Social Stratification can be defined as “a particular form of social inequality. It refers to the presence of social groups which are ranked above the other, usually in terms of the amount of power prestige and wealth their member posses.
Those who belong to a particular group or stratum will have some awareness of common interest and a common identity.”(Haralombos, Holborn and Herald 1990, pg 24). In the Caribbean, studies have been conducted to show that the stratification of the Caribbean today is reflective of the structures of Colonialism, Plantation Slavery and Indenturship, which was based on the economic criteria of wealth through ownership and access of society’s resources. Although the fight for emancipation of these countries brought independence, the past continues to shadow on the societal structure of today.
To effectively conduct these studies two of the more populated countries were used namely Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica which reflected the gradual change which took place after emancipation. Post emancipation saw a change in the stratification system. One not completely based on Slavery or Intendurship but assimilation, producing a system of inequality based on class, race status hierarchy and power. These determinants were now used to position people into new categorize.
In a study conducted in Jamaica after World War II, it was found out that there was rise of a new stratification system one of class, race and status. In other words, those person who had the access to society’s resources were above the ones who had to work to get there, who were usually the one’s placed in minority groups or the lower strata. Barrow and Reddock stated “The modernization of the economy which was altered produced a system of the post emancipation plantation society created a modern enclave within the traditional society and forged the growth of new social classes and a modified stratification period.” Pg191.
Movement to the upper stratum was based on the distinction of race color and ownership of property. According to M. G Smith the period following the emancipation of slaves, the plantation economy had produced three distinct levels of stratification. “The upper stratum of whites , who owned the economy’s resources, a brown middle stratum of those who were in professional, technical jobs and the lower stratum made up of poor black ex- slaves”. In addition to this, studies conducted in the Jamaica reflected that in the levels of hierarchy, persons were grouped according to their skin color. It was also found out that there was limited mobility within the strata not until after the industrial revolution where there was vertical mobility between occupations. The blacks were gradually moving from the lower strata into the middle strata.
M.G Smith (1965) noted that “Industrialization resulted in the widening of the economy thus increasing job creation and thus the emergence of new social classes.”(Rotham D 1993) There was also movement of the blacks in terms of intergenerational mobility. Like Smith, Derek Gordon noticed the increase in social mobility and but he pointed out that person with low economic backgrounds were not able or were unfairly chanced to achieved social mobility and ending at the top of the middle strata.
Lloyd Braithwaite in his studies of Trinidad found out the stratification system was much like to that of the caste system which determined one’s status. Also, again the society is still defined by race and ethnicity. “Members of the upper social group tend to look upon the upward mobile individual belonging to an ethnic group in terms of his ethnic similarity or dissimilarity to the white group, viewing the mass of the ethnic group as exceptions” Lloyd Braithwaite pg47. In this case Syrians, Asian and Chinese ethnicities maintained their status because they were closely to skin color and hair texture to the upper class ‘whites’ These groups maintained a closed system, except for intermarriage with the white grouping. However the blacks remained as the substandard groups’ and the only mobility was through the adaptation of the white values. Adopting the white values granted them access to education and an enhancement of the social status.
“The emancipation of the slaves in 1838 was followed by an increasing emphasis on achievement values” Braithwaite explained. Studies in Trinidad also revealed that the stratification patterns which were developed during the colonial period, where the political structure was made up with mainly ‘white’ Europeans who made political decisions and who determined who had access to what resources, has changed and now are determined by a changing class structure. In a study thirty years after Braithwaite’s explanation that the blacks had to adopt white values as to break into the system to improve their ranking Selwyn Ryan declares that Braithwaite’s system of stratification had disappeared since there was a rise by the black population and a political system of the black power known as the People’s National Movement.
He noted that this was brought about by the development of the education system, in which people of all cultures had access to, and this afforded persons the skills to achieve their required status and to obtain positions within the society. What now exist says Ryan is a now “rapidly expanding meritocracy system and not the caste like system.” In conclusion, it is evident that the structures built in the past are still determinants of inequality in the Caribbean today.
These being developed as a yard stick in the past is still being used to categorize or class people into the upper, lower or middle stratum in today’s society. However, the past systems of stratification were those of closed ones, and did not allow for any form of mobility within the stratum. Based on the evidence in these empirical studies conducted in the Caribbean it is noticeable that this now has changed. Status; whether achieved or ascribed, race, power prestige, wealth and life chances are now used to determine one’s position in society. Although Caribbean societies are still based on these groupings of the ‘whites’ in the upper white stratum, a brown middle stratum of professional and lower black stratum, they have seen the advancements of the blacks into the middle stratum, due the access of resources through mediums such as education. Therefore the stratification system developed in the pre emancipation has evolved and continues to change in the Caribbean today.
Caribbean Stratification. Cape Sociology. www.capesociology.org/…bbean-stratification- 38.html
Gidden, A.2001. Class Statification and inequality. In Sociology(4th edition) Reprint with the assistant of Karren Birdsall. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, pp 282-283.
Llyod Braithwaite 1975 Social Stratification in Trinidad. A Preliminary Analysis. First published in Social and Economic Studies, Vol. 2, NOS. 2 and 3, October, 1953, Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of the West Indies, Jamaica.
Michael Haralambos, Martin Horlborn and Robin Herald. 1990. Sociology. Themes and Perspectives. 3rd Edition Unwin Hyman Ltd.
Rothham,D 1993. Important Changes in the Jamaican Labour Force Affecting the Growth of a Black Middle Class. (Paper presented at the 88th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, Miami, Florida – August 26th, 1993) Kingston Jamaica: The University of the WestIndies.
Christine Barrow, Rhodda Reddock, The nature of Social Classes. Caribbean Sociology: Introductory readings. Section 4. Illustrated EditionIan Randle, 2001.