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Relationship between Social Structure and Social Class

The relationship between social class and social structure has attracted the attention of scholars from various disciplines. The focus of their intellectual effort has been the relationship between social structure and class. This has led to formulation of various theoretical conceptualizations aimed at deciphering this link. This paper focuses on C. Wright Mill’s explanation of the relationship between social structure and social class. The paper also explores how the theory of leisure and social class accounts for the relationships and the comparison of two perspectives.

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Sociological Imagination

C. Wright Mills’ sociological imagination is about the mental schema that enables a person to understand the society, its historical and biographical background over time, and how this might have impacted one’s life and created the present patterns in the society. Sociological imagination is, thus, the quality of mind that allows a person to make sense of history and biography, and its consequences those two have on an individual (Mills 9).

The theory of sociological imagination enables one to get insight into the relationship between social structure and social class (Mills 5). Mills contends that social structure is responsible for the creation of a stratified society constituting the upper and the lower class. Mills (5-6) claims that personal troubles of the lower class are not their own creation but that of the social structures in operation in their own environment. Such structures may include institutional structures that work against a section of the society while simultaneously favoring another section. Over time, these structures have created a stratified society, in which those in control of the structures and social institutions get elevated to dominant superior and upper class positions as others remain marginalized and less favored.

Social class is not a creation of individuals but rather the functional consequence of its structures that affect people in the everyday life differently. Social class, in this conceptualization, is, thus, not achieved but ascribed through the inheritance of socio-structural patterns that favor or work against an individual. The reason why some sections of the society are suffering from poor health and education system, poverty and other woes is because of a malfunctioning on the part of the structures that are controlled by a clique of powerful and favored upper class people. The gap between different classes, in the opinion of Mills, can only be narrowed by removing the forces of alienation and creating more opportunities for those engaged in matters that affect the society (Mills 10). It is only through delimitation of forces alienation and repression various personal troubles of milieu can be made public and social class struggles can be reduced.

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Theory of the Leisure Class

The theory of leisure class, which is advanced by Thorstein, underscores the process of how social structures in society create cognominal class, which is measured by the index of lifestyle and consumer index in the modern society. According to Veblen (67), various social structures have favored the upper class who had adopted a lifestyle of consumerism. The lower and middle class are subjected to a lifestyle where leisure is not a priority. The structures created by the social system favor the upper class and work against the lower class. For example, the economic, political, educational and social structures are controlled by the upper class.
The social structures have favored a few individuals. They own the means of production and management running all the administrative and political institutions. The lower class is, thus, left to work hard in the production sectors in the society in order to earn meager wages, which can only afford them basic needs. As a result, they are left struggling to reach the level of satisfaction, whereas the upper class representatives have a lot of resources at their disposal, which enables them to indulge in expensive recreational activities (Veblen 112). They are able to meet their basic needs and go even further to adopt the culture of mass consumerism. Such lifestyle is not their own initiative but rather a consequence of forces of social structure that favors those class representatives, and simultaneously works against those who represent the middle and the lower class.

Social class can also influence status attainment. The upper class minority engaging in a culture of consumerism and in control of political, social and economic institutions acquired their status not through their achievements but through ascription (Veblen 87). It is through their social classes that they have been able to maintain their privileged positions and even negotiate for better statuses. For example, in the educational sphere the rich are able to afford better schools for their children because they can afford it. It is completely different situation with the poor whose children are likely to drop out of school before attaining college degree. This pattern is cyclical, and maintains a social system where the rich continue to dominate the poor in practically all the aspects of life because of the privileges of the class they belong to.

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Theoretical Comparisons

Both Mills and Thorstein underscore the role of social structure in determining the social class of an individual. The authors apply their scholarly knowledge to depict a stratified society with the rich dominating in all the systems and controlling the poor. Particularly, this comparison is conspicuous in the ways in which the historical social structures have created a stratified society that favors the indulgence of the upper class at the cost of the lower class.
In conclusion, social structures shape the everyday interrelations of society members differently. Those lucky minorities who control all the institutions have the advantage of attaining better social class while the others get victimized by the same structures.

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