Social hierarchy


Social hierarchy

Social hierarchy is a multi-tiered pyramid-like social or functional structure having an apex as the centralization of power. The term can also be applied to animal societies, but the term dominance hierarchy is preferred most times. Typically, institutions such as businesses, churches (such as the Catholic Church hierarchy), armies and governments, etc., are structured hierarchically. Commonly, seniors in the apex position, called "bosses", have more power at the base of the big tall fat tree. Thus, the asymmetrical relationship might be one "has power over" others. Some analysts however question whether power "really" works as the standard indicatesFact|date=February 2007. See also: chain of command.

Many social criticisms include a questioning of social hierarchies seen as being unjust. Feminism, for instance, often discusses a hierarchy of gender, in which a culture sees males or masculine traits as superior to females or feminine traits. In these terms, some criticize a hierarchy of only two nodes, "masculine" and "feminine", connected by the asymmetrical relationship "is more valuable to society".

In this context, and in other social criticisms, the word "hierarchy" usually is used as meaning "power hierarchy" or "power structure." Feminists may not take issue with inanimate objects being organized in a hierarchical fashion, but rather with the specific asymmetrical organization of unequal value and power between men and women and, usually, other social hierarchies such as in racism, anti-gay bias, and bullying.

Distribution of power within political systems

There are many models of power distributions, also known as "forms of government". Most real governments exhibit properties of multiple forms. Common forms are:

*Autocracy: One individual retains complete and absolute power over others. This is also known as despotism.
*Monarchism: A king or queen has ultimate control over the power, but does share it with other individuals. Power is usually transmitted by heredity— in the primogeniture system, for example, the eldest son of a king will ascend to that position when the current king dies or resigns.
*Oligarchy: Political power is vested in a few individuals, who usually pass power by a hereditaryFact|date=February 2007 system.
*Republic: Voting citizens elect representatives who propose, make, and enforce laws instead of citizens directly affecting the government. Also known as "representative democracy".
*Democracy: Citizens directly vote in lawmaking. In contrast to "representative democracy", this is sometimes known as a "direct democracy".
*Anarchism: A decentralized grassroots participatory system of free associations and institutions where the law and social structure ensure an absence of hierarchy.
*Ochlocracy: What some argue to be the end product of an unstable lawless system, a system known as "rule by organized crime". Such a system emerges when powerful gang-like organizations arrogate power and develop a semi-legitimate status.
* Plutocracy: A society in which power is distributed according to wealth.

These terms describe models of government more precisely than actual governments, and most real systems are complex mixtures of the systems described above. For example, the United States is considered a Republic. However, direct Democracy is employed on some issues and in some states (see: referendum). Likewise, the United Kingdom and many European nations have living monarchs, but "de facto" republics or democracies as the monarchs have become largely celebrity figureheads rather than actors within the political arena.

Anglo-American scholarship credits the United Kingdom and the United States with the 2nd millennium's transition from monarchism to democracy: the shift is said to have begun with King John's signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 and to have accelerated on account of the English Bill of Rights and Glorious Revolution in the 17th century. At the time of the American Revolution in 1776, while the United Kingdom was technically a monarchy, many historians consider the United Kingdom's political system to have been one of the most "progressive" systems in Europe at the time.

European scholars would give greater emphasis to the Hanseatic League, the Swiss Cantons, Italian city states, the Novogrod Republic, and Icelandic democracy. One-citizen-one-vote was not a reality in many "liberal democracies" until after the second world war - the 1950 general election for the United Kingdom, post civil-rights for the southern states of the USA. The aftermath of the rioting that occurred in France, USA, and the Netherlands amongst other countries in 1968, saw a marked reduction in formality and social hierarchy with democratization of educational institutions.

Democratic traditions arose independently in other parts of the world before contact with European culture, for example the Kotla system of the Tswana people in Botswana.

