Chapter 7 5/7/09. Problem 7. Social Inequality. The Cultural Construction of Social Hierarchy

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1 Chapter 7 The Cultural Construction of Social Hierarchy Problem 7 Why are modern societies characterized by social, political, and economic inequalities? Social Inequality The worth of the 358 richest people in 1996 was equal to the combined income of the poorest 45% of the world s population. The world s 200 richest people more than doubled their net worth in the four years to 1998, to more than $1 trillion. In the United States, income distribution as of 2003 shows that the lowest 20% of the population earned 3.4% of the total income, whereas the highest 20% earned 49.8% of the income. 1

2 The Gini Coefficient A measure of variability developed by Italian statistician and demographer Corrado Gini that can be used to measure any uneven distribution. It produces a number between 0 and 1, where 0 corresponds to perfect income equality and 1 means that a single person receives all the income and everyone else has zero income. Household Shares of Aggregate Income by Fifths on the Income Distribution Year Lowest Fifth Second Fifth Third Fifth Fourth Fifth Highest Fifth Gini Coefficients Country Year Gini Index Japan Sweden Croatia Australia Canada United Kingdom United States Senegal Namibia

3 U.S. States Named After Countries That Match Their GDP Questions How do societies rank people in social hierarchies? Why do societies construct social hierarchies? How do people come to accept social hierarchies as natural? How do people living in poverty adapt to their condition? Can a nonstratified community exist within a large society? American Social Hierarchies In American society people are stratified by income and personal possessions into social classes. They are classified by cultural or family background into ethnic groups or by skin color into racial categories. They are also classified by gender and age, as well as by standards such as education. 3

4 Caste System In a caste system, individuals are assigned at birth to the ranked social and occupational groups of their parents. A person s place in the social order is fixed; there is no mobility between castes. Castes are separated by rules that forbid intermarriage, eating together, speaking to each other and working together. Castes in India Brahmins, priests whose lives were devoted to worship and teaching, occupied the top of the caste. Directly under them were the Kshattriya whose whose members include soldiers, politicians, and administrators. Next were the Vaisya made up of farmers and merchants. At the bottom of the hierarchy were the Sudra, which were devoted to the service of other castes. Integrative and Exploitative Theories of Social Hierarchy The integrative theory is based on the assumption that social hierarchy is necessary for the smooth functioning of modern society. The exploitative theory presumes that hierarchy exists because one group seeks to take advantage of another group for economic purposes. 4

5 Integrative Theory of Social Hierarchy Proponents assume that as societies grow and there are more people to feed, house, and clothe, more technologically sophisticated means are required to produce enough food and other necessities and to erect the necessary infrastructure. Exploitative Theory of Social Hierarchy Proponents claim that stratification arises when one group seeks to exploit the resources or labor of others. Karl Marx and the Origin of Class Karl Marx ( ) believed that capitalism permitted a ruling class of factory owners and landlords to exploit working people through political and social repression. 5

6 Karl Marx and the Origin of Class According to Marx, classes arise when a group gains control of the means of production. The means of production consist of the materials, such as land, machines, or tools, that people need to produce things. A group that controls the means of production can maintain or increase its wealth by taking advantage of the surplus value of labor. Political Repression Political repression occurs when the group that controls production also makes the rules. Members of this class elect representatives, who pass laws that serve their interests. Such laws may require people to work for the ruling class, prohibit workers from organizing into labor unions, require them to accept whatever wages they are offered, and forbid them from protesting these laws or the working conditions they produce. Ideology of Class A belief that the division of society into classes is both natural and right. According to Marx and Engels, if the ruling class controls the institutions that are responsible for determining how people view the world, it can promote the view that their dominance of society is in the best interests of all. As a result of an ideology of class, members of the lower class come to believe that their position in society is as it should be and that there is nothing they can do about it. 6

7 Racism 19th century scientists attempted to prove that whites were superior to other races. In this illustration from an 1868 racist tract, the proportions of the skulls are distorted, giving the impression that blacks might rank lower than the apes. Culture of Poverty Anthropologist Oscar Lewis coined the term culture of poverty to describe the worldview of people who inhabit urban and rural slums. Some anthropologists maintain that the behavior of people in poverty represents their adaptations to their socioeconomic condition. These conditions are the result of inequality, reinforced by racism and an economic system that requires cheap labor. Reciprocity and Kinship In the late 1960s, anthropologist Carol B. Stack conducted studies of how families cope with poverty. She worked with a predominantly black community she called The Flats, in a Midwestern city of 55,000. Unemployment was over 20% and 63% of the jobs were in low-paying occupations such as maids, cooks, and janitors. Only 10% of whites lived in housing classed as deteriorating, compared with 26% of blacks. 7

8 Reciprocity and Kinship Stack discovered that the residents fostered kinship ties and created fictive kinship links to form cooperative groups that would ensure economic and social support in times of need. People regularly swapped food, shelter, child care, and personal possessions. Anthropologists call this type of sharing generalized reciprocity. Reciprocity and Kinship The advantage of generalized reciprocity is that widespread sharing ensures that nobody lacks the basic needs for survival. In balanced reciprocity, items are exchanged on the spot. Negative reciprocity is an attempt to get something for nothing or make a profit. Culture of Poverty Anthropologists have found that people living in poverty find ways to adapt to their circumstances. The street and sidewalk serve as a playground for these children in a poor section of New York City. 8

9 Can a Nonstratified Community Exist Within a Hierarchical Society? For thousands of years, groups in stratified societies attempted to create utopian social settings. Anthropologist Charles Erasmus examined hundreds of utopian communities in an effort to discover why most failed but some succeeded. He found that the main problem was trying to motivate members to contribute to the common good without the promise of individual rewards. The Hutterites The Hutterites originated during the Protestant Reformation. In 1528 they began to establish colonies throughout what Germany, Austria, and Russia. Their pacifism brought them into conflict with European governments, and in 1872, to avoid conscription, they immigrated to South Dakota. During World War I, a confrontation over military conscription with state and federal authorities in the United States resulted in a Hutterite move to Canada. The Hutterites Their successful agricultural techniques were valued in the United States during the Great Depression and state governments persuaded them to return to the United States. In the early 1970s, there were more than 37,000 Hutterites distributed among 360 colonies in the United States and more than 9,000 in 246 colonies in Canada. 9

10 The Hutterites The Hutterites reject competition, violence, and war and believe that property is to be used and not possessed. They respect the need for government, but do not believe they should involve themselves in it or hold public office. It is a family-based, agricultural community in which everyone is expected to contribute to the work and share equally in the bounty. The Hutterites Members do not participate in decisionmaking until they are married. Women are considered intellectually and physically inferior to men. Hutterites renounce private adornment and ostentatious displays of wealth and practice collective consumption. The Hutterites The Hutterites, by a collective effort, have created within the larger society a community without poverty, without economic classes, with little or no crime, where each person, without the promise of material reward, contributes to the common good. 10

11 Hutterite Society Cooperation is valued in Hutterite society, where community members worship, work, and eat as a group. Here, women are shown preparing a meal for the entire community. Case Study In Doing Anthropology: Health And Human Rights Anthropologist Carole Nagengast coordinated the work of Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) for political prisoners in Turkey. Anthropologists and those with anthropological training are most prepared to deal with cultural variation and understand complex community struggles. 11

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