A new paradigm in the study of social stratification
The aim of this paper is to discuss whether a new paradigm in the study of social stratification may now be needed. In order to give a definite answer to this question, it is first necessary to understand the role of paradigms for natural and social sciences.In fact, all sciences rely on paradigms (different terms can be used, but the essence stays the same) with a view to systematizing scientific knowledge that is received or generated within a certain field. Albert Einstein was totally right when he observed that the mere collection of recorded phenomena is not enough to constitute a scientific theory; a free intervention of the human mind is necessary to make recorded knowledge of value for the development of science.In this regard, it is interesting to look at the view of Thomas Kuhn, who in his Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), suggested that the term paradigm should denote the conceptual frameworks of certain scientists or schools.
This term was to encompass scientific models, theories, concepts, knowledge, assumptions, and values.However, there is a belief that paradigms in natural sciences are different from those in social sciences. While natural sciences deal with knowledge about physical phenomena, social sciences study matters relative to the interaction of human beings in social organizations. Thus, social sciences can hardly be value-free. Usually, ruling elites use social science theories in order to justify their superiority.
However, the most effective approach to the study of society should be based on purely scientific paradigm. Therefore, it may be high time to explore the possibilities of creating a new paradigm or paradigms.At present, four competing paradigms of social stratification correspond to four basic paradigms of society organization. They are based on two major dichotomies: functional v. conflict theories of society; and critical v. uncritical views on human nature and role of social science.
Functional theories of society are based on the assumption that society is created and sustained by a broad-based consensus over norms and values. On the contrary, conflict theories of society are based on the assumption that society is created and sustained either because there is a dominant group that is able to enforce its norms and values, or because there are too many overlapping interest groups, which makes cooperation inevitable.As for the dichotomy of critical v. uncritical, critical theories hold that inequality is not inevitable, and social science should serve the cause of making social organization better and more just. Uncritical theories hold that inequality is an inevitable feature of any social organization, and social sciences should not serve any agendas.
Many scientists noted that this classification is to a certain extent arbitrary. There are also other classifications, and this mere fact clearly shows that there is no uniform approach to issues like this. In addition, some paradigms are already historical, for instance, critical-order paradigm. This is the second reason for a call for the creation of a new paradigm, together with the need for a purely scientific approach.The third reason is associated with interdisciplinary and postmodern nature of contemporary science.
Recent research can hardly be placed within the framework of existing paradigms, therefore a new paradigm may indeed be necessary.