Reading Guide to: Davis, K and Moore, W 'Some Principles of Stratification', in Bendix, R and Lipset, S (eds) (1967) Class, Status and Power, 2nd edition, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Stratification is universal, so it must be universally necessary. There seems to be a roughly uniform distribution of prestige, comparatively, between different positions, but we can also isolate some variables. We can then grasp both universal and the variable -- although this paper is mostly about universal factors. It is also about positions rather than individuals, so no account is taken of social mobility [a footnote admits that this is 'dogmatic'].

A stratification system develops because we need to motivate, and to distribute rewards, to motivate achievement and performance. There is also a continual need to absorb new personnel. Some positions are 'more agreeable... some require special talents or training and some... [are]... functionally more important' (page 48). The degree of diligence required to perform in them conscientiously ought to vary according to their functional importance. These needs produce a system of rewards and distributions, a stratification system, in other words.

Rewards include 'sustenance and comfort; human diversion; self-respect and ego expansion'. Rewards can be dispensed differentially in different positions, as rights or perquisites, as built-in or just associated. Differential rewards can be institutionalised as system of inequality -- 'Social inequality is thus an unconsciously evolved device by which societies insure that the most important positions are conscientiously filled by the most qualified persons' (48). The amount and type of inequality can vary, though.

The rank order of positions varies according to:

(a) Their functional importance. This is not a basis for fine ranking, but the most important positions must be filled. If they are easily filled, they will attract low rewards even if they are important, however: thus functional importance is a necessary but not sufficient cause of high rank (48).

(b) The requirement for the greatest training or talent. Skills can be acquired from training or can be inherent. Scarcity can arise in both types. However, training often turns out to be more variable -- thus medicine is within the grasp of most of the population, but the training is so long, 'burdensome and expensive', that no one would do it unless 'the reward was commensurate with the sacrifice'.

A number of social factors affect both functional importance and the scarcity of personnel in different societies:

(a) Religion, which leads to unity, and therefore justifies high rewards for religious personnel, who also gain status from their contact with 'the sacred'. However, the technical competence required is low, and there is usually no scarcity, leading to considerable competition among trained professionals. [However, membership can be tightly-controlled, Davis and Moore tell us -- some artificial constraints on the functional working of the stratification system, no doubt, by actually quite an important factor affecting a good deal of 'closure' in stratification terms?]. Problems also arise with secularisation, and there can even be possible contradictions between the supernatural and the earthly rewards [I'll say!]. Religious factors were most powerful in feudal societies where there were economic surpluses, and an 'unlettered' population [more hints of a definitely political dimension].

(b) The requirements of government, especially for laws. Important functions here include what Weber calls the state monopoly of force. Stratification is inherent in any system of authority, but again there are limits: rulers are few in number [so there are few opportunities?]; it is difficult to reconcile personal and group interests; office-holders are heavily dependent upon others, such as those with technical expertise (50).

(c) The effects of wealth, property, or labour [considered here as equal sources of income -- which is dead ideological for marxists, of course]. The economic system offers a convenient way for 'society' to regulate access to important positions, via these sources of income. Income is not a cause of subsequent prestige, therefore, but a result of the functional importance and scarcity of positions [it should be, in a fully functional society, but what of actual incomes?]. Wealth is still the major source of power and prestige, especially in the form of capital rather than consumer goods [but why should this be?]: wealth is a reward for the adequate management of income (51) [very conservative -- wealth simply arises from careful savings -- a 'primitive accumulation thesis']. However, there can arise in modern societies 'a phenomenon of pure ownership, and reward for pure ownership' (51). This is not justifiable in terms of functional importance or scarcity: it is a form of 'functionless ownership' which is open to social criticism, and which must be contrasted to 'active ownership', which is 'indispensable' (51) [This is the old bourgeois disdain for the inherited and unearned wealth of aristocrats? It offers a useful  but limited form of social criticism for marxists]. Especially important is the ownership of rights over the labour of others [indeed -- but this needs to be explained, of course, not just noted] and it is possible that ownership can lead to an unfair advantage to parties to a contract [yes, after that marvellously abstract liberal 30 seconds of initial contact when buyer meets seller as equals].

(d) The increasing importance of technical knowledge, defined as developing the most efficient means to single goals [uncritical Weber again?]. This is the easiest factor of all to see displayed the notion of functional importance and scarcity, because it requires training. However, technical knowledge has never been very effective when it comes to social integration, so the technical level must always be subordinate to other levels. The acquisition of technical knowledge can never be simply purchased [so the wealthy cannot pass on technical expertise], but opportunities to acquire it can. Access can also be restricted, leading to 'artificial scarcity' [that important but undiscussed notion of closure again], and it is possible that an overexpansion can produce unemployment even in the learned professions. Constant adjustments are therefore required. Efficiency of training is affected by the specific methods of recruitment, which is important in a society in competition with others (51) [this leads to the issue of how best to organise social mobility and a meritocratic education system, of course]. Variations are also introduced according to the degree of specialisation required. However, there never will be a technocracy, since technical knowledge is limited as a basis for performing purely social functions (51).

We have a basis here to develop types of stratified systems according to the modes of variation of the factors:

(a) The degree of specialisation affects the degree of ranking and the bases of selection

(b)The nature of functional emphasis varies -- in feudal conservative societies, it might be based in religion, whereas open societies tend to produce the rise of technical knowledge

(c) The magnitude of distance between positions

(d) The degree of opportunity and social mobility. Large amounts of both can co-exist with large differences in income [it might also be necessary politically in order to persuade the population to acquiesce in substantial inequalities?]

(e) The degree of 'stratum solidarity' able to preserve the interests of members [or the closure strategies available to different groups, in Parkin's terms].

There are also important variations in external conditions:

(a) At the level of cultural development

(b) In terms of relations with other societies, which may be, for example competitive, conflictual, or based on trade relations

(c) Size, which can affect the degree of specialisation which is possible.

Finally, composite types are likely to be more common than societies featuring single simple classifications, as in caste-, or class-based societies [ bit of a weasel here?].

[So there you have it, Davis and Moore have developed a model at two levels. They have sketched out the general principles, which are relentlessly functionalist, but they have not ignored empirical variations, which might prevent the full development of functional forms. We have to be careful, as a result, not to dismiss functionalist analysis as obviously and simply conservative or apologetic: there is a recognition of empirical complexity. However, it seems clear that functional organisation is seen as the underlying tendency in systems of stratification, and there is no real account of complexity or contradiction as necessary as in rival theories].

 up to main page