Cultural Anthropology/Social Stratification, Power and Conflict

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Social Groups[edit]

Types of Social Groups[edit]

Social Groups can loosely be defined as people sharing a social relation [1]. In depth, a social group is a group of people outside of the domestic unit relating on grounds other than kinship [2] although kinship relationships may exist.

There are two basic categories of groups, primary and secondary. The primary group consists of people who interact with each other and know each other personally, while the secondary group consists of people who identify with each other on some common ground but who may never meet with one another or interact personally.


Friendship is a term in which the meaning completely relies on the culture where the friendship exists. While in some cultures, friendship is a term that’s used almost haphazardly, there are many different degrees of friendships. For example many college students react in a friendly manner to people they have only met a couple of times. While there are some deeper relationships as well, friendship seems to always come second to kin. Other cultures may regard friendship as sacred and a ritual is utilized as a declaration of such. An example of this is the Bangwa of Cameroon. The Bangwa believe that friendships are more important than relations among kin [3].

From a cultural anthropological perspective, friendships are very important and informative. In an anthropological journal about friendship, the authors, Paloma Gay Y Blasco and Liria De La Cruz Hernandez, talk about how their forbidden friendship improved their lives. Paloma was an anthropologist, doing her fieldwork in a government -built Gitano ghetto in southern Madrid, who needed a family to stay with so she could conduct her research. People in Liria's village were extremely hesitant to house her because she was of a different ethnicity than they were. Liria offered, and they instantly became close friends. Liria would help Paloma with her anthropological field work, and Paloma helped Liria experience more culture in Spain than she had ever seen, by lying to Liria's husband and taking trips around the country, and living like someone of Paloma's culture, Payos. Even after Paloma's fieldwork was done and she moved back to London, the two remained close friends. Their friendship helped Paloma with her fieldwork, and Liria find love in herself and a second marriage that was much better than the first. (

Clubs and Fraternities[edit]

Chico State University

A club is defined as a group of people organized for a common purpose, especially a group that meets regularly [4]. A type of club that exists on college campuses are fraternities/sororities. These social groups usually require some sort of initiation or “hazing” that can be beneficial socially and on the other hand potentially be dangerous. In 2005 Matthew Harrington died due to a hazing accident. He was a pledge to the Chi Tau fraternity at Chico State University in California, the fraternity members that conducted the hazing received felony charges, and in result strict hazing bans were placed into action at the university [5]. Although fraternities can cause many ill effects, they can also be used to gain political/career building advantages. Around one quarter of the chief executives on the Forbes 500 list were members of fraternities. During job interviews, the interviewer may make a better connection with someone they’re interviewing if they were members of the same fraternity [6].

Counterculture Groups[edit]

A counterculture group is a group of people that choose to reject the normal behavior of society and oppose their values.These groups are typically more popular among young individuals. When people come together as a group and oppose the social norms, they form a counterculture group that is defined by its rejection of the prevailing social values of a society. Counterculture most often is a generational conflict, when younger members reject the values that were important to an older generation of people.

While a counterculture is typically associated with groups such as hippies or punks and large movements, it can also be broadened to include any group that does not adhere to mainstream values. Due to this, groups such as the KKK can be considered a counter-culture, because they reject African-American equality. In addition, groups of families who home-school their kids oppose public education, forming their own counterculture. Countercultures, when they gain enough following, can influence mainstream values and have a dramatic cultural impact. However, most don’t exist for very long. They normally gain momentum, start to decline, and leave a lasting impact on mainstream culture. [1]

Counterculture groups have existed for a long time, but have only been deemed ‘counterculture’ in recent years. The term counterculture comes from Theodore Roszak, the author of the popular book The Making of a Counterculture, first published in 1969. One major example of a counterculture group was in the 1960s in America. In the 1960s, young people began to reject the way society had functioned. Consisting of many college-age men and women who became politically active, and began holding movements speaking about civil rights, sexual liberation, and speaking against the Vietnam War. [2]

This specific counterculture group embraced recreational drug use, including Marijuana and LSD. They also sought to include more roles for women besides the traditional mother and housewife role they had been typically placed in. There was a sexual liberation for all people, and women were now demanding access to birth control as well as legal abortions. All of these were a large part of the ‘hippie’ counterculture, the dominant counterculture of the 1960s. This counterculture group listened to a certain type of music, coined a ‘psychedelic’ version of rock music, with artists such as the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. This movement was heavily followed by the popular media, helping it become more accessible and grow a larger following than other groups before.

