One of the lines of a renowned song that Peter Tosh (1974), famous Jamaican song writer and singer penned was ‘there can be no peace without justice; what we need is equal rights and justice. ‘ More than thirty years since that song was written, the people in the Jamaican society are still crying out for justice. One might be led to believe that as the general standard of living improves with time, inequality would slowly become less evident. However, although things are improving, evidence of inequality is still prominent in our Jamaican society.
The people that are failing to realize that there is still inequality are the fortunate ones. They rise well above the poverty line, and usually live relatively economically sound lives. They are the people who are supplied with our society’s benefits. Those that are in pursuit of social change, and constantly bring attention to issues of equal rights and privileges, are often the people who do not have them. They are the ones who suffer daily from different levels of inequality.
Don’t waste your time!
Order your assignment!
According to conflict theorists, “Society is an arena for inequality that generates conflict and change. ” This statement suggests that cultural systems do not address human needs equally, thus allowing some people to dominate others. It emphasizes struggle over limited resources, power, and prestige as permanent aspects of societies and a major source of social change. Karl Marx (1818-83), a renowned theorist, studied social conflict for a great portion of his life with an attempt not only to understand society, but also to reduce the social inequality in it.
A conflict analysis of our own Jamaican society reveals characteristics of social inequity in many different forms, with the prominent areas being Education, Class, Gender, and Race. Education is defined as, ‘the acquisition of knowledge and the learning of skills. ‘ It is, as we know, one of the most effective avenues for ensuring employment and an increase in income, which adds up to higher status or social class. Our own educational system, however, shows how schooling carries class inequality from one generation to the next.
For example, secondary schools differentiate between students by making decisions about what exams to enter them for, and what streams to place them in. Conflict analysis, on the other hand, argues that streaming often has less to do with talent than with social background, so that more affluent students are placed in higher streams while poor children end up in the lower streams. These procedures do not uphold the ‘ideal of equal access to educational opportunities for those of equal ability’ (A. Cicourel and J. Kitsuse), and can adversely influence the options open to students and the extent of their progress.
In this way, young people from privileged families get the best schooling, which leads them to college and, later, to high-income careers. The children of poor families, by contrast, are not prepared for college and, like their parents before them, typically get stuck in low-paying jobs. In both cases, the social standing of one generation is passed on to the next, with schools justifying the practice in terms of individual merit (Bowles & Gintis, 1976; Oakes, 1982, 1985). A student’s progress can also be affected in other ways apart from teachers determining what classes they are placed in and what courses they are given to do.
Two related theories, the ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ and the ‘labeling theory’, suggest that a student’s behavior can be directly influenced by the way the teacher reacts to them. The labeling theory suggests the attachment of stereotypes to students. The theory of the self fulfilling prophecy argues that predictions made by teachers about future success or failure of students will tend to come true for the reason that the prediction was made. The teacher defines the student in a particular way, such as ‘bright’ or ‘dunce’.
Based on this definition, the teacher makes predictions about the behavior of the student, for example, he or she will get high or low grades. As a direct result of the definition of the students, the teacher’s interaction with the students will be influenced and is manifested where, for example, higher quality work will be expected and greater encouragement given to the ‘bright’ student. The student’s self-concept will tend to be shaped by the teacher’s definition and thus, he or she will tend to see themselves as ‘bright’ or ‘dunce’ and act accordingly. Their actions will, in part, be a reflection of what the teacher expects from them.
Since prehistory, our society has perceived hierarchy among its members. There exists a universal social classification of people by wealth, power or prestige; by ability, education, or occupation; even by where they live. According to Marx, ‘society is constructed from classes. In all societies, except the simplest, there are two major classes. It is people’s relationship to the means of production that determines which class they belong to. The most powerful class is that which owns the means of production, (land, labour, factories) and the least powerful is that which has to sell its labour to make a living. The sociologist Max Weber also argued that, ‘social class is a function of differential wealth, political power, and status. ‘ Class is the main organizing principle of modern capitalist societies, the mechanism by which power, privilege and inequality are distributed and institutionalized. Here in Jamaica, the realities of social class have changed over time. The term “social class” originally referred to groups of people holding similar roles in the economic processes of production and exchange, such as landowner or tenant, employer or employee.
Such positions correspond to different levels of status, prestige, and access to political power. Social class eventually took on a more generic meaning and came to refer to all aspects of a person’s rank in the social hierarchy. Some have argued that class is a less important divider than factors such as gender, education, and ethnicity, but it can be strongly argued that all these factors, along with wealth, are the components that make up social class. They determine to a large extent people’s class position and are themselves heavily influenced by class, thus profoundly influencing life chances and expectations.
Class may be about self-identity and egotism, but it is primarily about inequality: the unjustifiable distribution of opportunity, wealth, and power. For a minority of individuals, there is a mythology of equal opportunity in Jamaica and class mobility. The reality is that social class limits the life chances of most people in our society. Class is cyclical and therefore ‘keeps people in their place’, that is, people in the top stratum (upper class) will remain there, with the same being true for people in the bottom stratum (lower class).
