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Challenging the Gospel of Individualism: An Exercise in Social Stratification
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equal opportunity
social class

How to Cite

Andrews, Christopher. 2013. “Challenging the Gospel of Individualism: An Exercise in Social Stratification”. TRAILS: Teaching Resources and Innovations Library for Sociology, March. Washington DC: American Sociological Association.


Social stratification is a difficult topic to teach to undergraduate students, especially given the popular American ethic of individualism. This paper describes an activity designed to simulate key aspects of social stratification, including the nature and impact of social structure. Discussion following the game often highlights not only the material...

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Subject Area(s):
Resource Type(s):
Class Activity
Class Level(s):
Any Level
Class Size(s):

Usage Notes

For those teaching an introductory course in sociology, this activity is best done prior to covering the chapter on inequality when students have not yet been exposed to sociological explanations of inequality. Likewise, those teaching an intermediate or advanced course on social inequality or stratification should consider doing this exercise early in...

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Learning Goals and Assessments

Learning Goal(s):

  1. That structural – not just individual – factors play a major role in shaping one’s life chances.The arbitrariness of one’s family background or ‘class of origin’ and the powerful influence it has on social mobility.
  2. How attitudes towards systems of economic distribution reflect one’s relative position and associated economic interest (i.e., class-based politics or Weberian ‘class action’).That class-based outcomes are probabilistic rather than deterministic.
  3. The role of social networks in shaping inequality (e.g., proximity, social ties).How specific attitudes and behaviors associated with the poor (i.e., the ‘culture of poverty’) reflect structural factors rather than individual traits.

Goal Assessment(s):

  1. For those seeking to examine a change in attitude using quantitative methods, one could use a pre-/post-test survey to highlight how students’ own attitudes towards individualism and inequality change following the survey.
  2. Those favoring a discussion-based class might simply ask, "what does this exercise suggest?" or "what aspect of society do you think the desks represent?", allowing students to offer their own interpretations and insights.
  3. More advanced assessments might ask students to focus on a particular aspect of the exercise (e.g. social networks, class action, social mobility) and then locate and summarize existing research on the subject.

When using resources from TRAILS, please include a clear and legible citation.

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