There are many different types of these groups, based on the differing forms of mainstream culture to oppose. One of the most prominent white supremacist groups, and perhaps the most recognizable example would be the Ku Klux Klan. This group originated in 1866 in Tennessee. They would wear all white to play the dead of the confederates during the civil war. They represented “white- supremacy” and would mainly torture, kill, or harass African-Americans and any other minority [7].

A more recent counterculture group is characterized by forms of body modification. This group feels the connection because of their interest in permanently changing their body, such as through tattooing, branding, piercing, and cutting. Participants often interact online through websites such as and

Work Groups and Cooperatives[edit]

These types of groups work together for the purpose of production. This relates to an autonomous work group where employees are assigned to a specific project and it is known who is assigned to what and who will be held responsible for each portion of the project [8]. Cooperatives are a form of economic group with two key features, surpluses are shared among members and decision making follows the democratic principal of one person, one vote. Agricultural cooperatives are the most common followed by credit cooperatives and then consumer cooperatives.

Farmers' Cooperatives in Western India 

In an ethnographic study found in Cultural Anthropology by Barbara Miller, the farmers in India's western state of Maharashtra were studied and the sugar industry there was found to be largely owned and operated through farmer cooperatives. While the sugar industry there is huge, near the size of the state's iron and steel industry, most shareholders are small farmers that produce just one or two acres of sugarcane but they are owned and managed cooperatively. The reason the sugar cooperatives are so successful in this region is because the rural social stratification system in Maharashtra is simpler than in northern India. They have strong local ties with each other because their marital arrangements are local and centralized and therefore have a better basis for cooperating with each other. This example of cooperatives shows that the social stratification can help groups work together for the purpose of production.

Secret Societies[edit]

Secret society is a term loosely used to describe a fraternal group whose organization is kept secret and possess, or claims to possess, some form of secret. These societies may also include special rituals and oath taking. Sometimes secret societies are formed with political intentions. Such groups are illegal in certain countries. One of the most notable secret societies is the Freemasons. Freemasonry is a fraternal organization with restricted membership dating back to 1390. Their membership includes many successful people from around the world including ex-presidents and kings. Another example of a secret society is the secretive Skull and Bones society of Yale. Every spring 15 Juniors of distinction are selected to become part of the Skull and Bones, among them have been both George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, whose nickname in the group was Temporary.

Self-Help Groups[edit]

Self-help groups consist of individuals coming together to achieve common goals and overcome personal adversities, typically in the form of meetings that operate locally within churches, schools, homes, or community centers. Members discuss their experiences or feelings toward a specific problem, often involving disease or addiction, with the expectation of receiving support from the rest of the group. This can reduce feelings of isolation one may feel when facing their problem, providing an "instant identity" in an atmosphere without judgment from the group's members. In many cases, physical contact in the form of hugging, is an important aspect of the program. Open discussion and guest speakers are common activities of self-help groups.

In today's society, family and community connections are very precarious and easily severed, especially when we add economic policies that foster the requirements for a precarious and highly mobile labor force, whereas until the mid of the 60's (in the western nations), family and friends were still the primary sources of social support and even economic independence. Because that type of traditional social support may not always be available to people, self-help groups are utilized to unite individuals who are free to discuss and overcome their mutual problems or concerns.

From after the end of World War II up to the and the 60's, western society in general suffered unprecedented deep social-economic changes, mass production, mass media, consumerism, political reforms that included vote, woman and labor rights fights and a reshape of most of the world's political sphere into the bipolar state of the hight of the cold-war

More than 1,100 self-help groups are officially recognized nationwide, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Divorce Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Adult Children of Alcoholics, Overeaters Anonymous, Emotions Anonymous, Debtors Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Workaholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, and Neurotics Anonymous. "Anonymous" refers to member confidentiality. Several self-help groups choose to be anonymous in order to preserve members' identities and their issues outside of the meetings. Self-help groups typically remain free of any controversy. They do not formally oppose or support any cause and decline all outside support to maintain their independence. As well as being self-sufficient, self-help groups do not require members to pay dues.

Online Communities[edit]

A community of people from oftentimes many different cultures and regions meeting together to discuss something in common or to contribute work to various online projects. Some examples of this online are video game modding communities like and Aside from websites for video games the there are chat rooms and forums like which is the largest English image board on the web as well as a place that many of the popular internet memes spring from.

