Race and Ethnicity
Social Stratification: Class, Ethnicity and Racism
A long-enduring value in the United States is the belief that “all men are created equal”. These famous words from the American Declaration of
Independence do not mean that all people are equal in wealth or status but rather that all (including women nowadays) are supposed to be equal
before the law.
Equality before the law is the ideal. But the ideal is not always the actuality. Some people have advantages in legal treatment, and they generally
also tend to have advantages of other kinds, including economic advantages.
Without exception, recent and modern industrial and post-industrial societies such as our own are social stratified-that is, they contain social groups
such as families, classes, or ethnic groups that have unequal access to important advantages such as economic resources, power and prestige.
Anthropologists would argue that egalitarian societies exist where social groups (e.g., families) have more or less the same access to rights or
o The economic systems of many food collectors and horticultural promote equal access to economic resources for all families in the
Societies also tend to emphasize the sharing of food and other goods, which tends to equalize any small inequalities in resources between families.
Substantial inequality generally appears only with permanent communities, centralized political systems, and intensive agriculture, which are cultural
features that began to appear in the world only in the last 10 000 years.
Egalitarian societies have all but disappeared because of two processes: the global spread of commercial or market exchange and the voluntary or
involuntary incorporation of many diverse people into large, centralized political systems.
Ethnic diversity is almost always associated with differential access to advantages. When ethnic diversity is also associated with differences in
physical features such as skin color, the social stratification may involve racism, the belief that some “racial” groups are inferior.
Systems of social stratification are strongly linked to the customary ways in which economic resources are allocated, distributed, and converted
through labour into goods and services.
Variation in Degree of Social Inequality
Societies vary in the extent to which social groups, as well as individuals, have unequal access to advantages (wealth or economic resources, power
Economic resources: things that have value in a culture; they include land, tools and other technology, goods and money.
Power, a second and usually related advantage, is the ability to make others do what they do not want to do; power is influence based on the threat
o When groups in a society have rules or customs that give them unequal access to wealth or resources, they generally also have
unequal access to wealth access to power.
Prestige, someone or some group is accorded particular respect or honour.
o There is always unequal access by individuals to prestige (because of differences in ages, gender or ability)l some societies in the
ethnographic record have no social groups with unequal access to prestige.
Anthropologists conventionally distinguish three types of society in terms of the degree to which different social groups have unequal access to
advantages: egalitarian, rank and class societies.
Egalitarian societies contain no social groups with greater or lesser access to economic resources, power and prestige.
Rank societies do not have very unequal access to economic resources or to power, but they do not contain social groups with unequal access to
Class societies have unequal access to all three advantages-economic, resources, power and prestige.
Can be found not only among foragers such as the San, Mbuti, Australian aborigines, Inuit, and Aché, but also among horticulturalists such as the
Yanomamö and pastoralists such as the Saami.
Does not mean that all people within such societies are the same. There will always be differences among individuals in age and gender, and are
such abilities or traits as hunting skill, perception, health, creativity, physical prowess, attractiveness, and intelligence.
According to Morton Fried, egalitarian means that, within a given society, “There are as many positions of prestige in any given age/sex grade as
there are persons capable of filling them.”
o If a person can achieve high status by fashioning fine spears, and if many people in the society fashion such spears, and if many people
in the society fashion such spears, then many acquire high status as spear makers.
Although some people may be better hunters or more skilled artists than others, there is still equal access to status positions for people of the same
o Any prestige gained by achieving high status as a great hunter, for instance, is neither transferable nor inheritable.
Egalitarian groups depend heavily on sharing, which ensures equal access to economic resources despite differences in acquired prestige.
o Some egalitarian communities, some members achieve higher status through hunting.
Egalitarian societies do not have social groups with unequal access to economic resources; they also do not have social groups with unequal access
Egalitarian societies use a number of customs to keep leaders from domination others. Criticism and ridicule can be very effective.
o The Mbuti of central Africa shout down overassertive leaders. When a Hazda mean tried to get people to work for him, other Hadza
made fun of him.
o Y equal: “Disobedience is another strategy. If a leader tries to command, people just ignore the command.
The Mbuti provide an example of a society almost totally equal: “Neither in ritual, hunting, and kinship nor band relations do they exhibit any
discernible inequalities of rank or advantage.”
Their hunting bands have no leaders and recognition of the achievement of one person is not accompanied by privilege of any sort.
Most societies with social ranking practice agriculture or herding, but not all agricultural or pastoral societies are ranked.
Ranking is characterized by social groups with unequal to prestige or status but not significantly unequal access to economic resources or power.
