Each political system always works in its society. It is always greatly influenced by its social environment. The nature of social stratification acts as a determinant of political behaviour and relations of the people.
This makes it essential for every student of Political Sociology to study the meaning, nature and basis of Social Stratification. The behaviour of Indian political system clearly bears the influence of caste based social stratification of society… It is therefore essential for us to understand the nature of social stratification in general and social stratification in India in particular.
Societies are divided into hierarchical groups in a way that though various groups are considered unequal in relation to each other yet within one group, members are viewed as equals. It will be an ideal society where all members are equal. But in reality there is no society based in perfect equality.
Every society has a system of rating and ranking its members based on a number of criteria. Income, occupation, education and hereditary status are some of the most common criteria for ranking in social hierarchy. Wealthy families have not only money but also social prestige.
Also celebrities and aristocratic members have social prestige. Economic standards put the individuals in different classes. Throughout the history, societies have used some system of classification such as lords and serfs, rich and poor, landlords and landless, etc. In India, caste system is used to rank individuals and groups as high and low.
Social Stratification is a system of structured roles and statuses which rates and ranks members of a society based on select criteria and limits access to wealth, power, privileges and opportunities. However, it must be clearly understood that social stratification does not mean the classification individuals on the basis of their qualities. It means an established system of classifying groups involving a horizontal division of society into ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ social status.
The system of social stratification not only bestows prestige and privileges among the groups and elites but also restricts opportunities available to the people. As such, it involves a system of providing inequality among the groups and their members.
However, it is not a haphazard system of inequality; it is source of systematic and structured inequality, a hierarchy of social classes and their roles and statuses. An unstratified society with total and real equality of its members is a myth that has been not yet realized.
Various social scientists have given their respective views about social stratification. They have defined it as a system or phenomena of structured or systematic inequality of ranking in the society.
Some definitions of social stratification are given here:
(i) A stratified society is one marked by inequality and by differences among people that is evaluated by them as being ‘lower’ and ‘higher. —Lundberg
(ii) Social stratification refers to arrangement of any social group or, society into a hierarchy of positions that are unequal with regard to power, property, social valuation and psychic gratification. —Melvin M. Tumin
(iii) Social Stratification is the process by which individuals and groups are ranked in a more or less an enduring hierarchy of status. —Ogburn and Nimkoff
(iv) Social stratification is a horizontal division of society into ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ social status. —Raymond Murray
(v) “Social Stratification means the differentiation of a given population into hierarchically superposed classes. It is manifested in the existence of upper and lower social layers.” —Sorokin
(vi) “Social Stratification is the division of society into permanent groups of categories linked with each other by the relationship of superiority and subordination. —Gilbert.
In simple words, we can say that social stratification is the phenomena which lead to the emergence of several hierarchically placed classes in each society
To sum up, we can say that by Social Stratification the people get hierarchically organized and placed into several groups on the basis of their positions or statuses and roles in society. Stratification divides the society in several levels/groups/classes which are considered essential for systematisation of social living. By it every person and every group in society gets a particular position in the social system. In very simple words:
Social Stratification is the name of formation of a hierarchy of social levels or positions in society.