Aside from traditional internet boards and sites there are online games that bring people together from across the world, Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games like World of Warcraft, Guild Wars, and Second Life, where the user is encouraged to play with others to better enhance their status proceed through an online “environment” and the more “solitary” First Person Shooters such as Counter-Strike, Quake and Doom with its sequels.

What internet dating services can provide.

Another large internet community consists of online dating websites and databases. Essentially, having lost hope in one's own ability to go out and find a partner on their own, they turn to websites that match people based on the personal information that they provide. Some popular sites are eHarmony,, and eHarmony, which is the most well known site, has been criticized for not matching gay individuals. The founder claims this is due to lack of information on gay-relationship compatibility.


Gangs are comprised of individuals who identify as gang members and regularly associate, often in the pursuit of illegal activities, such as trafficking weapons and drugs. Street gangs carry out these activities in the cities and suburbs. Prison gangs often are responsible for handling contraband (drugs, alcohol) within prison and may participate in acts of violence against other prison members as a means of intimidation. Prison gangs may also have significant influence over organized crime on the streets, as leadership is oftentimes maintained by imprisoned members, who direct orders for street murders, drug trafficking, and other gang activities. Gang members released from prison are expected to continue participating with the gang. Notable prison gangs include the Aryan Brotherhood, a white supremacy gang, and La Eme, or the Mexican Mafia. Biker gangs, such as the Hells Angels, may range in size and travel the United States on motorcycle.

Gangs may practice ritual initiations, or follow the policy of blood-in blood-out in which an individual must commit murder to be accepted into the gang, and is killed upon attempting to disassociate from the gang. Gangs underline loyalty and often use clothing, tattoos, and gang signs to identify themselves and to identify fellow and rival gang members. Persons who have not gained entry to a gang but have gang tattoos may be killed - while small gangs often require members to know one another personally, large gangs, such as La Eme, depend on markers such as tattoos.

Confrontation between rival gangs is often violent. A notable gang rivalry is between the Bloods and the Crips, street gangs from Los Angeles, who self-identify through the use of red clothing and blue clothing, respectively. The rivalry began in the 1970s, when the Bloods rose in competition with the Crips in crack production and distribution.

Gangs are often racially uniform. Sorenos, Nuestra Familia, and La Eme are predominately Latin American. The Bloods and Crips are predominately African American. Biker gangs are predominately white.[3]

Social Stratification, Power and Conflict[edit]

Social Stratification[edit]

Social stratification is when societies have a permanent hierarchy, in which a superior group has a disproportionate amount of power, money and prestige than the lower ranking groups. Social stratification can be seen in western societies in social and economic classes; termed as lower, middle and upper class. Some anthropologists believe social stratification is necessary to keep a society functioning at its desired level of proficiency. Karl Marx saw social stratification as similar to a caste system. Gender is part of the stratification system, gender ranks men above women of the same race and class (patriarchal society), but this is not always the only form of social stratification. In some societies, women are ranked above men; these societies are termed matriarchal. As Nancy Jay said: “That which is defined, separated out, isolated from all else is A and pure. Not-A is necessarily impure, a random catchall, to which nothing is external except A and the principle of order that separates it from Not-A.” In Western society, “man” is A, and “woman” is Not-A.[4] Working classes were unlikely to move up in social economic power due to their means of production while the wealthy would continue their reign over the lower classes, maintaining a social status quo through manipulation and exploitation. The degree of social stratification in a given society is dependent at least partially on what type of society it is. For instance, in a hunter-gatherer society or a pastoral society, there is very little economic and social stratification, because everything is shared. In an industrial or post industrial society, on the other hand, economic stratification is greater and social stratification grows partly out of that economic disparity. The reason for economic stratification is that in the modern workplace, the amount of money that someone earns varies greatly based on location, education, competence, and luck. The CEO of a large corporation might make millions of dollars each year, while the lower level employees of that same corporation might make minimum wage. What makes social stratification based on wealth better than other forms of social stratification is that, although it might be very difficult, it is almost always possible for someone to change their status for the better.

Ascribed Status[edit]

Ascribed status is the position in society that is delegated to an individual at birth. Ascribed statuses that exist in all societies include those based upon sex, age, race, ethnic group and family background. In many instances, this status is a social construct already pre-determined before one is born into the specific culture.

