Social stratification and other forms of social differentiation
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Social Stratification and Other Forms of Social Differentiation . social stratification. the unequal distribution of goods and services, rights and obligations, power and prestige all attributes of positions in society, not attributes of individuals universality of stratification.

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Social Stratification and Other Forms of Social Differentiation

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Social Stratification and Other Forms of Social Differentiation

social stratification

  • the unequal distribution of goods and services, rights and obligations, power and prestige

  • all attributes of positions in society, not attributes of individuals

  • universality of stratification


  • status - ascribed & achieved

  • ascribed status - social positions that people hold by virtue of birth

  • achieved status - social positions attained as a result of individual action

  • shift from kin based societies to modern society involves growth in importance of achieved status

Roles, Stereotypes, Stratification

  • Roles -- tasks & activities that a culture assigns to people

  • Stereotypes -- oversimplified strongly held ideas about the characteristics of people

  • Stratification -- unequal distribution of rewards (socially valued resources, power, prestige, personal freedom) between people reflecting their position in the social hierarchy

Stratified Society

  • stratification means

    • there are significant breaks in the distribution of goods services, rights, obligations, power prestige

    • as a result of which are formed collectivities or groups we call strata


  • egalitarian societies

  • rank societies

  • Class/caste societies

Egalitarian Societies

  • no social groups having greater access to economic resources, power, or prestige

  • usually foragers

  • Morton Fried - "there are as many positions of prestige in any age-sex grade as there are people capable of filling them“

  • differences in prestige not related to economic differences - reciprocity; hunter & ability & sharing of catch

  • the culture works to separate the status achieved from actual possession of wealth

Rank Societies

  • do not have unequal access to economic resources or to power, but they do contain social groups having unequal access to prestige

  • generally practice agriculture & herding

  • unequal access to prestige often reflected in position of chief to which only some members of a specified group in the society can succeed

  • position of chief partly hereditary, treated with deference

Kwakiutl & the potlatch - the drive for prestige

  • Kwakiutl chiefs never content with status & prestige, always insecure

  • claims to hereditary position fragile

  • make claims to family titles (totem poles) but others can claim descent lines too

  • justify position as chief - the potlatch

  • return potlatches, rival feasts

  • ceaseless flow of prestige & valuables moving in opposite directions

The Potlatch and Chiefly Rank

  • potlatch not the result of maniacal whims of megalomaniac chiefs in the quest for prestige

  • status rivalry through competitive feasts of the potlatch

  • assures the production & redistribution of wealth among peoples who have not fully acquired a ruling class

Versus Egalitarian Societies

  • in egalitarian societies competitive displays & conspicuous consumption by individuals disappears

  • anyone foolish enough to boast how great he/she is gets accused of witchcraft

  • reciprocity predominates, not redistribution

    • remember “Eating XMAS in the Kalahari”

class societies

  • Unequal access to all 3 advantages, economic resources, power, prestige

  • Open & closed class systems

    • the extent to which mobility occurs allowing people to pass through inequalities

  • Closed system

    • No mobility

    • tend to persist across generations

  • Open system

    • ease of social mobility permitted

caste, slavery, and class systems

  • caste systems

    • closed, hereditary systems of stratification often dictated by religion

    • hierarchical social status is ascribed at birth, people locked into their parents social position

    • legal & religious sanctions, occupation, commensality applied against people who seek to cross them

  • apartheid - caste like system, legally maintained hierarchy based on skin color (the color bar)

caste, slavery, and class systems

  • slavery – closed class system

    • people treated as property

    • the most extreme & coercive form of legalized inequality

Open Class System

  • facilitates mobility

  • individual achievement & personal merit determining social rank

  • hierarchical social status is achieved on the basis of people's efforts

  • ascribed status (family background, ethnicity, gender, religion, skin color) less important

  • blurred class lines & wide range of status positions

Gender and Social Stratification

Gender and Anthropology

  • interest in hierarchical relations between men and women has been a feature of anthropology since its earliest days

  • 19th century evolutionists and their explanations for the rise of culture

  • promiscuous horde gives way to socially organized marriage and kinship, for example

Gender and Anthropology

  • anthropology of gender has been key in establishing that sexual inequality is not a biological fact but instead and cultural and historical one

development of the study of sex, sexuality and gender in anthropology

  • Anthropology of Women early 1970's attention to the lack of women in standard ethnographies

  • Anthropology of Gender challenged the basis for understanding social roles of male and female

