Class and social stratification in contemporary Scotland

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Any occupation concerned with social care and working with people in a welfare capacity will be dealing with the symptoms of an unequal, class-divided society. Yet we are constantly being told that class is becoming irrelevant to the modern world. So rather than starting with general theories of class as is traditional in introductory chapters like this it might be better to ground class in the kinds of social ‘problems' that most people in Scotland will be very familiar with.

Class stereotypes are also a way of inflicting what American sociologists have called ‘the hidden injuries of class’ (Sennett and Cobb, 1977). In a society based on inequality entire groups of people in the lower and inferior classes in society are made to feel like failures. Respect and dignity always seem to be out of their grasp and in the hands of other people that control and order their lives, such as managers, bureaucrats, politicians, and welfare professionals.

The ‘hidden injuries of class’ are often seen as a failure of the working class to have ‘good’ cultural taste, lifestyle and identity. For the moment it is important to recognise that a poor or tasteless ‘lifestyle’ is often taken as the cause of a social inequalities, limited job prospects, impoverished housing schemes, and low educational attainment. On the other hand, a social science approach would see these as a result, a consequence of wider social and economic relations, processes and structures. Therefore in order to understand the division of society into unequal social groups we need to look not just at subjective issues to do with group identity but also at objective issues to do with how society is structured into classes, as well as other social categories like gender, ethnicity, disability, and sexuality that you will come across in other chapters.

An understanding of the combination of objective and subjective elements of inequality is a key way that society becomes divided - or stratified - into various social groups. Stigmatised social groups can be better understood by the more systematic approaches of social science towards class and stratification rather than leaving it to the prejudices and assumptions of common sense stereotypes.

In many accounts class and stratification are treated as if they referred to the same thing. However, there are vast differences between the concepts of class and stratification. In one sense, they are indeed referring to the same thing: how inequalities are structured over time. But, in another sense, each concept directs us to examine, describe and explain different kinds of things. Unpacking and clarifying what we mean by these terms is the main purpose of this chapter. The key themes of this chapter are:
• Social Divisions and Differentiation - how and why is society divided unequally?
• Inclusion and Exclusion - how do certain social classes maintain their power and pass it on through the generations?
• Continuity and Change - to what extent has the class structure of society changed?
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSocial care, health and welfare in contemporary Scotland
EditorsGerry Mooney, Tony Sweeney, Alex Law
Place of PublicationPaisley
PublisherKynoch & Blaney
Number of pages30
ISBN (Print)9780955397301
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sep 2006


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