Classical Viewpoint

In the aristocratic world of pre-Christian classical Europe, philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle did not share the modern egalitarian, humanist identification of justice with linear social equality. As British philosopher Bertrand Russell points out, "Under the influence of democratic theory, we have come to associate justice with equality, while for Plato it has no such implications ... Plato's definition of justice makes it possible to have inequalities of power and privilege without injustice. The guardians are to have all the power, because they are the wisest members of the community" ("A History of Western Philosophy", Simon and Schuster, 1972, p. 114). Similarly, in his "Politics", Aristotle argues that some men are marked out by their inherent virtues for subjection, others for rule; "the man who is by nature not his own but another man's is by nature a slave." Aristotle states that tame animals are better off when ruled by man, and so are those who are naturally inferior and materialistic when ruled by their superiors.

Distribution of wealth

Distribution of wealth is often used as a measure of the progressiveness and social justice of a society. The Gini coefficient measures the economic equality within a society. Developed societies generally vary between 0.2 and 0.5, with welfare states, like Denmark scoring on the lower end and purer free markets like the United States scoring on the higher end.

Critics of capitalism describe it as a system wherein wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few people, the bourgeoisie, who own the means of production and where the majority of people, the proletariat, have none, i.e. a form of informal plutocracy. Others argue that this model is inaccurate, since human and cultural capital are also important in predicting an individual's leverage, autonomy, and eventual fortune, and are more equitably distributed. In the developed world, particularly in materialistic societies like the United States and Japan, have large amounts of wealth tied up in personal possessions like homes, cars, and electronics. People in these societies tend to value these possessions highly, and thus are quite happy with their financial situation.

Opposite to the capitalist system are socialist systems wherein, in theory, wealth is distributed proportionally to one's contribution to society, and communist systems wherein it is distributed according to necessity. Examples of societies nearing these ideals are the Israeli kibbutzim and the anarchist collectives of the Spanish Revolution.

Karl Marx argued that it was the goal of the proletariat itself to displace the capitalist system with socialism, changing the social relationships underpinning the class system and then developing into a future communist society in which: "..the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all." Communist Manifesto.

Anarchists maintain that inequalities are artificially magnified in our society, and point out that for most of human history humans lived in much more egalitarian societies. Noam Chomsky believes that egalitarian sentiments are "just below the surface" [http://www.chomsky.info/interviews/20070921.htm] , and has used the militant history of labor movements, Bakunin's theories about an "instinct for freedom", Kropotkin's mutual aid evolutionary principle of survival and Marc Hauser's evidence supporting an innate and universal moral faculty [http://www.americanscientist.org/template/InterviewTypeDetail/assetid/52880] , to explain the incompatibility of hierarchy with certain aspects of human nature. [http://www.chomsky.info/interviews/20040714.htm] [http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-3740467851698161135&q=chomsky+westpoint&hl=en]

On the other hand, some sociologists insist that hierarchical social stratification is normal and inherent to all societies. Sociologist Pierre van den Berghe believes that the predominating liberal-Marxist obsession with linear equality is dysfunctional: "That all men are created equal may have seemed a self-evident truth to the amiable optimist who signed the United States Declaration of Independence, but it flies in the face of all evidence ... Egalitarianism may be good rhetoric, but is bad sociology, and empirically, rank nonsense ... A hierarchical order is evident in the human family, the smallest and most universal form of human social organization" (Man in Society: A Biosocial View, New York: Elsevier, 1978, pp. 137-8). Sociologist Joseph Fichter argues, "The aspiration for complete democracy or for perfect equality among people is without scientific validity. Similarly, the promotion of an ideal of a classless society is both unrealistic and impossible" (Sociology, Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1957, p. 49).

ocial status

Social status represents an individual's overall ability to control or influence other people and institutions. Unlike economic status, it is difficult to quantify social status.

Social status is recognized officially by notions of rank, religious title, or academic title, and informally by notions such as reputation and mind share.

ee also

*Caste
*Segregation
*Social class
*Social inequality
*Social order
*Social stratification
*Second-class citizen


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