Category Archives: Conflict Perspective

Social Mobility

Social class is a social ranking. Your social class is often determined by how much money make, but it can also be determined by how you dress, the kind of food you eat, music you listen to, and people you hang out with. Many people in America try to deny that social classes exist. Yet many people try to move into higher social rankings. That process is called social mobility. With social mobility you can move up into higher “better” social class, which is called vertical mobility. Other types of social mobility are horizontal mobility, moving from one social position to another in the same social rank. So you are actually not improving or decreasing your class. An example of this would be working at McDonalds making minimum wage, and leaving McDonalds to take another different type of minimum wage job, such as a maid at Holiday Inn. Intergenerational mobility is changing your social position from that of your parents. An example of this would be if someone’s mom was a dentist and their child became a store clerk; that is an example of downward intergenerational mobility. Upward intergeneration mobility would be if your mother was a high school teacher and you became an engineer.  In this, you would be experience upward intergenerational mobility. The last form of social mobility is intragenerational mobility is moving up in social class as an adult. An example of this would be starting your adult life as a dental assistant and then becoming a dentist.

Horizontal mobility is the mobility that many people go through. I have personally experienced and have witnessed other people go through this experience. When I turned 16 I got my first job at a clothing store, and since turning 16 I have had three other jobs at other clothing stores. So I continue to move to different jobs but they always have the same ranking. A different example of horizontal mobility that I have witnessed is with my dad. My dad graduated high school, but did not continue his education, and because of that my dad has not been able to move upward. He worked at a warehouse for about ten years packing and unpacking foods to prisons, and once he became tired of that he started a different job as a truck driver. Even though the jobs have different titles, they both have the same social rank. Vertical mobility does not happen as often as horizontal mobility but it does happen. Some examples of this date back all the way back to pre-Civil War America. Before President Abraham Lincoln took office, he was born into a poor family and had little money to his name. Lincoln would often use his vertical mobility successes as a way to show people that anyone can achieve this American dream like he did, as long as you work hard.

Karl Marx says social status relates to who owns the means of production. Owning the means of production give higher status people a leg up and differentiating them from those who are the workers.   As long capitalism exists there will always be a division in classes. A counter to Marx’s ideas is the belief in the American Dream.  Since competition is at the heart of capitalism it always is showing people that as long as you work harder than the group who is currently dominant, then you have a chance to experience vertical mobility and this type of competition is what keeps the American dream alive.

1-4However there are many problems associated with social mobility. An example of this would be blacks trying to climb the social ladder. Since America was founded, blacks were always on the bottom of the social ladder. Back in the 1900’s, many lower class whites would take pride in the fact that “at least they were not black.” Now in the twenty-first century, blacks are treated as equal, but blacks and whites still think of blacks as lower class.  They think like this without even realizing this is what they are doing.  When blacks start to climb the social ladder, many other blacks start saying things to them like “you are acting white” and other degrading things. Many blacks who try to climb the social ladder and improve on their social status would say things like, “we not only have to prove that we are good enough to move up in class, but we have to prove that we are better than “black”.” An example of this is when Jamelle Bouie, a Slate staff writer, who talks about politics and race talks about how even if a white family and a black family grew up exactly the same, the white family would experience more social mobility than the black. “If you took two children – one white, one black – and gave them parents with similar jobs, similar educations, and similar values, the black child would be much more likely to grow up in a neighborhood with higher poverty, worse schools, and more violence.”(Why black Americans have a hard time climbing the social ladder.)

Many Americans try to ignore the fact that social mobility exists; this is the root of the problem. If people accepted the fact that social mobility was a very common thing that people tried to do every day, then people would not be so tough on those who are openly trying to have vertical social mobility. It’s almost as if these people are trying to make fun of the people they are trying to become. An example of this would be celebrities; everybody always makes fun of the things they do and ignore their accomplishments.  Maybe some of these critics are actually just wishing to experience the mobility that these stars have achieved.

— Meeshon


Work cited:  Bouie, Jamelle.”Why black Americans have a hard time climbing the economic ladder: Slat opinion.” n.b. Web. 22 Nov. 2014.




