Practice Question:  Is social mobility possible in closed systems of stratification ? Illustrate from research work. (10 Marks) (UPSC 2018)

Approach: Introduction; Define Closed system of stratification; Analyse the factors responsible for immobility in closed systems; Give examples; Conclusion.



The concept of social mobility is classically defined by Pitirim A. Sorokin. According to Sorokin, the shift of position may be undertaken by an individual or social object or value.
That is to say, anything that has been created or modified by human activity can experience social mobility. Implicit in invoking the cou6ept of social mobility is the recognition of gradation in a society. The gradation is normally done in terms of power, prestige and privileges. That is to say, a hierarchical structure then operates in such societies. This opens up the possibility of sociological investigation of whether or how an individual or a group gains or loses power, prestige and privileges in a society. In other words, along the line of hierarchy
whether one moves up or falls down signifies change of social position i.e., social mobility.



Horizontal Mobility
Horizontal social mobility means movement by individuals or groups 6om one position to another in society which does not involve a shift into a higher or lower stratum. According to Sorokin, horizontal social mobility means the transition of an individual or social object from one social group to another situated on the same level.  Since horizontal mobility does not involve a major movement up or down the hierarchical ladder, the horizontal dimension of social mobility cannot throw much light on the nature of stratification present in any society. Nevertheless, it does indicate the nature of divisions exiting in a society. Such divisions do not primarily indicate any major status differentiation in a society.

Vertical Mobility

Classically P. Sorokin defines Vertical Social Mobility as the relations involved in a transition of an individual (or a social object) fiom one social stratum to another. According to the direction of the transition there are two types of vertical social mobility: ascending and descending, or ‘social climbing’ and ‘social sinking’ respectively. Anthony Giddens refers to vertical mobility as movement up or down the socio-economic scale. According to him, those who gain in property, income or status are said to be upwardly mobile, while those who move in the opposite direction are downwardly mobile.

Intragenerational Mobility and Intergenerational Mobility

There are two ways of studying social mobility. Either, one can study individual’s own careers-how far they move up or down the social scale in the course of their working lives.
This is usually called Intragenerational moblity. Alternatively, one can analyse how far children enter the same type of occupation as their parents or grandparents. Mobility across the generation is called Intergenerational mobility




Each individual has a desire not only to have a better way of living but also wants to improve upon his social stand. In open system it is possible to achieve any status. This openness motivates people to work hard and improve upon the skills so that one can attain higher social status. 


Education not only helps an individual to acquire knowledge but is also a passport for occupational position for higher prestige. To become a doctor one has to have education in science subjects. Similarly, to appear in a competitive examination of I.A.S., one has to be at least graduate. It is only after acquiring minimum formal education that individual can aspire to occupy higher positions. 


Migration also facilitates social mobility. People migrate from one place to another either due to pull or push factors. A particular place may not have opportunities and facilities to improve upon. Hence, people are forced to migrate to other places to earn their livelihood. At new places, where they migrate, may have different openings and opportunities.


Industrial Revolution ushered in a new social system in which people are given status according to their ability and training. No importance was given to their caste, race, religion and ethnicity. Industrialization, resulted in mass production at cheaper rate. This forced the artisans out of their work. In search of jobs they migrated to industrial towns. They acquired new vocational training and got jobs in industries. With experience and training they moved up in the social ladder. In the industrial society, the statuses are achieved, whereas in the traditional society like India, the statuses are ascribed according to birth. Hence industrialization facilitates greater social mobility.


In the cities there are more people, they have formal relations. People do not know each other intimately. Urban centres are marked by anonymity. People are close to their friends and relatives only. Urban settlements provide secrecy to individual’s caste and background. Individual’s position is largely dependent upon his education, occupation and income rather than his background. If an individual has higher education, income and is engaged in occupation of higher prestige, he occupies high social status irrespective of his caste. Urbanization facilitates social mobility by removing those factors which hinder social mobility.


The enactment of new laws can also facilitate social mobility. When Zamindari Abolition Act was passed, most of the tenant cultivators became owner cultivators which indicates improvement in their status i.e. from tenants to owner cultivators. Similarly, the legal provision for reservation of jobs and promotion for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes has also helped in social mobility.


With education and greater exposure to mass media of communication as well as greater contacts have made people aware about their rights. The political parties also educate the people about their rights. To achieve their rights people unite and force the authority in power to accept their demands. These persons may use agitations, strikes etc. as methods of attaining the desired goals.


The process of modernization involves use of scientific knowledge and modern technology. It also refers to rationality and secular way of life. With the improvement in technology, people engaged in occupations of low prestige like scavengers discard their traditional occupations and take up occupations which are not dirty and have no polluting effects. In this way, they change their position upward. Similarly, the level of development of a country also facilitates or hinders social mobility. The less developed and traditional societies continue with old system of stratification and with accretive statuses.



  • M.N. Srinivas formulated and contributed immensely to the concept of Sanskritization as a process of mobility in caste. He refers to Sanskritization as a “process by which a now
    Hindu caste or tribal or other groups, changes its customs, ritual ideology and way of life in direction of a high and frequently ‘twice born’ castes. Sanskritization has been prevalent throughout history and has assumed various forms. It has been used as mechanism to bridge the gap between secular and ritual rank. Whenever a caste achieved secular power it tried to legitimise its status by acquiring traditional symbols of high castes by adopting their customs, rituals.
  • Srinivas defines “Westernization as the changes brought about it Indian society and culture as result of over 150 years of British rule, the term subsuming changes occurring at different levels technology, institutions, ideology and values”.  Westernization is therefore a vast, multidimensional and a complex process which impinged upon various domains through a member of institutions and hence had a significant bearing on caste mobility. It not only altered the existing set up but also opened fresh avenues and doors for social mobility.
  • The term “secularization” implies that what was previously regarded as religious ceases to be such and it also implies a process of differentiation in the various aspects of society,
    economy, polity, laws and morality becoming increasingly discrete in relation to each other. In the traditional set up the principle of purity and pollution was the prime determinant of the status, ranking, occupation and the general lifestyle. With increasing emphasis on rationality and education the notion of purity pollution weakened and today it is common the see people of different castes work together in factories or rub shoulders against each other in buses and trains and even dine together in restaurants. Together with this, the manner of dress in the modem society serves to blue caste distinctions. The new law based on universalism and the constitutional recognition of equality for all citizens and the declaration of India as a secular state has served to abolish discrimination based on caste.



Social mobility is the movement of individuals, families, households, or other categories of people within or between social strata in a society. It is a change in social status relative to one’s current social location within a given society. This movement occurs between layers or tiers in an open system of social stratification. Open stratification systems are those in which at least some value is given to achieved status characteristics in a society. The movement can be in a downward or upward direction. Markers for social mobility such as education and class, are used to predict, discuss, and learn more about an individual or a group’s mobility in society.



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