One prominent example of ascribed status is seen in India's caste system, or varna. The varna system is broken into five parts. From highest to lowest status, they are:

Brahmin - priests and scholars
Kshatriya (also called Rajanyas) - rulers, administrators and warriors
Vaishya - artisans, merchants, tradesmen and farmers
Shudra - laboring classes
Harijans - untouchables (25% of all people in India)

It is nearly impossible to move up in ascribed status in this caste system, though jatis, or sub-castes, have the ability to change status over many generations through relocation or marriage. Harijans, aka the "untouchables" have become calling themselves Dalits, meaning "broken ones", because they do not feel untouchable to others. They are constantly discriminated against. They don't feel untouchable, in fact people in the other caste's are untouchable to them, while they are "broken". [9]


While race is a social creation, it is also an ascribed status. Race is determined without regard to an individual’s efforts or aspirations, but rather, by inheritable, often external characteristics, such as skin color, hair texture, or body type. Race is dealt to the individual, outside of their control, as a means of categorizing human beings by obvious characteristics. Race functions as a master status. Through this, race has the capability of influencing an individual’s social perception and life possibilities. This can have a damaging impact on races categorized as social minorities. As a social creation, racial designations can change as people’s impressions change.

Race, however, can be more complex and arbitrary than genetics. For example, in the notable Rwandan genocide, ethnic cleansing took place between racial groups indistinguishable from one another [5]. Complexities and nuance also occur in Brazil, with identities of race often relying on locality and labels [6].

Unearned Privilege in the United States[edit]

The United States does not have an actual caste system such as India where one is born into a social class and must stay there. However, it isn't as common as many would think for one to rise from the lower class to a much higher class. The question we must answer then, is race an ascribed status in the United States? One way status is automatically given to someone in the U.S. is through their race. Race in the U.S. is a huge issue and although many believe that all races have the chance to change their status through education and "hard work", that may be harder for someone of a different background than white Americans.

The reason for this is because of unearned privilege or what many call now, white privilege. White privilege is a set of advantages and/or immunities that white people benefit from on a daily basis beyond those common to all others. White privilege can exist without white people's conscious knowledge of its presence and it helps to maintain the racial hierarchy in this country. [7] Unearned privileges came about today because of past power and race issues. For example, when the United States first got discovered, white Europeans asserted their power and dominance over the existing Native peoples. As these white Europeans took power over the entirety of the United States they began to take part in things such as slavery, discrimination, and legal dominance. [8] Racism and discrimination is still affecting these minority groups today. They can not possibly be on the same playing field as white Americans because for so long they were had to go through obstacles that reaffirmed racist and discriminatory ideals. Some of these unearned privileges white Americans get today are being offered a job interview easier, living in a nicer neighborhood because they were never subject to gentrification, or not being hassled by the police. These unearned privileges now exist regardless of current racist attitudes, because they once affirmed that white skin color is the norm, while being colored is different. [9]


Racism, by its simplest definition is 'the belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race'. People with racist beliefs may resent certain groups of people according to their race. In the case of institutional racism, certain racial groups may be denied rights or benefits, or get preferential treatment. Racial discrimination typically points out taxonomic differences between different groups of people, even though anybody can be racialized, independently of their somatic differences. According to the United Nations conventions, there is no distinction between the term racial discrimination and ethnic discrimination.

When looking at Racism there are two other important factors to consider, prejudice and discrimination. Racism does encompass both of these factors, but each show a different side to this overall idea. Prejudice is the attitude that the person possesses about a certain group or category of people, for example a particular race or religious group, while discrimination is the actual act of racism towards that particular group or category of people. [10]

There are five main elements that define the minority group that help keep this group in subordinate and oppressed by the majority group.

  1. They receive unequal representation and treatment compared to other groups in the political area.
  2. The group is easily identifiable and have devalued physical and/or cultural traits.
  3. The group has a sense of self consciousness, the knowing that they are different or stand out.
  4. Membership is based on descent or hereditary.
  5. Most marriages pursued within the group are with their own members.

There are also five main elements that define the majority group that allows for them to stay in power.

  1. Superior in the political arena.
  2. They have valued physical and/or cultural traits.
  3. A lower sense of self consciousness, not aware that they are the common man.
  4. Membership is also by descent.
  5. Marriage usually occurs within the group. [11]

These five major credentials for both groups allow for the social and political separation to occur and flourish in the United States. Especially since the membership is based on descent and marriage tends to stay within the group. When marriage stays within a group there is no sharing of culture, therefore, one race is seen as more normal than the other. Races must mix together in order to normalize each one. If these ideas and components are never to be overcome the inequality between the races will last for many years.

