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Social Stratification and the Body: Gender, Race, and Class

Authors


Correspondence address: Katherine Mason, Sociology & Gerontology, Miami University, Oxford, OH 45056, USA. E-mail: masonk@kenyon.edu

Abstract

This article introduces the study of social stratification and the body in sociology. Two major fields of social inequality, race and sex, are characterized by visible, physical markers (such as skin tone or body shape) that people use to attribute meaning to the bodies of those around them. Class, on the other hand, offers far subtler bodily clues to the casual observer. Drawing on studies of racialized and sexed bodies, this article derives two principles for studying bodies, class, and social stratification more broadly. First, the relationship between bodies and inequality is bidirectional and co-constitutive: while beliefs about the meanings of bodily difference are used to legitimate social inequality, preexisting inequalities also shape the appearance, health, and capabilities of the body. Second, the mechanism by which bodily difference is used to justify inequality is the ideology of self-control: claims about the bodies of marginalized groups tend to frame them as reflecting a lack of self-discipline, thereby “proving” their moral or evolutionary unfitness for power. The article ends by identifying emerging areas of study that promise to advance the study of embodied stratification and by highlighting the continuing centrality of intersectisonal theories of difference and inequality in embodiment research.

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