Lecture 11: Politics and Stratification: Why Race and Class Still Matter
Many cultural cosmologies include the notion that humans have the ability to
influence both the visible world of humans and the invisible world of spirits through
direct action; what we call magic.
Shamans are magical practitioners that have the power to curse, heal, contact
spirits, and predict the future. Shamanic practice often involves altered states of
consciousness, including trance and spirit possession.
When anthropologists talk about witchcraft and sorcery, we don’t mean women on
broomsticks, Harry Potter, or contemporary Wiccans. Witches are individuals
believed to possess the ability to inflict magical harm on other.
“Sorcery exists… as an explanation after the fact. The Maisin don’t require proof of
the existence of sorcery any more than most of us do of germs; they know it exists in
large part because it provides a satisfactory explanation of why misfortunes like
serious illnesses happen.”
When witchcraft is part of a culture’s worldview, it has two important functions:
witchcraft explains misfortune, such as illness and disaster, and witchcraft helps
reinforce social norms.
Stratification refers to the internal divisions within a social group. Some cultures are
highly stratified while others are more egalitarian. Class, caste, race, ethnicity, and
nation are just some of the bases for inequality in human cultures.
Class is a social grouping defined primarily by wealth and economic criteria.
But we are also aware that class is as much symbolic as financial. In China, class is as
much the product of brand consciousness and patterns of consumption as it’s simply
money. Here, urban middle-class Chinese people shop at name-brand foreign
Caste is social grouping defined primarily by birth (and also usually occupation).
Castes are (in theory) cl