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In traditional societies the social position of an individual is generally ascribed at birth in accordance with law, custom or inherited status. Such systems are characterised by very little social mobility and are sometimes referred to as ‘closed' societies because the life prospects of each person are fixed or predetermined. Under the process of industrialisation traditional systems of stratification gave way to a more open system that was characterised by competition and a higher degree of social mobility. Customary divisions and traditional distinctions were replaced by distinctions based on social class. Class position is largely determined by an individual's place within the economic system and is to some extent achieved.
Sociologists within the functionalist tradition claim that in modern industrial societies, class origins are irrelevant in determining where an individual is placed in the economic system.
They say that a meritocracy exists in which access to higher status positions in society is based on achievement and ability. This view has been challenged by sociologists in the Marxist and Weberian traditions who argue that social class background does have a major influence on the way modern industrial societies are stratified.
a) What is understand by the term social mobility?
b) Describe with the use of examples the difference between an ascribed status and an achieved status.
c) Explain two ways in which an individual might achieve a higher position in society.
d) Describe the functionalists' views on social stratification in society.
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