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Chapter 7 SITUATIONAL STRATIFICATION ARE RECEIVED SOCIOLOGICAL THEORIES capable of grasping the realities of contemporary stratification? We think in terms of a structured hierarchy of inequality. A prominent imagery is Bourdieu’s (1984) field of economic power and a hierarchy of cultural tastes internalized in individuals , with these two hierarchies mutually reproducing one another. The image helps explain the frustrations of reformers attacking inequality by attempting to change educational attainment. Empirical researchers report on inequalities in income and wealth, education and occupation, as changing slices of a pie, and as distributional shares for races, ethnicities, genders, and ages. We see an abstract scaffolding of hierarchy manifested in a shell of objective-looking quantitative data. Does this image of fixed, objective hierarchy come to grips with the micro-situational realities of lived experience? The distribution of income and wealth in the United States has become increasingly unequal since 1970 (Morris and Western 1999). Yet observe a typical scene in an expensive American restaurant, where the wealthy go to spend their money: waiters greet customers informally, introducing themselves by name and assuming the manners of an equal inviting a guest into their home; they interrupt the customers to announce menu specials and advise what they should order. As Goffmanian ritual, it is the waiters who command attention for their performance while the customers are constrained to act as polite audience. Other examples abound: Celebrities of the entertainment world appear on ceremonial occasions in deliberately casual attire, unshaven or in torn clothes; far from presenting a demeanor giving ritual honor to the occasion, they adopt a style of self-presentation that would have associated a generation earlier with laborers or beggars. The demeanor style, widely adopted among youth and others when occasions allow (e.g., “casual Fridays” at work), constitutes a historically unprecedented form of anti-status or reverse snobbery. High-ranking government officials, corporation executives, and entertainment celebrities are targets of public scandals delving into their sexual lives, employment of housekeepers, use of intoxicants, and even their efforts at privacy ; social eminence, far from providing immunity for petty derelictions , opens up the high ranking to attacks by lower-ranking functionaries. A muscular black youth, wearing baggy pants and hat SITUATIONAL STRATIFICATION 259 turned backward and carrying a boom box loudly playing angryvoiced rap music, dominates the sidewalk space of a public shopping area while middle-class whites palpably shrink back in deference. In public meetings, when women and ethnic minorities take the role of spokespersons and denounce social discrimination against their groups, white men of the higher social classes sit in embarrassed silence or hurriedly join in a chorus of support; in public opinion-expressing and policy-making settings, it is the voice of the underdog that carries moral authority. How are we to conceptualize these kinds of events? The examples given are micro-evidence; my contention is that they characterize the flow of everyday life in sharp contrast to the ideal type of a macrohierarchy . The hierarchic image dominates our theories, as well as our folk concepts for talking about stratification; indeed, the rhetorical tactics of taking the morally superior stance of the underdog depends upon asserting the existence of a macro-hierarchy while tacitly assuming underdog dominance in the immediate speech situation. Conflicts over the issue of so-called “political correctness,” which might be called authoritative imposition of special consideration for the underdog , hinge upon this unrecognized disjunction between micro and macro. In social science, we generally accord the status of objective reality to statistics (e.g., the distribution of income, occupations, education ), yet ethnographic observations are richer and more immediate empirical data. Our trouble is that ethnographies are piecemeal; we have yet to survey situations widely through systematic sampling, so that it could be argued with confidence what is the general distribution of the experiences of everyday life across an entire society. My argument is that micro-situational data has conceptual priority. This is not to say that macro-data mean nothing; but amassing statistics and survey data does not convey an accurate picture of social reality unless it is interpreted in the context of its micro-situational grounding. Micro-situational encounters are the ground zero of all social action and all sociological evidence. Nothing has reality unless it is manifested in a situation somewhere. Macro-social structures can be real, provided that they are patterned aggregates that hold across micro-situations , or networks of repeated connections from one micro-situation to another (thereby comprising, for instance, a formal...


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