Social Mobility

Most people are told by their guardians, starting at a very young age, that if they really want something with enough work and time they can change anything to suit their desires. This is a great initial concept and one of the things that most people who remember their childhood fondly keep as one of the warmest memories of their caretakers. It is not my focus to debate the value of this idea on the positive development of children, even though it might be interesting to do so, but to examine the actual validity of this idea when compared to the real world application of social mobility.

When we are working towards our goals it is ingrained into our ideology as Americans that we will eventually move upwards within our social class system and be more socially stable or well off than our parents/guardians. The definition of social mobility is “The degree to which one can change the social stratum into which one is born.” When we think of the American success story we idealize people who were born into poverty or substandard conditions and rose above their initial means and found a new place within the world in a higher social class. What most people don’t realize however is that these are the very few cases within the thousands of similar scenarios that play out much differently all across the country. There is a growing stress on the need for a college education in order to be successful within our current system and this is supported by many studies showing the importance of education and the influence that it has on job security and yearly income.

The strength of education is widely accepted as a necessary part of a successful life, and more young adults are enrolling in colleges and universities across the country than ever before. In addition to all the young individuals attempting college there is also high numbers of middle aged people returning to education in attempts to better themselves. These are very commendable ideals but when compared with the success rate and actual reality of the chances of people going through college when born into the middle or lower class, all of a sudden we don’t see our country advancing as a whole at the rate we had thought we were. Studies have shown that children with high intellectual ability born into socially successful classes maintain this level of intellectual superiority, while children of the same potential born into lower social classes quickly plummet to a lower standard of intellectual pursuits. The inverse follows the same trend of logic, children with low potential that are born into the upper class quickly rise to reach the near levels of their peers while those born with low potential from a poor class level off fairly early and don’t usually rise above what they were born with. There are obviously exceptions for this idea however the data that supports this as an average is fairly startling.

The idea that people born into higher classes stay there is not an entirely uncommon concept and is shown most prevalently in the Conflict Theory represented by the Bourgeoisie and Proletariat concept. The Bourgeoisie representing the upper class of our capitalist system, and the Proletariat being those born into the lower classes. While this sociological perspective might not be the absolute best representation for the American class system it does postulate some interesting reasons for the tendency of people to maintain the same general class status as their guardians. If you are born into a wealthy family who possesses the ability to buy all the best educational opportunities, it only stands to reason that you will be more likely to succeed in the world maintaining that elevated social status. On the other hand if you are born into a low social class who does not possess the resources to offer the best chances at success you will be far more likely to follow along the same footsteps of not earning an advanced education setting you at a serious disadvantage in today’s job markets. This can be seen in general trends for children’s test scores when scaled with their parents education levels.

All of this is not to suggest that should you be born into a high social class that you aren’t likely to move down in standing, for that is an ever present and dangerous fact for the majority of New York stockbrokers and such. However, the concept of being able to stay in a higher social class when born into it only makes sense if you consider the fact that people raised in a higher class standing were given more opportunities and developmental chances because of the resources they had available to them.

In summary, I do not believe that social mobility is something to be given up on as an unattainable ideal, but rather should be understood to be far less likely than the common belief currently is within our country. Social mobility is not impossible and a truly inspirational occurrence, yet the statistics of today show that we may need to seriously evaluate how we view social mobility in terms of realistic outcomes. This is important to us as a nation because all issues should be seen as they truly are, not how we wish we could see them simply because of the ideal of what we wish them to be.



Placing an institution into the subcategory of a total institution is more a matter of degree than simply qualifying with an affirmative or negative.  The shades of gray are somewhat ironic considering the decisive imagery of the phrase itself.  Current thinking from sociologists places a degree of totality on any given institution, not only those that are traditionally viewed as totalitarian.  To give an example used often enough in the media to run the risk of becoming a cliché, shopping centers and casinos have perfected the art of isolating their clientele from the outside world.  With no easily accessible exits, no clocks, no view of the sun or sky, and dodgy cell phone reception, it can be easy to find oneself spending a great deal more time and money in these establishments then intended.  Although these places have intentionally adopted an aspect of totality to obtain profit, most people would be hesitant to actually label them as total institutions.  Rather, they utilize concepts of totality to control one aspect of their respective clients, rather than their every action.

