Concept of Social Mobility:
Mobility, very broadly, refers to movement of some kind or the other. The concept of mobility has two common referents: geographical mobility and social mobility. Geographical mobility refers to movement or change in actual physical space. Social mobility on the other hand denotes movement or change in social space, that is, movement of an individual or a group of individuals from one social position to another. A simple example will make this issue clear. When an individual, making use of an available opportunity, becomes a Section Officer from the position of an office clerk, he is said to have changed his social position from a lower to an upper one. Any such movement from one position to another, which may be upward or downward, may be termed social mobility.
Definitions of Social Mobility:
The eminent sociologist, Pitirim Sorokin has offered a comprehensive definition of social mobility with an emphasis on the transition from one social potion to another. He writes, “By social mobility is understood as any transition of an individual or social object or value- anything that has been created or modified by human activity- from one social position to another.”
While defining the concept of social mobility, Lipset, and Bendix state, “…social mobility refers to the forces by which the individuals move from one position to another in society positions, which by general consent have been given specific hierarchical value.”
They further add that in the study of social mobility, “…we analyze the movement of individuals from positions possessing a certain rank to positions either higher or lower in the system.”
The consensus that emerges from these definitions is that movement from one social position to another by an individual or a group constitutes the basis of social mobility in any society.
An additional and important insight can be gained from the definition by Lipset and Bendix. They clearly state that any positional movement is to be recognized by the ‘general consent’ of the society, in which the movement is taking place.
Putting it otherwise, one of the important preconditions in the process of social mobility is that the change in social space, position, or occupation needs to be institutionalized. This means that if the people of the society concerned accept and value the accomplishments of individuals or groups, only then is it worthy of being called social mobility.
Since every society has its own way of evaluating social positions, social mobility, to a large extent is society-specific.
Dimensions of Social Mobility:
The Veteran sociologist Max Weber, suggests that power, wealth, and prestige are the three important parameters of social stratification. Eventually, the amount of accumulated wealth, power, leisure, and the kind of lifestyle, etc. are the probable indicators of social mobility for an individual or a group.
However Sorokin, in his early writings, slightly modified Weber’s ideas by emphasizing the role of occupation in social stratification. Thus, for Sorokin, political and occupational dimensions are important in determining the process of social mobility. Occupational mobility has a very decisive role to play in determining the overall status of the people in many open societies of the world, although this has only a minor role in more close and traditions-bound societies. Social mobility may be operative in two different directions viz., horizontal direction and vertical direction. Sorokin puts it this way: “By horizontal social mobility or shifting is meant the transition of an individual or social object from one social group to another situated on the same level… By vertical social mobility is meant the relations involved in a transition of an individual (or a social object) from one social stratum to another.” Again, he divides vertical social mobility into two types: (i) ascending or social climbing or upward social mobility, and (ii) descending or social sinking or downward social mobility.
Heller too is in agreement with Sorokin’s views regarding horizontal and vertical social mobilities. She suggests that horizontal mobility, should be defined as the “…transition of an individual from one social position to another of the same rank” and vertical mobility as the “…transition of an individual from one social position to another of different rank, or the change of the same position from one rank to another.”
Taking into consideration the time dimension, social mobility may be again of two types: (i) inter-generational mobility, and (ii) intra-generational mobility or career mobility. While inter-generational mobility refers to changes in the social positions of individuals between two or more generations, intra-generational mobility or career mobility refers to the changes in the social positions of individuals within the same generation.