What is the role of ideology in social stratification?

Ideology can play a recognizable role in social stratification by providing a justification for the order of society. Without an underlying set of systems and principles to reinforce it, the inequalities within social stratification couldn't be supported.

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A Marxist would argue that social stratification serves to reinforce the continued dominance of the ruling classes in society. On Marx's reading, the categorization of people into distinct classes is the direct result of a capitalist system based on recognizable class distinctions. Social stratification is therefore ideological in that it...

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A Marxist would argue that social stratification serves to reinforce the continued dominance of the ruling classes in society. On Marx's reading, the categorization of people into distinct classes is the direct result of a capitalist system based on recognizable class distinctions. Social stratification is therefore ideological in that it represents the bourgeoisie's distorted image of what society is and how it should operate.

Part and parcel of any ideology is to make what is man-made and contingent appear perfectly natural and therefore not amenable to radical change. The bourgeoisie and their ideologists would have us believe that social stratification is the natural consequence of unfettered economic competition; that those who occupy the highest positions in society do so because it is in their nature. By the same token, they hold that there are always going to be those in society who occupy the lowest rungs of the ladder, so to speak, and are there by virtue of their natural abilities (or lack of them, as is often the case).

So the division of society into discrete classes is given to us by bourgeois ideologists as a completely natural system which rewards the strong and industrious and punishes the weak and the idle. Marxists, however, would argue that this is an entirely false picture of things which simply serves to justify the continued economic, political, and social domination of the bourgeoisie.

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Ideology is a system of ideas that justify a society being organized the way it is. Ideology is extremely important for perpetuating social stratification.

As Marx noticed, ideology tends to mystifyput a mist or fogover reality. It obscures how things really are and substitutes instead a theory that serves the interest of the ruling class. Whatever ideology is used, it always insists that the rich being on top is the way things are meant to be and as natural and unalterable as the laws of physics. This ideology serves two roles: first, it comforts the ruling class by telling them they are deserving of what they have because, for whatever reason, they are superior to the rest of the mere mortals of the world: smarter, hard working, or simply chosen by Godwho, of course, is not to be argued with. Second, ideology helps the oppressed sectors of society to accept their lot by, one way or another, telling them that they too have gotten what they deserve.

Without an ideology to back it up and make it seem acceptable, social stratification would soon come under attack by those on the bottom of the social order, who would question why they were treated badly. Power, in other words, can very seldom be wielded nakedly, because people resist that: it has to be smoothed over and fogged up so that is seems right and good.

Ideology usually works very effectively: it is often only when situations become too dire (such as starvation) that people begin to revolt.

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Most sociologists would agree that ideology both reflects and perpetuates social stratification. This precept was first clearly articulated by Karl Marx, who framed ideology as "superstructural" in the sense that it stemmed from social realities rather than serving as a causal force in its own right. In short, if a society features social stratification, then ideologies are the ideas and beliefs that justify it. In a capitalist society that features extreme wealth inequalities, for example, ideologies that stress the "self-made man" often prevail. This serves to justify the existence of inequalities because it suggests that those who have wealth acquired it through their own hard work (and, by implication, that those who are poor have not done anything to earn wealth or status).

It also suggests that the best way to attain wealth is through hard work, rather than by attempting to effect some change in the system. Ideologies consist of beliefs, stories (like "rags to riches" tales), and other cultural tropes that reflect the same beliefs and assumptions. Whether these stories and beliefs are rooted in reality is less crucial to social scientists than their relationship to the social structures from which they emerge. Other ideologies have historically existed that served to perpetuate inequalities and social stratification. Racial inequalities, in many cases, have been supported by ideologies that featured religious and pseudoscience.

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Ideology is socially constructed and those who are in power make it. This an insight from sociology. Let me give an example. Those in power, obviously, want to keep their power. So, what they do is try to create a commonsense view of the world that basically says that the world is the way it is supposed to be. The rich are supposed to be rich, because of certain reasons, and the poor should be, because of another set of reasons. They also try to create fear and false correlations to maintain their position.

When it comes to social stratification, ideology will be much more subtle, because it is such a sensitive topic. Here is an common ideology. The best answer that I could give is that all people pretty much start at the same place in life, that all people have the same opportunities. We would like to believe this, but it is patently false. Those who are wealthy have much more opportunities.

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I assume that you are talking in terms of sociology here.

A typical definition of "ideology" in this context is that it is a set of cultural beliefs that justify the way things are in a society.  "The way things are" can include inequality.

If you are using ideology in this way, you can see how it causes social stratification.  For example, in the United States, our cultural beliefs (ideology) tell us that people become richer or poorer based on their own abilities and efforts.  Because of this, we are often not willing to help people who are poor because we see it as, in part, their own fault.  In this way, our ideology prevents us from helping the poor (one can argue) and that helps lead to social stratification.

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