize when you are younger is the garbage men and physicians both play a very important role in how we live and   function. The criticisms on "class", is that it should not even exist because of all the inequalities it forms. As long as we have Capitalists in our society, we (society) will have no power against disputing the way society is organized. Capitalist have the power, even though they only represent 2% of the population......they still control everything.

Valerie Donovan:

Hale, Sylvia M. Controversies in Sociology. 2 ed. Toronto: Copp Clark, 1995.
Popenoe, David. Sociology. New Jersey: Prentice Hall Inc., 1977.

Dr. Hale, chapter 15: page 366, presents the theory in a matter of fact way and clearly explains the terms of the theory. As well, she provides the reader with a critical understanding of the theory from the feminist view of Turmin. She explains the two primary factors or the theory, the importance for society and the scarcity of personnel as these ideas relate to stratification.

David Popenoe says that from the Functionalist theory the society would not run properly without the necessary differences in occupational standards. He state that the functionalist view of  intelligence is that it is highly valued in American society and therefore rewarded significantly. According to Popenoe, the functionalist view men’s job as those that may effect the larger events of society whereas a woman can only influence what happens in her family or neighbourhood.

I feel that the functionalist view of society is too rigid and steeped in a patriarchal society that seeks to maintain control of people and their lives.

Roger Targett:

I could not find it in my intro. book, nor the second intro. book that I checked at the library.
Introduction to Sociology-Soci 1006, Edited by Michael Clow, Canadian Scholars' Press Reprotexts 1999
Sociology - 4th Edition Robert Hagedorn, Holt, Rinehart and Winston of Canada, Limited, Toronto, 1990

Jonathan McGrath:

Hale, Slyvia Controversies in Sociology: A Canadian  Introduction. Toronto: Copp Clark, 1995.

The discussion on the functionalist theory of stratification takes place in Chapter 15, which is entitled "Stratification: Meritocracy as Ideology."  Her discussion on this topic is only about a page in length.

Mrs. Hale says that the main concern deals with the inequality of positions in society.  Furthermore, she emphasizes that a society or social system must, "distribute members into social positions and must instil in members the desire to perform the attached duties once in the position." (Pg. 366)  She also says that Davis and Moore's approach focuses on the diverse demands that are placed upon people in different social positions.  Because some jobs require more education or are more intrinsic to the stability of the society, Davis and Moore argue that there is a need for a "differential rewards system." (Pg. 367)  These rewards are precisely what causes stratification in society, making inequality necessary and inevitable.  Her discussion continues with the reasoning behind the need for a reward system which includes the facts, "important jobs need sufficient rewards to ensure good performance." (Pg. 367), but if the positions are easily filled than no such rewards system is needed.  Hale goes on to explain the differences between industrialized and non-industrialized nations in terms of meritocracy.

Canada has a much higher range of positions which are characterized by "Graduations of income and prestige." (Pg. 367)  While non-industrial countries have much less to work with, because of their limited range of occupations.  This limited range also decreases the amount of rewards and privileges, thus making meritocracy seem less visible. Sylvia Hale concludes the section by saying that functionalists like Davis and Moore argue that "stratification is indeed justified on the basis of merit." (Pg. 367)  There should be no equality of rewards (communism), but there should be equality of opportunity (democracy).

I found that her analysis is both clear and concise as she takes a neutral role in her approach to the topic.  Without showing her views on the subject, she is able to present the issue, without influencing the reader in any way.  This theory still exists and probably will continue to be a part of sociology because of where w live, and the kind of regime which governs our nation.  Equality of opportunity, in theory, is a very prominent feature of any liberal democratic government.  To reverse this trend or argue against it would be a shift towards communism, which as we have seen in the past, doesn't usually work effectively. 

Katie Pettipas:

Hale, S. (1995). Controversies in Sociology: A Canadian Introduction.  Second Edition. Toronto:Copp Clark Ltd.

References made to Stratification can be found in chapter 15, pages 366-367, under the sub-heading "Functionalist Theory: Stratification as Meritocracy."

The author uses Davis and Moore’s theory to explain why stratification occurs according to a functionalist’s view.  She explains that this theory distinguishes between the focus of "inequality of positions in society" (p.366) and not the traits and characteristics of those holding the positions.  She mentions how the requirements of the important positions in society are found through motivation.  Hale questions why there is different rewards for different jobs, and she refers to Davis and Moore’s idea that there has to be different rewards and incentives to encourage people to take on these jobs.  Rewards are necessary because of the stressful, expensive lengthy education and also natural talent it takes to achieve these particular jobs.  This is all aside from a very obvious fact of wanting to ensure a good performance on the job.

Hale concludes her brief two-column response concerning Davis and Moore’s views on stratification on a neutral note.  She believes that stratification does have merit and that the issue is not of inequality of rewards but it is of opportunity, "The true battle is over merit versus inherited advantage" (Hale, 1995, p.367).