Though true mobility is possible, it is rare, and can be downward as well as upward. The realities of class mobility in Jamaica are that movement occurs laterally or up and down within the same stratum, not between classes, and the disadvantaged groups remain disadvantaged. The extremes of class are moving further and further apart. The growth of a self-perpetuating underclass, namely the poor, unemployed, chronically ill, aged pensioners and single parents (mostly women), further contributes to social division and powerlessness.
Superficially, class within our society is about how you speak, where you live and how much wealth you have displayed at any given time. Gender in our society is one of the universal dimensions on which status differences are based. It is a social construct specifying the socially and culturally prescribed roles that men and women are to follow. In many ways, our way of life places men in positions of power over women. According to Friedrich Engels (1902, orig. 1884), capitalism makes male domination even stronger.
Capitalism creates more wealth, which gives greater power to men as income earners and owners of property. In the home, men are usually considered the “head of household”, while society assigns women the task of maintaining the home to free men to work in factories and other places of employment. Our expanding capitalist economy depends on turning people, especially women, into consumers who seek personal fulfillment through buying and using products. Even in the entertainment sector, men hold most positions of power and women are transformed into their sexual and economic properties.
As Alan Wolfe observed in “The Gender Question” (The New Republic, June 6:27-34), “of all the ways that one group has systematically mistreated another, none is more deeply rooted than the way men have subordinated women. All other discriminations pale by contrast. ” There is a continued projection of negative and degrading images of women in media communications – electronic, print, visual and audio in our society. Print and electronic media most often do not provide a balanced picture of women’s diverse lives and contributions to society in our changing world.
In addition, violent and degrading or pornographic media products, for example, the popular Passa Passa dances sold as DVD videos, are also negatively affecting Jamaican women and their participation in the wider Caribbean society. Though more women in our society have moved into the workforce over the last few decades, and have moved into a broader and more highly skilled range of occupations, they are still concentrated in those occupations traditionally dominated by women, for example, nursing and teaching.
Despite their heavy representation and the fact that educational statistics have shown that the Jamaican woman is typically more educated than her male counterpart, only a small percentage of managers and administrators are women. Jamaica has a highly segregated labour force, which has remained relatively unchanged over the last few years. Segregation by job type and managerial level has implications for women in terms of earnings, employment opportunities and for their access to positions of authority and decision making.
The real issue of gender equality is not one of outcomes because many women choose to take on the role of mother or home-maker. The issue is opportunities: a woman who has the ability to enter any occupation and is prepared to undertake the requisite training should have the absolute right to do so. Her gender should not be a factor limiting her opportunities. During the slavery period, the Jamaican society brought two different cultures into confrontation: a variety of West African groups and a smaller group of Anglo Europeans.
The differences between these groups were rendered by the dominant Europeans in terms of ‘race’ as evidenced in colour and other characteristics imagined and interpreted. Racial and ethnic relations are seen nearly all over the world as a prime moving force behind social conflict as well as change. Though racial discrimination is now less common in our society, race, more loosely defined as colour, is closely linked to social position, and jointly presents the major issues of status that constitute a Jamaican sense of hierarchy. The existence of different races and cultures within our society is thought to contribute to economic inequality.
It is commonly considered that white and light coloured people have numerous social advantages over black people, including on average, better jobs and thus higher incomes. Studies have shown that even in Education, lighter coloured children of the middle class have used educational reforms to further secure their advantage over black children of the same ‘class’. The prominence of the whites and Chinese in strategic and very visible sectors of Jamaica’s urban economy, clearly contributes to the degree of conflict orientation towards them on the part of the lower stratum of society.
The highest perceptions of conflict with racial groups occur in the lower class which is the most materially dispossessed layer of society. This suggests a clear link between race privilege, material dispossession and racial resentment. Insights of race conflicts are rooted in unequal distribution of material affluence between the racial groups. In conclusion, the social-conflict approach is a framework for building theory that sees society as an arena for inequality that generates conflict and change.
Instead of placing emphasis on societal solidarity and stability, it highlights inequality and change. Guided by this approach, sociologists have investigated how factors such as social class, race, education, gender, are linked to a society’s unequal distribution of money, power, education, and social prestige. REFERENCES Barrow, C. and Reddock, R. (2001). Sociology ??? Introductory Readings. Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishers Limited DeVault, M. J. (1991). Feeding the Family: The Social Organization of Caring as Gendered Work. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Haralambus, M. , and Holborn, M. (1990). Sociology: Themes and Perspectives. Unwin Hyman Limited Macionis, J. J. (2008). Sociology. New Jersey: Prentice Hall Macionis, J. J. and Plummer, K. (1998). Sociology, A Global Introduction. Europe: Prentice Hall Tremain, D. J. (1977). Occupational Prestige in Comparative Perspective. New York: Academic Press. Barro, R. (2000), “Inequality and Growth in a Panel of Countries”. Journal of Economic Growth 7 (1). Available: ;http://post. economics. harvard. edu/faculty/barro/papers/p_inequalitygrw. pdf;.