1. Social Stratification
This term refers to the classification or categorization of people into groups, with specific
commonalities. Such groupings may include: economic status, prestige, culture, race, religion,
age, gender or any other characteristic.
Social Stratification exists in every known human society. This classification system may be
informed by the values of the society. Particularistic values, tend to create closed stratification
systems. Whilst universal values create a more transient or open stratification system.
Social Mobility is the change in the social status of an individual. The term social , relates to any
aspect of life affected by peer to peer relations and interactions. Mobility is indicative of
movement. Thus the concept of social mobility addresses the issue of movement of an individual
within the social stratification system.
In the Caribbean social stratification is unique, since individual members may hold multiple
stations within the same social strata. What does this mean? Let take for example a young
professional Afro-Caribbean woman. Most Caribbean territories are characterized by
stratification structure that is rooted in a synthesized universalistic and particularistic value
Under the universalistic/meritocratic value system, this individual's rank may be different to her
ranking under the particularistic/traditional value system. Further, the individual's placement in
both instances can be mutually exclusive.
Functionalists would consider the following issues in theorizing about the phenomenon of social
1. What is the function of social stratification?
* To maintain social order
* To ensure that all roles are filled
* Roles are filled by those best suited to efficiently execute them.
2. What are the functions of a class system?
* To classify and rank roles according to merit and importance
* To encourage individuals to invest time and effort in education, and skills acquisition for the
functionally more important roles.
3. Why is social stratification necessary?
- To ensure that society continues to exist.
Altogether, Davis and Moore contend that:
Social inequality is an unconsciously evolved device by which societies insure that the most
important positions are filled by the most qualified persons. Hence every society, no matter how
simple or complex, must differentiate persons in terms of both prestige and esteem, and must
therefore possess a certain amount of institutionalized inequality. (Mc-Graw-Hill, 1980)
1. Anthropologists contend that social stratification or institutionalized inequality is not
necessarily inevitable, nor universal. Instead they suggest that some hunting /gathering societies
do not appear to have structured inequality.
2. Tumin presents the following arguments in opposition to Davis and Moore’s postulations:
• Academics have difficulty in defining positions as more or less important.
• There are several essential/functionally important jobs that are not prestigious.
• Any form of social inequality, has the tendency to discriminate against persons in lower ranks
of the strata.
• Individuals in lower stratas have fewer opportunities in comparison to those from higher
stratas to realize/develop their talents.
• Some members of the upper strata may be so positioned simply by virtue of birth/ascription
and not necessarily due to merit.
2. Caribbean Stratification
The Caribbean stratification system has been influenced by its history of Colonialism, Plantation
Slavery and Indentureship. Although, most of these territories are currently politically
independent nation-states, the legacy of their history have continued to impact upon their
individual social structure.
Caribbean Theories of Stratification
Plantation Society –
This theory of Caribbean society, though based on the original plantation model of, can be
applied to contemporary Caribbean societies.
• Upper Class/caste/ruling elites (traditionally white) – own wealth, means of production and
• Intermediate Class/caste (mulatto/browns) – usually educated, own some wealth, (desire but)
lack political power
• Working Class/caste ( blacks) – slaves, uneducated, lack wealth and political power.
Academics contend that the Upper Class on the contemporary Caribbean continues to be whites.
These either descents of the old planter class aristocracy (eg. The Beke of Martinique –descents
of French planters – own most of the islands supermarkets, hotels, land, transportation, control
import prices,) continue to own and control a significant proportion of the territory’s wealth, and
as such wield great economic, social and political power. The non-white populations continue to
be situated at the lower end of the social strata. They constitute the public servants and unskilled
workers in the society.
• Smith argues that most societies in the Caribbean are plural societies where there exists
significant cultural diversity and race antagonism
• Various ethnic groups have their own socio-economic institutions but not their own political
• It is the cultural and race diversity that causes the discord between the cultural groups.
• Social inequality exists between ethnic groups. These inequalities are transient depending on
the social actor. Factors of colour, religion, culture, economic background, education all
influence positioning within the social strata.
• Is described as a hybrid/syncretic/new society.
