Introductory courses on stratification, at both the undergraduate and graduate level, typically include a discussion of the classic correspondence between Kingsley Davis & Wilbert Moore and Melvin Tumin that took place over the pages of ASR between 1945 and 1953. I was originally exposed to this theoretical debate, which may well be one of the most famous in the history of sociology, in an Introduction to Sociology class during my freshman year in college. I distinctly remember the underlying subtext demarcating Tumin’s conflictual arguments as superior to the functionalist approach of his contemporary peers. Structural-functionalism was dead to us before we even realized what it was.
Several years later I came across the same correspondence during a graduate seminar on stratification here at UT. The second time was only slightly different, as this time I read not only the two original articles but also Davis’ response to Tumin. This happened by pure coincidence – unintended by me or the professor who taught the seminar – as Davis’ response simply followed Tumin’s seminal paper in the very same issue of ASR. Intrigued by the continuing correspondence I went on reading the extra few pages, only a couple of mouse clicks away on JSTOR.
In any case, the slight difference of reading the response to the response transformed it, at least for me, from an almost “evolutionary” sequence of theories to a living, breathing, and contested correspondence. I have to admit, I found Davis’ response to be quite dull – except for one major argument. According to Davis, the disagreement with Tumin stems from a misinterpretation (or an alternative definition) of the concept of stratification. While Davis & Moore’s original article focuses on the question of stratification of social positions, Tumin’s article focuses on the stratification of individuals in society. Read More