A prominent example of racism involves the Montgomery Bus Boycott and Rosa Parks. Parks, who was sitting in the section of the bus designated for whites, refused to give up her seat to a white man. She was arrested, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott was started. This was a prime example of the lower status that was given to black people in the 1950's and the time before Martin Luther King Jr. Another prime example is segregation in the secondary school systems throughout the southern states. By allowing legal segregation within the school system, which was inaccurately classified as separate but equal, it not only produced disheartened black children and kept them from experiencing equality under the law, but also opened the door to institutionalized racism. [12]


Discrimination refers to negative or prejudicial treatment towards a specific person or group based upon their sex, age, race, religion, identity, or appearance. Slavery was a notable case of racial discrimination against African Americans by subjecting them to harsh free labor where they were grossly mistreated and exploited for services. Even after slavery was abolished, freedmen still suffered discrimination that dictated where they could go, which bathroom or water fountain they were allowed to use, how they were able to socialize within the community, and which jobs they could work. Even in today's world, African Americans continue to suffer disparities. The most obvious case is the ongoing conflict, abuse, and shootings of black people inflicted by the police.


Racialization is the social, economic, and political processes of transforming the population into races and creating racial meanings. Racialization always occurs under a particular set of cultural and historical circumstances, which means that different societies racialize groups differently.

The absence of race in Colonial Virginia- After the English settles Jamestown, people in Colonial Virginia grew tobacco as cash crops. Labor shortages became a problem so the settlers brought in indentured servants from England, specifically people who were looking for entry into the U.S. However, in 1619, English-speaking Africans came over on similar labor contracts. Once their debts were paid off, many became prosperous traders and plantation owners and even gained the right to vote and serve in the Virginia Assembly, just as any other man with property. Interracial marriages were not uncommon and carried no stigma. The English considered Africans to be equals because of their success at growing food in tropical conditions, their discipline, and their ability to work cooperatively in groups. In sum, in the early 1600's, Africans and their descendants were considered like any other settler as members of the community, interacting with other settlers on an equal footing. [13]

How Africans became "Black", and Europeans became "white" in the seventeenth century- By the mid 1600's a few men had the majority of the land and freedmen were struggling to find land of their own, so they rebelled. Most were Europeans, but there were several hundred of African origin among the rebels. To prevent future unrest, the leaders began passing laws aimed at controlling laborers, and a number of those laws separated out Africans and their descendants, restricting African rights and mobility including, among others, the ability to vote, own property, and marry Europeans. These laws took away the basic rights that African settlers had previously held, and they opened the door to outright slavery, which followed several years later when the English began bringing slaves directly from Africa. [14]


From an anthropological perspective, ethnicity can be defined as a social classification used to create groups based on cultural features such as religion, language, dress, food, family, and art. Ethnicity is separate from race because ethnicity can be acquired, while race is largely based on the biological and geographic characteristics of an individual of which they have little control. Ethnicity develops as a result of the struggle between self-ascription (cultural insiders’ attempts to define their cultural identity) and other-ascription (cultural outsiders’ attempts to define the cultural identities of other groups). This struggle often forms new ethnic groups that are not identical to earlier ethnic groups. [6]

In an ethnographic report written by John Matthiasson, he explains the political importance of the ascribed names and culture of the Inuit in the Canadian Arctic. As discussed above, ascription affects how a culture is viewed as well as how the culture views themselves. Matthiasson reported that before 1970, the Inuit were referred to by others as well as themselves as "Eskimos". Following 1970, the origin of the word (which roughly translates to “eaters of raw meat”) was considered derogatory and because of this, nearly all of the Inuit stopped referring to themselves as Eskimos. This account relates back to ethnic groups because as Matthiasson suggests, “the names by which we refer to ourselves or others can be used to manipulate our identity and to align with or isolate ourselves from others, as well as to rationalize our treatment of others”. [6]

Caste System[edit]

Dalit's in Jaipur. An “untouchable” or Dalit is considered outside of the caste system. They are the lowest of the low in the Indian social stratification.

The caste system of India is a system of social stratification and ascribed status in which people are hierarchically organized by means of social and economic status. Although it is most commonly associated with the Caste System country of India and the religion of Hinduism, places such as Japan, China, Bali, Hawaii, and Europe also demonstrate caste-like systems.