• The stratification system is informed by an ascriptive-particularistic value system
• Ryan contends however that the ascriptive-particularistic value system that informed the pre-
independence era, gave way to meritocracy in the post-independence era. Some elements of the
ascriptive value system continue to exist.
Closed/quasi caste stratas ----------- Flexible/Open class based stratas
Colonialism ------------------------- Self-Governance
3. Plural Society
Many of the societies which have problems of multicultural governance are former multi-ethnic
colonies. A theory of such colonial and post-colonial societies draws particularly on the work of
J.S.Furnivall and M.G.Smith.
According to Furnivall different ethnic groups in a plural society meet only in the market place.
This market place however lacks the characteristics which Durkheim envisaged in his concept of
organic solidarity. It lacks the shared values which organic solidarity requires and involves brutal
conflict and exploitation. The sense of solidarity on which morality depends is to be found within
the different ethnic groups when they go home from the market place. Within these groups there
is intense solidarity and moral unity.
Furnivall worked in Burma but wrote about Java drawing on the work of the Dutch economic
theorist, Boeke. Boeke writes that in the economy of Netherlands India “there is a materialism,
rationalism and individualism and a concentration on economic ends far more complete and
absolute than in homogeneous Western lands” As he sees it this is a capitalism quite different
from that which grew slowly over hundreds of years and maintained its moral roots. M.G..Smith
wrote originally about Grenada but his theory of the plural society has been widely used in the
analysis of colonial and post-colonial societies in the Caribbean. Smith is aware of the general
sociological theory of Talcott Parsons and its assumption of four mutually supportive
institutions. In the Caribbean, however he argues that there are several co-existing ethnic groups
each of which has a nearly complete set of social institutions. Setting his argument within the
context of a review of social anthropological theories used in studying the Caribbean, he sees the
various ethnic groups as having their own family systems, there own productive economies, their
own languages and religion but not their own political system. In the political sphere they are all
controlled by one dominant segment... To put this in more concrete terms Blacks are descended
from Slaves, Indians from indentured labourers. The groups have remained distinct and have
their own institutions. They exist however politically under the domination of an outside power.
Thus the defining feature of a plural society is seen as this process of the domination of all ethnic
groups by the colonial power. New problems arise when the colonial power withdraws.
Whereas Furnivall sees the different ethnic groups as bound together by the economic fact of the
market place, Smith sees them as bound together by a political institution, the colonial state.
One crucial institution in the Caribbean was the slave plantation. The history of plantations is
traced by Max Weber in his General Economic History to the manor. But the Caribbean slave
plantation comes into existence when capitalism directs horticultural production to the market.
Similar developments occur in mining. M.G Smith’s theory has to take account of this. In fact he
sees the plantation as one form of political institution.
M.G.Smith collaborated with the South African, Leo Kuper in producing a series of essays on
Africa and also turned his attention to the United States in his book Corporations and Society,
The case of South Africa is of special interest calling for an analysis of a society based upon
rural labour migrating to the gold mines. The United States has developed as neither
homogeneous nor plural but heterogeneous.
Smith has to deal with the question of social class. This is easy enough for he has only to say that
each group has its own internal class structure. He does, however, have to compare his own
theory to that of Marx. He cannot accept that group formation occurs between those having the
same or different relations to the means of production, nor that “in the social production of the
means of life men enter into circumstances which are independent of their will” For Smith the
culture of ethnic groups in a plural society is not simply determined in this way. The plural
segments in colonial society operate according to a different dynamic which it is the purpose of
Plural Society theory to explain.
Rex has attempted to set out a theory of the plural society which does justice to Marxian and
other theories as well as those of Smith. This involves first of all recognizing that such societies
go though several phases of development, pre-colonial, colonial and post colonial. In the colonial
phase relations to the means of production are important, even though they are more varied than
Marxist categories suggest involving such structures as the encomienda in Spanish America. At
the same time however groups have a relationship to each other reminiscent of the mediaeval
estate system in Europe different groups having the cultures, rights and privileges which attach
to their function. In the post-colonial phase there would be according to this theory a number of
developments. One would be the subordination of peasants to the large estates or latitudinal, a
second would be the replacement of the former colonial power by a group able to take over its
powers, a third would be a change in which new primarily economic centres replaced the
colonial power, and so far as resistance and struggle within the new system is concerned
Fanonism laying emphasis upon the national struggle would take precedence over class struggle.