Personally, I believe that the reason this theory has such staying power is because it is common sense.  It is human nature that will not allow a person to act without motive behind it.  Humans and animals act purely on the hopes of pay off in some manner, whether it is conscious or unconscious.  I doubt that anyone can think of something that they’ve done that hasn’t been self-serving in the end.  Therefore, in order to have a well functioning and competent society there has to be rewards for the duties that contribute to the overall system.  Agreeing with Hale, the problem lies within opportunity to be a recipient of such rewards.

Ashley Dill:

Hale, Sylvia. Controversies in Sociology; A Canadian Introduction, Copp Clark Ltd; Toronto, 1995, pp 15-18, 323-340.

This introductory text in the introduction part to Functionalism compares how a sociologist looks at a system to how a biologist looks at an organism. The overview seems to be like most textbooks, it states the facts about how Functionalism developed. Where it started and how it got to where it is today. She talks about many key terms like social order, roles, systems and also talks about how a person's status :is set by the social context". To me this extensive overview seems neutral.

Functionalism is mentioned in almost all of the chapters, being compared and contrasted with the other approaches to Sociology, but in Chapter 13 a section on "Problems With Functionalist Theory" where the author talks about serious criticisms, but in this section she always refers to other peoples criticisms and mentions other Sociologists. It is not until the conclusion of this part of chapter 13 that I noticed there may be a little open criticism of her own: "Functionalism fails to recognize the essential fluidity and creativity in people's relations with each other. At the system level, functionalism can be faulted for failure to deal adequately with issues of power, conflict, and exploitation in society, except in terms of institutionalized pressure groups."  p329)

The conclusion carries on in that way, but keep in mind that this was the section of the text that pointed out the faults of functionalism. Functionalism is a very important part of this introductory text.

I think this theory has stayed prominent in our society because it is beneficial at times to consider societies to be like systems. It takes more than one person, or one incident to make things work, or fall apart.

Michelle Arevalo:

Henslin, James M. and Nelson, Adie. Sociology: a Down to Earth Approach. Scarborough, Ont. : Allyn & Bacon Canada,

The authors included the section on the functionalist perspective in Chapter Nine, "Social Stratification in Global Perspective". In this chapter, functionalism is under a subsection called "Why is social stratification Universal?", which has Davis and Moore view and Tumin's critical response. After this, the authors also included the Conlfict view by Mosca and then a synthesis of the subsection.  The authors introduce this functionalism in general as "the proposition that a group's particular characterisics represent historical adaptationsthat have contributed to its survival. Thus, since social inequality is universal, inequality must help societies survive".  Then, the authors put Davis and Moore in context and summarize their conclusions about the inevitability of stratification.

Basically, the authors say that Davis and Moore explain why social stratification is universal. The explanation is that becuase there are high-pressure postitions that require great amounts of responsibility and accountability, society has to generate greater rewards to attract the most qualified people to fill those positions.  In the same way, greater rewards are necessary to recruit people that need to go extensive training, or invovling high risk occupations.  The auhtors say "The functionalist argument is simple and clear. Society works better if its most qualified people hold its most important positions." (Henslin and Nelson, 232). Then Henslin and Nelson present Tumin's response to the funtionalist view of stratification.  However, to start the subsection, the authors clarify that the Davis&Moore thesis is "an attempt to explain why social stratification is universal, not an attempt to justify it...their view...makes many sociologists uncomfortable, for they see it as coming close to justifying social equality" (Henslin and Nelson). The authors present Tumin's criticism in four points. First, that the measure of the importance of a position is based on how great its rewards are in Davis-Moore thesis; therefore, the jsutification of a position's importance becomes a circular argument. Second, Tumin contends that if stratification happened on the basis of qualification for the "important" positions, then society would be a meritocracy, which is not true. Third, the emphasis on economic rewards and material benefits is not the sole motivation to strive for a position of importance".  And fourth, stratification the way it works right now is disfunctional, since it does not benefit most everyone on society, only few. The authors say "Think of the people who could have made invaluable contributions to society had they not been born in a slum and had to drop put of school, taking a menial job to support the family." (Henslin and Nelson, 233)

I think that the functionalist explanation to social inequality has such staying power because it has its roots in the belief that we live in a meritocracy and because it justifies the current stratification without taking responsibility for it. Let me be more clarify myself. First, people like to think that their position in society is naturally selected because of merit, and that he who has more merit deserves more rewards. Even people who are on the disadvantaged side of society buy into this or have everyone, every day telling them that if they try really hard, they can some day be in the advantaged side.  Second, by believing that stratification is universal for the sake of the well beign of society explains how society works without ouright justifying it. However, if inequality is functional for society then why would it be desirable to change it?

Catherine Tupper:

1. I got my information from Sylvia Hale's book Controversies in Society. Hale, S.M.(1945) 1995. "Tranditional Theory Under Attack." Controversies in Society  Toronto: Copp Clark Ltd. She got her information from: Davis, K. and W.E. Moore. 1945. "Some Principles of Stratification." American Sociological Review 10, 2: 242-49.

