Stratification and Social Class: Power, Prestige, Property and... Conformity
If you know nothing about Weber’s model of social class, don’t worry, I don’t remember it either. This essay was written in 1999 for the sociology course. I look at it as my photograph from twelve years ago. Why? Because writings show who you are, mirrors and photographs don’t.
I am trying to find the answer to the question “Who am I?” Everything I say and do is a reflection of me, yet it is very hard to recognize the image. I am…
There are two types of people:
1. Immediate cooperators (yes-people);
2. Immediate testers (no-people).
Choose your type:
You may conform, deviate, defy, resist or ultimately fight. I am an immediate cooperator, however, I am passive-aggressive (not good), and an implicit fighter. When provoked… it is best not to provoke me. I am against physical or any type of violence (how many types are there?), yet I am completely against unquestioned acceptance of everything or anything. No wonder I am so stuck. Between a “yes” and a “no”, there is this limbo. My personal defiance is against the advice and the paths (solutions) being suggested and thrown at me. I don’t have the answers, but I keep looking.
To conform or not to conform?
What class do I belong to? I don’t have property (I have, but strictly speaking it is not mine), I have no power and no prestige. Is there even a name for the class of property-less, powerless and prestige-less?
If there is not, should I be a trailblazer (should I put something ablaze)?
Idealists, dreamers, …
Questions and Answers
- To conform or not to conform?
Listing of the answers to the question: To conform or not to conform?What do you prefer, to conform or not to conform? Would you rather be yourself and follow your path or be like everybody else? Why?
I have asked the question.
And one of the answers was:
"Start life as a conformist until you truly understand the reasoning behind conformity. It's an easier path until you're prepared for nonconformity. It's important to craft many metaphorical masks for yourself and wear them at appropriate times.
You begin life with only one mask, and if you only kept one mask your whole life, people would start hating you by the time you reached adulthood. You talk to your grandmother differently than you do a young niece of nephew. You talk to your boss differently than you talk to your close friends. There's nothing inherently wrong with that. Control your bag of masks and you'll be able to open more doors in life.”
I think this is hypocrisy. I value authenticity. Why would people hate me for being me? I think I am amazing.
“Be a curveball. Do the unexpected. Surprise people. Those are the most interesting people in life. “ Andy the Great
I don’t even know what a curveball is. I do the unexpected and I surprise people, especially myself.
Publishing this essay before the series of my new articles is just one of those surprises.
Why? Because I have never been a conformist at heart. I conform on the surface, I keep appearances more often than not, and I behave. I like harmony and consensus. It does not mean I accept the idiocies of modern society. I don’t. My questioning drives people insane. I cannot conform to the rules that don’t make sense. I don’t like mindlessness. Conformity is often nothing more than mindlessness.
I am not suggesting changing social order. I suggest to think. I don’t have the answers. I only have this “photograph” and I remember that conformity for me is one of the defining characteristics. I am in the minority. It is painful, but it is my choice.
“Nothing is more revolting than the majority; for it consists of few vigorous predecessors, of knaves who accommodate themselves, of weak people who assimilate themselves, and the mass that toddlers after them without knowing in the least what it wants.”
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Introduction of Amendment to Weber's Model of Social Class
The political machine works because it is united minority acting against a divided majority. (Durant)
As much as I might want to disagree with Weber's model of social class, I simply cannot. The criteria that he used to distinguish one social class from another - property, power and prestige - truly describe social stratification in the most generalized way. But his classification is applicable only when the social order is maintained. What if the social order is disturbed, society is in major turmoil, and everything in society is put upside down? Even then society does not fail to be stratified, but the criteria might change dramatically.
Society has a dominant culture with its rules and norms, as well as a certain ideology that keeps social order. Do all members of society accept their position in the social hierarchy and agree unquestioningly with current social norms and ideology? In other words, do they conform or do they deviate? Moreover, how, and to what degree, do they conform or deviate? I would like to choose this as a criterion for updating Weber's model of social class. Conformity will characterize people who accept their social ranking and the dominant ideology. Deviance will characterize people who do not accept the rules of society and are either passive deviants or active deviants.