Unequal access to prestige is often reflected in the position of chief, a rank that onlysome members of a specified group in the society can achieve. Race and Ethnicity
o Nimpkish, a Kawkiutl group. These societies were unusual because their economy was based on food-collecting. But huge catches of
salmon-which were preserved for year-round consumption-enabled them to support fairly large and permanent villages. These societies
were similar to food producing societies in many ways, not just in their development of social ranking.
The principal means of proving one’s high status was to give away wealth. The tribal chiefs celebrated solemn rites by grand feasts called
potlatches, at which they have to give gifts to every guest.
In rank societies, the position of chief is at least partly hereditary. The criterion of superior rank in some Polynesian societies was genealogical.
o Usually the eldest son succeeded to the position of chief, and different kinship groups were differentially ranked according to their
genealogical distance from the chiefly line.
In class societies, as in rank societies there is unequal access to prestige. But unlike rank societies, class societies are characterized by groups of
people that have substantially greater or lesser access to economic resources and power.
That I, not every social group has the same opportunity to obtain land, animals, money, or other economic benefits or that same opportunity to
exercise power that other groups have.
Fully stratified or class societies range from somewhat open to virtually closed class, or caste, systems.
Open Class Systems
A class is a category of people who all have about the same opportunity to obtain economic resources, power, and prestige.
Different classes have differing opportunities. We call class systems open if there is some possibility of moving from one class to another.
Although class status is not fully determined at birth open class societies, there is a high probability that most people will stay close to the class into
which they were born and will marry within that class.
Classes tend to perpetuate themselves through the inheritance of wealth.
Other mechanisms of class perpetuation may be more subtle, but they are still powerful. In the United States, many institutions make it possible for
an upper-class person to have little contact with other classes.
Identification with a social class begins early in life. In addition to differences in occupation, wealth, and prestige, social classes vary in many other
ways, including religious affiliation, closeness to kin, ideas about childrearing, job satisfaction, leisure-time activities, style of clothes and furniture,
and even in styles of speech.
People from each class tend to be more comfortable with those from the same class; they talk similarly and are more likely to have similar interests
Degree of Openness
Some class systems are more open than others; that is, it is easier in some societies to move from one class position to another.
Although most people aspire to move up, mobility also includes moving down. Obtaining more education, particularly a university education, is one
of the most effective ways to move upward in contemporary societies.
o In the U.S, individuals with a college bachelor’s degree average 75 percent more income than those with only a high school diploma.
And individuals with professional degrees earn on average 119 percent more than those with a bachelor’s degree. In many countries,
educational attainment predicts one’s social class better than parents’ occupation does.
Degree of Inequality
Degree of class mobility, however, is not the same as degree of economic inequality
o Japan, Italy, and Germany have less mobility than the U.S, but less inequality.
Change over time in the degree of inequality sometimes appears to have economic causes. The 1929 crash made the wealthy less wealthy.
Recognition of Class
Societies that have open class systems vary in the degree to which members of the society recognize that there are classes, albeit somewhat open
The United States is unusual in that, despite objective evidence of multiple social classes, many people deny their existence. The ideology that hard
work and strong character can transform anyone into a success appears to be so powerful that it naks the realities of social inequality.
A caste is a ranked group in which membership is determined at birth, and marriage is restricted to members of one’s own caste.
The only way you can belong is by being born into the group; and because you cannot marry outside the group, your children cannot acquire another
caste status either.
Burakumin, this Japanese group traditionally had occupations that were considered unclean.
o Their occupations were traditionally those of farm labourer, leatherworker, and basket weaver; their standard of living was very low.
Slavery has existed in some form in almost every part of the world at one time or another, in simpler as well as in more complex societies.
Slaves are often obtained from other cultures directly: kidnapped, captured in war, or given as tribute.
Slaves sometimes come from the same culture: one became a slave a payment of a debt, as a punishment for a crime, or even as a chosen
alternative to poverty.
Slaves are people who do not own their own labour, and as such they represent a class.
Manumission granting freedom to slaves, was built into the Nupe systems. If a male system could afford the marriage payment for a free woman,
the children of the resulting marriage were free; the man himself, however, remained a slave.
Marriage and concubinage were the easiest ways out of bandage for a slave woman. Once she had produced a child by her master, both slaves and
the child had free status.
Racism and Inequality Race and Ethnicity
Racism is the belief that some “races: are inferior to others. In a society composed of people with noticeably different physical features, such as
differences in skin colour, racism is almost invariably associated with social stratification.
Those “race” considered inferior make up a large proportion of the lower social classes or castes. Even in more open class systems, where
individuals from all backgrounds can achieve higher status positions, individuals from groups deemed inferior may be subject to discrimination in
housing or may be more likely to be searched or stopped by the police.