2. Hale summarized the main concepts of the functionalist theory. It says that no society is classless and that it is this way because no society can do without inequality. Hale then went on to critique different sections of the functionalist theory using Tumin's critique. For example, Equal Opportunity focuses on social mobility and differences of opportunity in accessing jobs that have the highest rewards. Tumin challenges that it is stratification, which is a ranking pattern based on occupation, income and education, that limits the talent pool. the next subject that Hale  covers is unequal importance. It is defined as the most important jobs get the greatest rewards. For example, janitors can be quickly replaced because it requires no education or training but to become a doctor the person has to have skills and years of education. But Tumin asks, how is this importance to be measured? The answer is indispensability for society. Women and Stratification was the next topic. Women's work tended to have low status and was downplayed and ignored. Rewards for identical jobs, between the sexes, usually  favours males. Female jobs usually command a lower status. The next subject was relative scarcity of personnel. It says that the fewer positions for a job raises the rewards for that job. Tumin points out that the scarcity is usually socially constructed in order to protect incomes. Motivation is the last section Hale covers in the functionalist theory. The argument is that inequality (ie. stratification and differential rewards) is necessary to feed motivation. Tumin argues that there are other types of motivation. For example, work satisfaction and less routine jobs are other motivators. I think that this theory stood the test of time because it looks at the society as a whole not the individual. It takes into account all other possibilities that could have been the factors in the reason that a group of people are being treated unequal.

Florence Blandford:

The first book that I looked in didn't have any information on Davis and Moore's theory: Czerny, S. J. Michael, Swift, Jamie and Clarke, A. Robert (December 1997). Getting Started on Social Analysis in Canada. Third Edition. Toronto, Ontario: Between The Lines.

Naiman, Joanne (2000). How Societies Work. Second Edition. Toronto, Ontario: Irwin Publishing Ltd.

Ch. 9: p.220-222: Naiman talks of Davis and Moore quite extensively and says that their theory has good points and reflects a common-sense view that many of us have. She talks of how they point out the neccessity of the unequal allocation of societal rewards and how they are a means by which resources are allocated to ensure that all jobs are filled. She does point out some critiques on their theory, but she doesn't disregard them.

I believe that Davis and Moore's theory has stuck around because it is common sense, there has to be different levels of employment and gratification in order for a capitalist economy to function. I believe that, after all these years and after all the criticisms, it has still been featured so prominently because society has not changed so much that someone does not always have to do the dirty work. People always work under others and each job is no more or less important.

Sandie Bottone:

Grabb, Edward G. Introduction to Sociology: A Canadian Focus Third Edition.  (1989) Scarborough: Prentice-Hall Canada Inc.

In this text the reference to the article is in: Part IV  Social Differentiation Under the heading:  Structural functionalism: consensus, individualism, and pluralism The author's discussion of this article is quite detailed. The author handles the theory by describing in context how each of the three sections works, paying most attention to the consensus or as he says conflict part of the theory.  He explains each with a neutral mindset but you can tell by the way that this piece is written that the author does not believe in this theory himself.

I think that the reason for the article to be staying for so many years is because of the consensus part, or as Grabb puts it the conflict part.  There is so much conflict and every year it grows.  The way that in this section the to motivate people is described as basically buying them out in some sort of way is exactly what happens to day in big or even small corporations.  This may also cause people to be against it too.  When you look
at it straight out like this people can see how inhuman this is.  Buying people out no one wants to think of what they are doing in that way is seem cruel, these people  aren't being cruel but helping those they are buying out, The big bosses are "doing them a favor".

Mitch Stewart:

Introduction to Sociology - Soci 1006, Edited by Michael Clow, Canadian Scholars' Press Reprotexts 2002

I have been familiar with the theory of structural functionalism for quite some time now. I first came across it in my introduction to cultural anthropology class (in a slightly different form), but it was in my introduction to sociology class where it became clearly defined. Michael Clow's intro book describes how functionalism often uses 'organic metaphors' for society (often North American, where functionalism is the dominant sociological theory), as in society being the 'body,' and the organs in the body being the institutions within the society, and then the 'cells' of the organs - namely us. We, as the cells, must fill the necessary roles which already exist in society when it becomes essential. Dr. Clow, not being a particular 'fan' of this theory, is openly critical of it. I personally feel that the theory is very incomplete for the simple reason that the 'institutions' in our society are not merely acting in a way that completely socializes us. The people make up the institutions, and the institutions obviously change over time. If the functionalist's argument is truly valid, then nothing concerning the way in which our society is stratified could possibly ever be rectified. We would merely be part of 'the machine' with not much autonomy. It would also seem that, depending on where one sits in a hierarchical society (with all of its 'necessary,' if seemingly unjust inequalities), this theory is very much in the interests of those with a 'right wing' agenda (for lack of better terminology). This is the way our own society has operated for some time - and a few have a strong interest of keeping it that way.  Most, if not all, attempts to justify a kind of functional inequality has historically been challenged by those opposed to maintaining the 'status quo.'  And, by my own observations, the reasons for debunking this theory are just as valid, if not more (granted, I am not a member of the so-called 'ruling-class').  Functionalism is the accepted model of our own society which serves the 'Liberal agenda' which most of us in Canada have been trained into at one time or another.  Stratification does and IS happening, but it is not always a necessary function... or desirable by all.

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