4. The application of plural society theory to capitalist societies based upon mining produces a
different set of problems. There rural agricultural reserves are expected to provide social back-up
so that males of working age can live in segregated compounds or locations and be intensively
exploited. This is a situation very much like that described by Furnivall.
Boeke J, .H. “De Economische Theorie der Dualistiche Saamleving” quoted by Furnivall Op.cit
Durkheim, E., (1933), The Division of Labour in Society, Free Press, Glencoe Illinois
Furnivall, J. S., (1939) Netherlands India, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge,
Rex, J., (1981), “A Working Paradigm for Race Relations Research” Ethnic and Racial Studies,
Vol 4 No 1 pp1-25
Smith, M, G., (1965), The Plural Society in the British West Indies, University of California
Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles.
Smith, M.G., (1964), Corporations and Society, Duckworth, London,
Smith, M., G., and Kuper, L., (1969), Pluralism in Africa, University of California Press
Berkeley and Los Angeles.
Weber, M., (1961) General Economic History, Collier Books, New York.
How to answer essay questions
The student should be able to satisfactorily explain and identify the theorists who advocate and
critique the following:
Functionalism - views on Society (Social Order, Social Mobility and Stratification), Institutions
(Family, Religion, Education)
Marxist - views on Society (Social Order and Stratification), Institutions (Family, Religion,
Interpretivism - views on Society (Social Order and Stratification), Institutions (Family,
Plantation Society Theory
Creole Society Theory
Methods of Research - Positivism, Interpretivism
Become familiar with current statistics (where available) on issues relating to
Become familiar with approximately three Caribbean countries, with regards to: Social mobility
and Social Stratification
Religious affiliation and historical development/recent developments
Changes in Family structure eg, delayed marriage rates, divorce rates etc.
Changes in Education policy and its effects on the contemporary populations
CAPE 2003 - Unit 1 Module 3
1. Account for the substantial upward mobility of women and growing marginalization of men in
the Caribbean. (25 marks)
2. It is evident that women are seeing quite a profound increase in social mobility in Caribbean
Society, Discuss the major factors that have influenced patterns of social mobility for women in
any NAMED Caribbean society. [25 marks]
3. Discuss the factors that have caused the Caribbean to move from a “relatively closed society”
to a “relatively opened society”. [25 marks]
4. Discuss changes in the system of social stratification in a named Caribbean country after
World War II. (25 marks)
CAPE 2004 - Unit 1 - M3
5. During slavery and colonialism, status in Caribbean society was largely ascribed. Explain why
status determination is based more on achievement and less ascription in contemporary
Caribbean society. (25 marks)
CAPE 2004 - U1 M3
6. Evaluate on the view that, without social stratification and social mobility, society would
collapse. Provide examples or illustrations from the Caribbean to support your answer. (25
7. Assess the limitations of applying the plantation society model as proposed by Beckford to an
understanding of the cultural development of Caribbean society? (25marks)
CAPE 2006 - U1 M3
8. "One of the defining features of modern societies is social equality among their members."
Provide arguments for OR against this statement (25 marks)
CAPE 2006 - U1 M3
9. Analyze the influence of Social Class on stratification in the Caribbean today. (25 marks)
CAPE 2011 - U1 M3
10. "The education system in the Caribbean perpetuates gender inequality in the society."
Examine this statement with reference to the role of the education system in perpetuating
gender inequality in a named Caribbean society. ( 25 marks)
CAPE 2011 - U1 M3
11. Colour, ethnicity and gender are MAJOR factors that have influenced the stratification
system in Caribbean societies
Examine TWO of the MAJOR factors mentioned above as they relate to the stratification
system in a named Caribbean Society. (25 marks)
12. Examine the relevance of social class as a factor in the study of social stratification in the
Caribbean. Support your response with reference to any study in the Caribbean. (25 marks)
CAPE 2008 U1 M3
13. Examine the extent to which academic achievement levels in the contemporary Caribbean
are directly related to social class OR gender. Support your response with reference to any study
of education in the Caribbean. (25 marks) CAPE 2008 U1 M3