Anthropologists are now persuaded that the biological concept of “race” is not scientifically useful when applied to humans. However, “race” is a
social concept that is important as a classifier in some societies.
Race as a Social Category
Racial classifications are social categories to which individuals are assigned, by themselves and others, to separate “our: group from others.
If people of different “races: are viewed as inferior, they are more likely to going to end up on the lower rungs of the social ladder in a socially
Discrimination will keep up them out of the better-paying or higher-status jobs and in neighbourhoods that are poorer.
Ethnicity and Inequality
If “race” is not a scientifically useful category because people cannot be clearly divided into different “racial: categories based on sets of physical
traits, the racial classifications such as “black” and “white” in the United States might better be described as ethnic classifications.
It is apparent that ethnic groups and ethnic identity emerge as part of a social and political process.
The process of defining ethnicity usually involves a group of people emphasizing common origins and language, shared history, and selected
cultural differences such as a difference in religion.
Ethnic identity may be manipulated, by insiders and by outsiders, in different situations. A particularly repressive regime that emphasizes nationalism
and loyalty to the state may not only suppress the assertiveness of ethnic claims. It may also act to minimize communication among people who
might otherwise embrace the same ethnicidentity.
In many multiethnic societies, ethnicity and diversity are things to be proud of and celebrated. Shared ethnic identity often makes people feel
comfortable with similar people and gives them a strong sense of belonging.
Still, ethnic differences in multiethnic societies are usually associated with inequities in wealth, power, ad prestige. In other words, ethnicity is part of
the system of stratification.
Although some people believe that inequities are deserved, the origins of ethnic stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination usually follow from
historical and political events that give some groups dominance .ver others
o Even though there were many early stories of help given by native peoples to the English settlers in the 17 century in the land now
known as North America, the English were the invaders, and negative stereotypes about native peoples developed to justify taking their
land and their lives.
Change has occurred. The ethnic identity a minority group forges can help promote political activism, such as the nonviolent civil rights movement in
the United States in the 1960s.
That activism, helped by some people in the more advantaged groups, helped beak down many of the legal barriers and segregationist practises that
The Emergence of Stratification
Higher levels of stratification emerged relatively recently in human history. Archaeological sites dating before about 8 000 years ago do not slow
extensive evidence of inequality,
Another indication that stratification is a relatively recent development in human history is the fact that certain cultural features associated with
stratification also developed relatively recently.
In addition, a decline in the birth rate in industrialized societies couple with the need for skilled labour, has pushed the average wage of workers far
above the subsistence level, resulting in greater equality in the distribution of income (Lenski).
Marshall Sahlins suggested that an increase in agricultural productivity results in social stratification. According to Sahlins, the degree of
stratification is directly related to the production of the surplus, which is made possible by greater technological efficiency.
The higher the level of productivity and the larger the agricultural surplus, the greater the scope and complexity of the distribution agent, is
Sahlins later rejected the idea that a surplus leads to cheifships, postulating instead that the relationship may be the other way around-that is,
leaders encourage the development of a surplus so as th enhance their prestige through feasts, potlatches, and other redistubutive events.
The “surplus” theories Sahlins and Lenski do not really address the question of why the redistributors or leaders will want, or be able, to acquire
greater control over resources.
C.K. Meek offered an example of how population pressure in northern Nigeria may have led to economic stratification. At one tie, a tribal member
could obtain the right to use land by asking permission of the chief and presenting him with a token gift in recognition of higher status.
But, by 1921, the reduction in the amount of available land had led to a system under which applicants offered the chief large payments for scarce
land. As a result of these payments, farms came to be regarded as private property, and differential access to such property became institutionalized
Even though modern humans live in more diverse environments than any other prismatic group, we all bear a striking degree of genetic similarity.
Modern human populations are the product of a tremendous amount of gene exchange. Race and Ethnicity
As a species, we clearly are not all alike. As a species, humans exhibit a great deal of phenotypic variation – individuals’ external, observable
characteristics, which are shaped in part by both their genetic makeup and unique life history.
Differences in many physical characteristics, such as height, skin colour, hair texture, and facial features, are readily discernible.
Many differences among human populations are the result of human culture- how we dress, the kinds of houses we live in, our marriage customs-
and are not genetically determined.
Cultural practises also affect genetic and physical variation by influencing gene flow or altering the environment.
Sources of Human Variation
Primary cause of human variation are:
o Evolutionary processes: affects genetic diversity within and between populations.
o Environment: the variation among individuals that springs from their unique life experiences in specific environments.
o Culture: the variation stemming from disparate cultural beliefs and practises inculcated during an ind