13th July: The Economic Underclass

Reading Guide
Insight Meeting 5, 2013
“The Underclass in Society”

A. Comprehension

  1. Read Chapter 9, Stratification and Class, of Sociology 5e (Giddens 2006). As you read the text, use the following questions to guide your understanding of the chapter’s content.
    1. What attributes do all socially stratified systems have in common?
    2. In what way does social stratification in industrial and post-industrial social systems take the shape of a teardrop?
    3. Why did slavery, which we now condemn as an immoral human rights violation, eventually break down?
    4. Give examples of societies—Western and Eastern—that were organised along caste lines. Describe how they operated.
    5. Contrast feudalism and the caste system in Europe and Japan.
    6. There are four forms of stratification: the systems of slavery, caste, estates and class. In what four ways do class systems differ from the other three?
    7. Explain why it can be said that the globalisation of economic activity is a driving force in “caste giving way to class”
    8. Contrast the different conceptualisations of “class” that Marx, Weber and Wright used as the premises of their writings.
    9. Explain the process of “pauperisation” according to Marx. How was this process a phenomenon that came only with industrialisation, if modern industrialisation was undoubtedly in effect a large stimulus of wealth creation?
    10. Describe the major classes according to Wright, indicating the relationships they have with Wright’s three dimensions of control.
    11. Cite how Wright differentiates class locations within the population of the non-capitalist class.
    12. There are two types of class schemes: descriptive and relational. Distinguish the reasoning behind the two and give an example of each of the two types.
    13. Why do social scientists use occupation extensively as a (descriptive) indicator of social class; that is, why does the literature paradigm construct (descriptive) class schemes based on occupational structure?
    14. State and explain some of the limitations of Goldthorpe’s  “neo-Weberian” occupational class scheme.
    15. What are some common disadvantages faced by the underclass?
    16. How do you distinguish the terms “social exclusion” and “underclass”?
  2. Watch a compelling TED talk by Richard Wilkinson.[†] What is his main thesis about the social and healthcare implications of inequality? State one or two memorable statistics that stood out to you.

B. Applicative Commentary

You are encouraged to, in the process of preparing for the discussion:

  • apply theoretical models/perspectives in your discourse;
  • cite precise statistics and expert opinions and reasonings; and
  • situate your discourse in a variety of social and cultural contexts. Discuss these questions as a whole, at the meeting.
  1. Is poverty relative, absolute or both?
  2. Is social class, as Pakulski and Walters argue, dead?
  3. Evaluate Murray’s  “culture of poverty” thesis. In our local context, would welfarism empower or disempower?
  1. Contrary to Marxist theory, the working class has shrunk. Why?
  2. The embourgeoisement thesis: is is correct? If yes, why? If no, why not?
  3. Is migrant/minority status correlated with “social exclusion”?
  4. Which is more inexcusable, if any: classism or racism? Why?
  5. Why is downward mobility less common than upward mobility?
  6. Is there anything inherently bad about inequality?Draw perspectives from behavioural economics.
  1. What reasons, moral or otherwise, could inform progressive taxation?
  2. Will the Kuznets Curve be applicable to the 21st century rise of Asia?
  3. Is modern India a class or caste-based society?
  4. Examine the view that meritocracy has deepened inequality in Singapore.
  5. What is the nature of class relations in Singapore?
    1. Is Singapore a “middle-class society”?
    2. Identify the underclass and suggest solutions. (Consider a comparative analysis concerning other societies.)
  1. Construct a Bourdieuian class scheme in the Singapore context.
  2. “In Singapore, ‘welfare’ is a taboo, a dirty word.” Discuss with reference to the past, the present and the future.
  1. Draw a clever sociopolitical comic on something you’ve learnt.

 More Reading Materials about Economic stratification

[†] “Richard Wilkinson: How economic inequality harms societies.”

Accessible at http://www.ted.com/talks/richard_wilkinson.html.


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