  • Feminist Anthropology challenged the biological basis of sex and sexuality

    • and the foundations of anthropology as it had been done


  • not the same thing

  • all societies distinguish between males and females

  • a very few societies recognize a third, sexually intermediate category

SEX (sexual dimorphism)

  • marked differences in male & female biology

  • contrasts in:

    • primary sex characteristics

      • genitalia & reproductive organs

    • secondary sex characteristics

      • breasts, voice, hair, also average weight, height, & strength

SEXUALITY (reproduction)

  • all societies regulate sexuality

    • lots of variation cross-culturally

  • degree of restrictiveness not always consistent through life span

    • adolescence vs. adulthood

  • Normative sexual orientation

    • Heterosexual, homosexual, transexual

  • Sexuality in societies change over time


  • GENDER - the cultural construction of male & female characteristics

    • vs. the biological nature of men & women

  • SEX differences are biological - GENDER differences are cultural

  • behavioral & attitudinal differences between the sexes emerge from culture rather than biology


  • gender roles - tasks & activities that a culture assigns to sexes

  • gender stereotypes - oversimplified strongly held ideas about the characteristics of men & women

  • gender stratification - unequal distribution of rewards (socially valued resources, power, prestige, personal freedom) between men & women reflecting their position in the social hierarchy

universals versus particulars

  • universal subordination of women is often cited as one of the true cross-cultural universals, a pan-cultural fact

    • Engels called it the “world historical defeat of women”

  • even so the particulars of women’s roles, statuses, power, and value differ tremendously by culture


  • Biological hypotheses about the cross-cultural differences in men and women

  • effects of having children on division of labor

  • fertility maintenance hypothesis

  • differences in strength

  • expendability theory of males as soldiers

  • sociobiological premises for complex gendered behavior

Friedl and Leacock argument

  • variation among foragers

  • male dominance is based on exchange, public exchange

  • versus that exchanged privately by women

  • Exchange of scarce resources in egalitarian societies, gender stratification, and universal subordination of women


  • opposition between domestic (reproduction) & public (production) provides the basis of a framework necessary to identify and explore the place of male & female in psycho, cultural, social and economic aspects of life

  • degree to which the contrast between public domestic (private) sphere is drawn promotes gender stratification-rewards, prestige, power

domestic sphere

  • clearly drawn in societies where division of labor encompasses more than age & sex differentiation (complex societies)

  • inequality in material rewards for labor

  • less clearly drawn in societies where division of labor beyond age & sex is minimal (egalitarian)

  • rewards are highly valued social roles with prestige rather than material goods

Domestic : Public Spheres

  • mobility & gender

  • Domestic : public dichotomy not only distinguishes activities, but culturally encodes space

M. Rosaldo and the Ilongot of the Philippines

  • positive cultural value placed adventure, travel, knowledge of & experience with the outside world

  • Ilongot men as headhunters visited distant places, amassed experiences & returned to express their knowledge-receive acclaim

  • Ilongot women - these activities not available to them

Mobility, Public : Domestic (Private), and Gender Straitification

  • mobility not just through geographic space but social space (associations

  • veiling & Islamic women

  • factory women in Malaysia

  • US - WW2 & factory women for war effort

    • 1960s, 70s, 80s - changing gender composition of economy

persistence of dualisms in ideologies of gender

  • a particular view of men and women as opposite kinds of creatures both biologically and culturally

  • nature/culture

  • domestic/public

  • reproduction/production

Reproduction and Social Roles

  • roles - those minimal institutions and modes of activity that are organized immediately around one or more mothers and their children

  • women everywhere lactate & give birth to children

  • likely to be associated with child rearing & responsibilities of the home

Production and Social Roles

  • roles - activities, institutions, and forms of association that link, rank, organize, or subsume particular mother-child groups

a long running controversy in anthropology

  • Sherry Ortner’s famous article “Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture”

  • argument is that across cultures, women are more often associated with nature and the natural and are therefore denigrated

  • Ortner - in reality women are no further nor closer to nature than men - cultural valuations make women appear closer to nature than men

The “Third Gender”

  • essentialism of western ideas of sexual dimorphism - dichotomized into natural & then moral entities of male & female that are given to all persons, one or the other

  • committed western view of sex and gender as dichotomous, ascribed, unchanging

  • other categories - every society including our own is at some time or other faced with people who do not fit into its sex & gender categories

The “Third Gender”

  • a significant number of people are born with genitalia that is neither clearly male or female

