Stratification Definition

1. In general terms, the word layering means to arrange different parts of something in parallel layers, that is, one on top of another. It can be used more specifically in areas such as biology, statistics, geology and sociology, the latter two being the best known.

2. Sociology. Differentiation of the population in groups where economic and cultural parameters are considered that name each level according to social class.

3. Geology. Arrangement of rocks in layers formed by sedimentation over millennia whose characteristics of each one vary according to the geological conditions at the time of their formation.

Etymology: from stratum, by Latin stratumwhich refers to ‘cover’, ‘bed linen’, associated with the verb sternere‘to extend’, ‘to lie’, to which the suffix -ficar, from Latin -ficāreof facere, as for ‘to do’, configures the verb to stratify; on the latter, the suffix -ción is conjugated, depending on the deverbal noun.

Grammatical category: noun fem.
in syllables: es-tra-ti-fi-ca-tion.


lilen gomez
Professor in Philosophy

The concept of social stratification refers in the Social Sciences —particularly in Sociology— to the differentiation between different groups within a given society, according to different criteria, for example, their position within the economic structure according to which production is organized in general, or within the system of political domination. The notion of social stratification can be traced in classical sociological theory under the developments of Karl Marx (1818-1883), Max Weber (1864-1920) and the functionalist current.

The Marxist approach to the division into social classes

In Marxian theory, we do not find a specific thematization of the notion of stratification; rather, the differentiation into groups in society is characterized based on their structuring into social classes. Said structuring is given by the social division of labor, that is, by the way in which the production process is organized in each historical moment. In Marx’s analysis, work is understood as human action on material resources —which is always collective—, which creates value by transforming matter in accordance with a previously determined purpose. Both the available resources and the tools necessary for their transformation constitute what Marx calls the means of production.

The unequal ownership of the means of production, consequently, determines the division of society into classes; since those who hold said property have, at the same time, the ability to order production and, with it, exercise control over those who do not have the means of production.

Under the current historical moment, in the context of the capitalist production system, the fundamental social classes are made up, on the one hand, of the bourgeoisie, owner of the means of production, and, on the other, of the proletariat, whose only possession it is his own labor force, which he is forced to sell in exchange for a salary in order to survive. In Marxian theory, in this sense, the stratification of society necessarily implies a conflict between competing social classes, since the interests of the bourgeoisie and workers are essentially antagonistic. In this way, stratification is not given by a mere classification of social groups, but is determined by relations of exploitation.

Stratification from the Weberian approach

For his part, in the analysis of social stratification, Weber not only considers the economic structure, but also a multiplicity of factors that determine the differentiation of social groups, associated with the relations of power and domination established between them.

From his perspective, the structuring of a community depends on an unequal distribution of power, namely, the probabilities that social actors have to impose their will over others, that is, to occupy a position of domination. Such probabilities depend on their economic capacity, but also on their honor or social prestige and their political power. Weber does not deny the division of society into classes, but rather interprets it as a position that individuals occupy in the market, by virtue of which they participate in a class situation. However, class positions are multiple and diverse, to the extent that they refer to the various ways in which goods and services are offered in the market (for example, rentiers make up the property-owning classes, while businessmen form part of the class). of the lucrative classes).

Together with the class position, Weber proposes the notion of class groups, formed according to the distribution of social prestige, which are organized according to styles or ways of life. Thus, it is a question of a dimension that is no longer material, but of symbolic recognition; at the same time that both overlap in the class position of the class groups.

Social stratification in functionalism

From the perspective of the functionalist sociological current, the differential ordering of individuals within a hierarchical system is given by the merit that they acquire through their actions, in relation to aspects considered significant for that social group. The stratification of society responds to the needs of the system itself in relation to the division of labor, without this implying conflict.

The position of individuals in the stratification system, then, is determined in terms of social prestige. In turn, prestige is configured by kinship relationships, based on belonging to certain families. The functionalist theory, in this sense, is linked to the postulates of liberalism, insofar as it assumes that the ordering of societies rests on the actions of individuals and the moral values ​​assigned to them.



Sembler, C. (2006). Social stratification and social classes: an analytical review of the middle sectors. ECLAC.