Karl Marx saw revolution as the result of the conflict between bourgeoisie, the class of exploiters, and proletariat, the class of exploited. Yet, he admitted that the proletariat had false consciousness, that is, workers did not see themselves as being exploited, and they did not have a sense of unity. I see this as a weak point in Marx's theory. Maybe workers are not educated enough to have class consciousness other than that indoctrinated by the ruling classes or others. Generally, workers accept the existing social order. Therefore, according to my new classification, workers are conformists.
On the other hand, deviants are not necessarily being exploited, but they disagree with the existing social order. For example, Decembrists, who organized an armed revolt against czarism in Russia in 1825, were noblemen. The French freethinkers, such as Voltaire and Rousseau, did not belong to the oppressed and exploited. Savva Morozov, one of the richest Russian merchants at the beginning of the 20th century, supported Revolution financially. Thus, he was acting directly against his interests as a capitalist. And surprising as it was, Russian revolutionaries in their majority were not workers, they were raznochinetz1. They were well educated and had much better chances to move up the social ladder than workers. Yet, they chose to struggle with the existing social order, to struggle against society, its norms and values.
Whereas intelligentsia in Russia has a long history of being in opposition to the ruling elite and the current regime, the majority of intellectuals did not become revolutionaries, because they had strict moral norms against violence. They were passive deviants; that is, they pretended to conform, and took no active steps towards social change. However, there was a minority of those with no moral norms and restrictions. They became active deviants. With the use of ideological cover, made up of Marx's theory, demagogy and fine words, such as "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite", they killed and robbed, stepped over dead bodies, and stopped at nothing in order to bring about a new social order, and allegedly to make mankind happy. Finally, by fair means or foul, when the revolutionaries seized power in Russia, they started their struggle against deviants. The civil war was more devastating than any war with foreign enemies. Peasants, workers, and intelligentsia suffered equally if they did not accept the new order and new rules. In this unappeasable struggle, the revolutionaries, namely Bolsheviks, called for help from the criminals who had no ideology, but most importantly had no moral rules. This is where we see a perfect example of shared consciousness.
1 Raznochinetz - intellectual(s) not belonging to the gentry in 19th century Russia.
As we know, Bolsheviks won their struggle against active deviants and separated society into major classes: gaolers and prisoners. But did they eliminate deviance as a social phenomenon? No, certainly not. After the new social order was established, and the majority of people learned the true nature of so called socialism, they deviated in a new way. Workers only displayed conformity on the surface, but responded to the totalitarian regime with sabotage, alcoholism, pilfering, and absolute disdain for its slogans. Some of them sank as low as to Lumpenproletariat2. Sociologists would classify those people as declassed elements, but I think they are in fact deviants.
The other form of deviance is escapism. During the times of the Cold War and the Iron Curtain, those, who had a chance to go abroad, sometimes never came back. Even knowing that their families and relatives would face severe repressions from the Soviet government. Nowadays, thousands of people flee from the former Soviet Union with its capitalism "with a human face", and totally criminalized society.
2 Lumpenproletariat - declassed strata of society, beggars, vagrants, criminals, parasites, spongers <Lumpen in German - rags>
In my opinion, deviance or conformity is not hereditary. The social class of your parents does not predetermine whether you will conform or deviate. There are different forms of deviance. Deviance does not have to be as drastic as deviance against social order. In Canadian society, when we see members of the lowest social classes, we can say that they deviate from the social norms. Consciously or subconsciously, they display their contempt for the social norms just by looking filthy. It does not take a great deal of money or effort to brush one's hair or tie up one's shoelaces. By doing so, they convey the message: "I could not care less about your norms".
Examples of conformity are not less astonishing than that of deviance. Over a short period of time, the majority of the population in the former Soviet Union drifted from total atheism to unprecedented religiosity. Was it because the ruling elite realized that religion is a perfect instrument of control? What happened to the principles and convictions of millions? Were there any to begin with?
In conclusion, I would like to say that Weber's model of social class seems to be correct, but I think it is not complete. I came to this conclusion because of the status inconsistency phenomenon. If a theory fails to describe certain instances or to classify some interlayers of society, it suggests that the theory is not yet perfect. Probably, we should target the weak points of the Weber's model by adding more criteria for defining a social class until status inconsistency is eliminated. I suggest that conformity - deviance should be one of these criteria.
Property, Status and Prestige
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© 2011 kallini2010