The concept of inequality lies at the root of some of the theoretical formulations in the society. It constitutes the basic component of the phenomenon of stratification in the society. Social stratification refers to the division of people into different categories. These categories may simply reflect differences between people grouped into them. The implicit assumption here is that the difference between the categories is important however no weightage is given to the difference between them. The categories are not assigned unequal statuses or unequal rewards. The different categories of people are treated alike and one is not treated as more significant than the other. This is the concept of difference in social categories. When unequal statuses and rewards are attached to social categories and these are ranked on the basis of one or more defining factors, they are treated as unequal.
Rousseau has explained that equality prevailed so long as people remained content with their way of life -one in which they wore clothes of animal hides ,adorned their bodies with feathers and shells and confined themselves to the activities that each person could perform individually. He identified two kinds of inequality among people - natural or physical inequality referring to the difference of age,health,bodily strength and mental abilities and secondly moral or political inequality referring to differences in privileges that are established or authorized by the consent of people themselves e.g. power ,honor. Tocqueville accepted that inequality imposed by nature on people was difficult to get rid of and that equality remained a cherished ideal. He distinguished between aristocratic society which was characterished by rigid hierarchy of estates or castes and democratic society which was characterized by mobility of individuals across classes. Society in Europe prior to 19th century was largely aristocratic ; society in America in the first half of the 19th century was democratic in character.Tocqueville contrast between aristocractic and democratic societies stretched beyond their political organization to incorporate social distinctions,religious experiences and aesthetic sensibilities.However he agreed that western civilization did in principle recognize equality even though its own institutions were hierarchical. Later Beteille developed Tocqueville’s idea that all systems are mixed and that in real situations pure hierarchy or equality does not exist. What exists is moving equilibrium between incompatible and ever varying forces. He proposed a distinction between harmonic system in which society is divided into groups that are hierarchically placed and the ordering is considered as appropriate and disharmonic systems in which there is no consistency between the order in which groups are arranged and the natural scheme of things - there is discrepancy between the existential and normative orders. He explained the disharmonic system in terms of terms of one that upholds equality as an ideal but practices inequality in.