    • Hermaphrodites

  • persons who change their biological sex

  • persons who exhibit behavior deemed appropriate for the opposite sex

  • persons who take on other gender roles other than those indicated by their genitals

Third Gender: Western Bias

  • multiple cultural & historical worlds in which people of divergent gender & sexual desire exist

    • margins or borders of society

  • may pass as normal to remain hidden in the official ideology & everyday commerce of social life

  • when discovered - iconic matter out of place - "monsters of the cultural imagination“

  • third gender as sexual deviance a common theme in US

    • evolution & religious doctrine

    • heterosexuality the highest form, the most moral way of life, its natural

Third Gender Cross-Culturally

  • various cultures deals with these persons differently

  • some cultures conceive of more than two genders

  • both sex and gender can change within an individual's lifetime

  • provokes us to reexamine our own assumptions regarding our gender system

  • emphasizes gender role alternatives as adaptations to economic and political conditions rather than as "deviant" and idiosyncratic behavior

  • rigid dichotomozation of genders is a means of perpetuating the domination of females by males and patriarchal institutions.

Berdache or Two Spirits among plains Indians

  • men who take on many female gender roles & stereotypes, stratification, become another wife

    • warrior role, stereotype for men

  • man compelled by supernatural spirits

  • sexual & social functions (as another wife)

  • condition is not stigmatized, role not reduced to sex act, not illegal or immoral, only atypical

  • role is legitimized by spiritual power

  • influential in own communities as curer, artist, matchmaker, companion to warriors

Xanith in Oman

  • an effeminate man, a feminine but not castrated male

  • Like Two Spirits

  • not static, not permanent during a person's lifetime or during the history of society

  • in Oman; if the man (women) has sex particularly with a virgin becomes male again



  • theory of the origin of female subordination

  • tied to the male control of wealth

  • built on 19th cent. assumption of communal societies as matrilineal

  • men overthrew matrilineality & formed patriarchal family leading to monogamous family

  • differential ownership of wealth led to inequality within the family & thus between the sexes

  • gender differences arose from technological developments that led to changes in relations of production

Leacock - (expands on Engels)

  • subjugation of women due to breakdown of communal ownership of property & isolation of individual family as econ. Unit

  • transformation of relations of production with female labor continuing to be for domestic unit or private sphere

  • male production directed towards distribution outside the domestic group (public sphere)

  • occurs with development of private property & class society


  • political power that results from the ability to give & receive goods in exchange (redistribution)

  • allows for sexual stratification in non-class societies

Sanday Reeves

  • female status dependent on degree to which men & women participate in activities of reproduction, warfare, subsistence

Friedl and Leacock

  • not rights & control over production but rights of distribution & control over channels of distribution critical for gender stratification


  • Ardener - muted models that underlie male discourse

  • diversity of one life or many lives

  • gender roles, stereotypes, stratification

    • changes over time

    • changes with position in lifecycle

    • status of men & women i.e. in male dominant societies

      • decision making roles belong to men but as women reach menopause; change with marriage status, virgins, wives, widows (and men)


  • women, like men, are social actors who work in structured ways to achieve desired ends

  • formal authority structure of a society may declare that women are impotent & irrelevant

  • but attention to women's strategies & motives, sorts of choices, relationships established, ends achieved indicates women have good deal of power

  • strategies appear deviant & disruptive

    • actual components of how social life proceeds



  • differentiation of social role based on age, commonly found in small-scale societies of North America and East Africa

  • Age sets are a type of sodality: nonresidential groups that cut across kinship ties and thus promote broader social solidarity

  • Age grades may be marked by changes in biological state, such as puberty

  • Or by socially recognized status changes such as marriage and the birth of a child

  • Persons of junior grade may defer to those of more senior grade who in turn teach, test, or lead their juniors.


  • Age Sets

    • ‘Childhood’

    • ‘Youth’

    • ‘Middle-aged’

    • ‘Elderly’

  • Age & Social Power

    • Elderly & children – dependent

    • Youth & Middle-Age – independent

    • Middle-Age – economic, political, social power

E. Africa Maasai political and social structure

Maasai Age Sets

  • rigid system of age-sets

  • apply primarily to men; women automatically become members of the age-set of their husbands

  • groups of the same age (give or take five years or so) are initiated into adult life during the same period

  • The age-set is a permanent grouping

    • lasts throughout the life of its members

  • a hierarchy of grades

    • junior warriors, senior warriors

    • junior elders (sometimes classed as senior warriors), and senior elders

      • the ones who make decisions affecting the whole tribe

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