Social Stratification

Social stratification is the “division of society into two or more categories of people ranked high to low relative to one another.” (Haviland, 2002, p. 492). Stratification is present in almost every type of culture except in egalitarian societies. The purpose of stratification is to divide the community into groups based on responsibility and privileges. There are many forms stratification can take: class systems, caste systems, feudalism, etc. In order to appreciate the difference between stratification systems a side-by-side comparison needs to be made.

Social stratification is the “division of society into two or more categories of people ranked high to low relative to one another.” (Haviland, 2002, p. 492). Stratification is present in almost every type of culture except in egalitarian societies. The purpose of stratification is to divide the community into groups based on responsibility and privileges. There are many forms stratification can take: class systems, caste systems, feudalism, etc. In order to appreciate the difference between stratification systems a side-by-side comparison needs to be made.

The American System of Stratification

From afar, the American ideology is not to stratify as “all men are created equal,” however in reality the American culture is divided into a number of classes. The number of classes is a debatable issue. Some scholars contend that it is only divided into three classes: lower, middle, and upper class. However others suggest that these three classes are each divisible into sub classes: lower-lower, middle-lower, upper-lower, lower-middle, middle-middle, upper-middle, lower-upper, middle-upper, and upper-upper classes. (Haviland, 2002, p. 309). Each class has a set of stigma and stereotypes associated with it. Also certain ethnic groups are linked to each class. For example lower class is often associated with ethnic communities in inner-cities or rural communities. Upper-class is in turn associated with white professionals in large cities. Stereotypes and discrimination make social conditions unfavorable for intermingling between classes, and it is very difficult to move up in the class strata.

From afar, the American ideology is not to stratify as “all men are created equal,” however in reality the American culture is divided into a number of classes. The number of classes is a debatable issue. Some scholars contend that it is only divided into three classes: lower, middle, and upper class. However others suggest that these three classes are each divisible into sub classes: lower-lower, middle-lower, upper-lower, lower-middle, middle-middle, upper-middle, lower-upper, middle-upper, and upper-upper classes. (Haviland, 2002, p. 309). Each class has a set of stigma and stereotypes associated with it. Also certain ethnic groups are linked to each class. For example lower class is often associated with ethnic communities in inner-cities or rural communities. Upper-class is in turn associated with white professionals in large cities. Stereotypes and discrimination make social conditions unfavorable for intermingling between classes, and it is very difficult to move up in the class strata.

The American system of stratification seems to have many classes and divisions of its members, however it pails in comparison to the number of divisions and restrictions in the Indian Caste System. A caste is a strictly defined social class that determines what a person can do, what rights they have, and what position in society they hold. Membership is fixed and endogamous. Children are classified in their parent’s caste, and there is very little chance for moving up in the caste system. While the American class system has three major class divisions, and up to nine sub-class division, the Indian caste system has thousands of caste divisions. (Haviland, 2002, p. 309). These castes are organized into four main categories: Brahmins, warriors, artisans, and untouchables. (p. 310). The Brahmins are the highest and purest members of Indian society. They are the spiritual leaders and priests. (p. 309). The caste category below the Brahmins are the warriors. The warriors own their own land and have local authority over the other castes and the land. Below the warriors are artisans. They own their own tools but are not aloud to own land. The lowest category of caste is the untouchables. People that occupy this caste are considered as lowly as stock animals. They fulfil servant and slave positions in the society. They are considered impure and undesirable members of their society. (p. 311).

Division of society is not uncommon and is experienced around the world. The degree of stratification of a society is dependent on its economic structure, and cultural beliefs. These factors determine the strictness of class observance, and dictates whether or not a person can move up in social class or not.

References

Haviland, William A. (2002). Cultural Anthropology. (10th ed.). Fort Worth: Harcourt College Publishers.
Lee, Valerie L., and Searles, Richard T. (2002). Study Guide for the Telecourse Faces of Culture. (8th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.

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