The view that all social institutions have degrees of totality is reminiscent of Karl Marx’s conflict theories.  As in many of the theories of social conflict, the presence of a degree of totality in most or all social institutions lends weight to the argument that social institutions aim to exert control over their respective members.  That control does not have to be negative.  To give an example, family is considered a social institution, of which marriage is a part.  Marriage shows characteristics of totality.  In particular, it is widely accepted that a degree of isolation is expected in favor of social interaction with the nuclear family.  Assuming this hypothetical marriage is a happy one, the benefits of marriage outweigh the sacrifices, making the presence of totality benign.  However, from a purely analytical perspective, the institution of marriage preserves itself through control of its members’ outside interactions.  This is a key factor in a total institution.

The aforementioned idea that all institutions display totality in degrees means that institutions not generally considered totalitarian can still be analyzed with the totality concept in mind.  Marriage has already been given as an example.  The shopping centers and casinos mentioned earlier apply equally well.  Corporations make vast sums of money using sociological concepts to generate profit.

Institutions with a high degree of totality have been the subject of a great deal of scrutiny in recent decades.  Re-socialization is an important issue that strongly affects the way we handle dangerous members of our society.  Re-socialization is the process we use to purge a person of unwanted traits or behaviors that are the result of their initial socialization, or to instill positive traits and behaviors they may be missing.  The prison system and military organizations are perfect examples of re-socialization at work.  In theory, prison sentences are no longer meant to merely be punishment for crimes committed.  The process of re-socialization is applied in order to rehabilitate inmates and prepare them to rejoin society.  The level of success is arguable, if only due to a lack of budgeting and priority, but the ideal of rehabilitation exists at the very least.

Unlike the prison system, the large military budget and the higher priorities veterans receive over inmates have been the cause of a great deal of change in this example of a total institution.  The results of an ever increasing awareness of the effects of total institutions’ can be seen in the military’s handling of both recruits and veterans.  Military trainers have long expressed the idea that before you build a person up, you have to break them down.  This is the most fundamental part of the re-socialization process used by total institutions.  A recruit’s sense of identity is the largest barrier to responding to socialization, so it is the first thing to be attacked.  Hair and clothes are made generic, contact with the outside world is extremely limited, and personal choice is almost nonexistent.  Stress levels are kept as high as possible while recovery periods are made shorter.  During their initial training, army recruits are lucky to get five hours of sleep per day, and not always consecutively.  Activities are carefully controlled and monitored for several months.  Better standing of total institutions has led to changes in these practices in the past decade.  The military is adopting philosophies of strengthening without degradation.  Sleep schedules are longer and stress levels are generally kept at a lower state.  One of the reasons for this is that the process of institutionalization has been found to have harmful long term effects.  The obsolete nature of institutionalization can be seen when the extreme control exerted by prison systems succeeds only to create model prisoners, who re-offend when they are released back into the population.  The same can be said of soldiers.  A person may do very well in their assigned role as a soldier, but their new adjustment can cause trouble when they are exposed to the outside world once again.

Totality in our social institutions is not only an issue for those who enlist in the military, or send their children to a boarding school.  Because totality exists in degrees in every social institution, and because these institutions tend to attempt increased control over time in order to maintain their power over members through sanctions, it is important to understand how these total institutions’ methods apply in everyday society.


CH08figure1Deviance is undoubtedly as old as humanity itself. From the beginnings of when humans organized themselves into groups, or more appropriately maintained interdependence for the sake of survival by creating mutually supporting social relationships, there undoubtedly have been those individuals who either separated themselves out from the group; those who marched to the beat of a different drummer. The question that comes to mind immediately is this: what possible function, if any, could non-conformity, or deviance, play in helping the deviant individual? We know instinctively that human beings are social creatures who need each other for their very survival, and play mutually supportive roles to achieve that end. So, where does deviance fit in, if at all? Sociologists from the very beginnings of the creation of the discipline have been trying to answer that question. While some very interesting theories have been formulated, none necessarily has emerged as the “end all, be all” for theorists and students of social relationships. While deviance is virtually everywhere, the question of what role it plays, if any, in advancing or supporting the survival of the group, or creating a social environment in which the group can thrive, remains unanswered.

