Study Questions: Chapter 9
1. What was Karl Marx’s theory of the means of production?
Answer: Class, as Marx described it, was relational, in that it reflected a relationship to what he called the means of production—the resources needed to produce goods (and hence, wealth). For Marx, there were only two possible relationships to the means of production: either you owned them or you worked for those who did. In pre-industrial Europe, the owners were called aristocrats and the workers, peasants. Marx called the owners of capital in industrial-era Europe capitalists; he referred to the members of this class collectively as the bourgeoisie. The class of workers, which succeeded the peasant class of the industrial era, made up the proletariat. (pp. 218–219)
2. What are the differences among dominant, counter, and liberal ideologies?
Answer: A dominant ideology is the set of beliefs put forward by, and generally supportive of, society’s dominant culture and/or classes. A counter ideology is one that offers a critique of the dominant ideology, challenging its justice and its universal applicability to society. Liberal ideology is a dominant ideology that views the individual as a more or less independent player on the sociological scene. It reflects a belief in social mobility—that is, the ability of individuals to move (generally upward) from one class, or stratum, to another—and minimizes criticism of social inequality. (pp. 225–228)
3. What does class reductionism mean and when does it occur?
Answer: Class reductionism occurs when a sociologist studying a situation attributes all forms of oppression to class, ignoring or downplaying the impact of such factors as colonialism, “race,” ethnicity, gender, age, and sexual orientation. Social scientists in the former Soviet Union were often guilty of class reductionism when they justified the Russian oppression of Siberia’s indigenous peoples in the name of class revolution against the indigenous bourgeoisie, when in fact, in the pre-industrial world in which these peoples lived, there was no bourgeoisie. (p. 229)
4. What is social stratification?
Answer: When we talk about social stratification, we’re borrowing a geological term to describe society as though it were divided into a series of layers. In geology, a stratum is a single level or layer of rock made up of tiny particles deposited together; if you look at a cross-section of sedimentary rock, you will be able to see the different strata and note the differences. In sociology, a stratum is a level or class to which people belong depending on their social status, education, or income. It’s usually each of a number of equal groups into which a population has been divided for comparison. (p. 232)
5. How have children's sports and activities become professionalized?
Answer: Over the last 20 years, the costs associated with raising a potential professional hockey player have risen astronomically. Beyond the price tag for the latest equipment and league fees, a player who shows skill enough to play for a rep or select team will incur travel costs and increased rink fees (both for practices and for games). Players in the elite Greater Toronto Hockey League pay between $500 and $1,600 just in annual dues. The rise in costs is a feature of the professionalization of elite minor hockey, which now depends more on professional coaches and trainers than on parents and volunteers. This is only one example. (p. 177)
6. What is the difference between class and caste?
Answer: Class, as Marx described it reflected a relationship to what he called the means of production—the resources needed to produce goods (and hence, wealth). For Marx, there were only two possible relationships to the means of production: either you owned them or you worked for those who did. Castes (or varnas), on the other hand, are ranked classes that people are born into. Each caste is associated with certain occupations, dharmas (duties in life), rights to foods, colours of clothing (varna means “colour”), religious practices, and imputed personal qualities. (pp. 217, 230)
7. What is one example of blaming the victim in the context of poverty or unemployment?
Answer: The argument will run something like this: “People receiving employment insurance are on welfare because they fail to exercise a strong work ethic, not because they come from poor families with the odds of success stacked against them.” (pp. 227–228)
8. How is victim blaming linked to ideology?
Answer: The American dream—the belief that anyone can “make it” if he or she is willing to work really hard for it—reflects liberal ideology. Failure to achieve the American dream (we might call this scenario the “American nightmare” of poverty) is likewise placed solely on the back of the individual. American psychologist William Ryan referred to this as blaming the victim. (p. 227)