I seek to pursue a somewhat different view of deviance. We have looked at Durkheim’s model, the Functional Model, of deviance that purports to provide, for lack of a better set of terms a bad example for use to reinforce existing values systems. There is the Marxist model, in which the deviant breaks with society and its norms because of class conflict created by bleak economic conditions, which is by its very nature destructive and plays no role in maintaining social cohesion—although Marx would have maintained that the deviant is just another means by which the society as a whole could achieve “class consciousness” by watching the individual self-destruct, or by breaking with what is normative for one’s socio-economic status, Marx would say that the deviant actually could serve as a force for change by virtue of the fact that others would see the plight of the deviant as being consistent with a pattern of abuse heaped upon the Proletariat by the Bourgeoisie, and therefore might be an agent in the achievement of class consciousness.

What I propose is different from both Durkheim and Marx, but some similarities may be seen in their theories with my emerging theory for the existence of deviance. My concern, as I am a novice in this subject, is that someone else has already thought of this and that it might look as if I’m grabbing someone else’s ideas. I’m sure that someone must have thought of this, but I can’t imagine at this point I can’t imagine who it might have been since, as I have already stated, I’m a novice sociologist.

What I propose is that deviance is actually a dynamic force that comes from deep within the human character, and in fact is socio-biological: it is very possibly a biology driven force that manifests in human behaviors that are at odds with that which is normative. Why a dynamic force? It is a dynamic force inasmuch as it creates alternative conditions within human groups that serve as catalysts for change. That is, change within human groups over time happens not because the majority of people adhere to what contemporaneously normative, but that deviants create anti-normative social phenomenon which actually cause the society to change and, therefore, itself be dynamic. It is very possible that, through socio-biological mechanisms, deviants are responsible for changes in the society as a whole—in both positive and negative ways.

If we use the French Revolution as an example (I use this example because my high school history teacher concentrated on the French Revolution as a force for change at the global level), we can see that the deviants created the force for change in French society between 1789 and 1799. For example, when members of the Third Estate were locked out of the Estates Generale, instead of sitting around thinking about going home, they instead took the extraordinary and deviant step, to take the famous “Tennis Court Oath” and proclaim themselves the National Assembly, and therefore the new and legitimate government of France. This was an act of mass deviance, and it just so happened that it worked and it changed the world. Had the members of the Third Estate simply acted as they were expected to—in those ways which would have been considered normative for their social station—nothing would have happened. Louis XVI would have remained King of France, the First and Second Estates would have kept their wealth and status, and there would have the maintenance of the status quo in France. However, the members of the Third Estate did not act as they were expected to act. Instead in an act of mass deviance their actions set forces in motion that had been sitting idle in France for perhaps centuries. It would appear, therefore, that in this instance, deviance was a truly dynamic and creative force. At the same time, it was destructive and iconoclastic in that it destroyed the old order—the French Monarchy and estate system. This would be roughly consistent with Marx’s view of class conflict. The difference, however, is very possibly in the mechanism. While certainly social forces were at work in setting in motion this massive transformation in French society, where did the impetus come from? Was it “class consciousness?” or something else?


Consider many social movements throughout history. While some, like the French Revolution involved the deviant acts of a few, most often the transformative agents focus on the leadership—the forceful personality of  a single individual. Feature these: Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolf Hitler, and Joseph Stalin. What do these individuals have in common? They were all either sociopaths and/or complete deviants. They all also led social movements within their societies that were agents of titanic change. Genghis Khan brutally conquered almost all of Asia. Stalin transformed Old Russia from an agrarian society into a world industrial power in less than a generation. Bonaparte spread the “gospel” of the French Revolution and its ideas all over Europe and eventually the world. These were not nice guys, and they were definitely not normal—they were in fact complete deviants. And yet they served as catalysts for the transformation of their societies and affected the world in incalculably huge ways. Psychologists are still trying to understand sociopathy and its origins. More and more it appears that people, about 4% of the population, are apparently born sociopaths. They wreak havoc in the world; they cause unspeakable pain and suffering. Most do their dirty work on a small time level in obscurity, but some move whole societies and change the world. Is it possible, therefore, that deviance of this sort is genetically encoded  and is a dynamic source for change in the world, even when that change is very often violent, and incredibly destructive? And does that change come from the most vile and seemingly detestable sources? It is certainly food for thought—disturbing food for thought.


Works Cited

Merryman, John Henry. (1996). French Deviation.

Witt. (2012). SOC. n.p. McGraw Hill.