Abiding by the Caste System ultimately allows the people in the highest caste to control the rest of society and keep social barriers from being crossed. In India, the caste consists of five different levels. Ranging from highest caste to lowest they are named:

Brahmans (priests and teachers), Kshatriyas (rulers and soldiers), Vaisyas (merchants and traders), and Sudras (laborers). Below these castes are the "Untouchables" or the Achuta (Dalit). Within these five levels are thousands of different castes (and sub-castes) known as jatis. When a person is born, they are placed into the caste that they will remain in throughout their life, during marriage, old age, and eventually death.

The "Untouchables" are taught early on that they are born into their caste to pay for bad behavior in their previous lives. They are limited to jobs considered too gruesome for anyone else such as taking care of human waste. Completely segregated from the rest of society, the "Untouchables" are treated worse than animals in extreme - but not rare - circumstances. Historically, there were advantages to being one of the dalits, such as the division of labor and cultural pride, but today the designation of "untouchable" is looked upon as tool to keep the oppressed and poor in their place.

Although this tradition and as well as it's social expectations that have deep roots in Indian society, slowly reform is happening. The USA frowns upon the caste system, due to the beliefs that 'all men are created equal and have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of success'. But the real question is: Does the US's capitalist society inhibit the creation of a caste system? A division of economic class inevitably leads a caste system, as does having an upper-middle class or a lower-middle class or even people below the poverty line creates a caste? For example, in a Bombay neighborhood some city workers must remove sewage waste. People with these occupations that are characterized as polluting are ranked at the bottom of the Hindu caste society. The social stratification results in the lower income workers having the "dirty work" and polluting occupations. Having these kinds of occupations continues the poverty because of how little they are paid for the less desirable jobs.


Baptism of a child by affusion

An individuals ascribed status can also be characterized through one's religion. People tend to identify with the religion (or simply the dogma behind it) that their family has chosen to follow. Certain religions assign specific social norms for the followers of the religion, these norms may, and tend to by design, differ from those of the rest of society. A family's religion has the potential to play a major role in the upbring in their children's lives, therefore they are ascribed a specific religious status within the religious rite. Religion or lack of religion are both attributes of that ascribed status.

Undergoing baptism or even just being born into a family that follows a specific religion gives a child an ascribed status based on that religion. While a child may be born into a family who follows the religion of Christianity, this does not automatically determine the religious practices of the child. Often children will be raised with Christian principles, but as with most religions, in its time or at the coming-of-age, overall life experiences will ultimately determine their beliefs. It is a common practice of the Christian religion to dedicate and baptize young children as a public confirmation of that child's upraising through the particular social practices of the religion. However, some families choose to only confirm the child, allowing them to make the decision, when and if they so choose, to dedicate their own life through baptism.

Religion comes with political inferences. These implications may entail critical practical and abstract problems. On an abstract level, both religion and politics are usually seen to be in opposition to one another in practice, but many politicians advertise their religion in order to obtain votes. However, in day to day life, they interrelate. Religion and politics have always been the two main sources of power related laws and guidelines governing how people should live their lives. In recent times countries like the US have worked to keep them separate so that no religion is able to control powers that would allow for a monopoly over a society religious beliefs; In contrast countries such as India have a political and social system, the caste system, based around their religious teachings. [15]

Gender Typing[edit]

The ascribed status of an individual based on sex is known as gender typing. Most societies partake in this process. In gender typing, certain activities are reserved for males and others for females. Crossing the gender roles set forth by society is often frowned upon in communities that gender type. The vast majority of gender typing is culturally generated and not a creation of inborn biological distinctions between the sexes.[14]

An ethnographic example of gender typing can be observed in the early development of children in the United States. From birth, some U.S. parents set their children up for certain sexual categories by giving their babies gender-distinct names, clothes, and environments. The gender roles ascribed by the parents lead to differences in intellectual and emotional development. For example, girls are provided with toys that encourage them to learn social rules and imitate behaviors. For example, the Barbie toy encourages girls towards certain dress and hair styles. Also, Barbies' daily activities often include cleaning, cooking and shopping. In contrast, boys are given more active toys and encouraged to explore. Such as video games, play doctor kits, airplane model kits, etc. As a result of this early childhood gender typing, elementary school girls typically say they would choose lower paid, lower status careers such as, Nurse, teacher, or stewardess. Boys, because of their exposure to freedom of exploration, are more likely to obtain higher paid, higher status careers such as, pilot, architect, doctor, or lawyer. [15]

Achieved Status[edit]

Achieved status refers to the social position that one earns throughout his or her life. These statuses may be earned based on one's skill level, potential, and determination. Many sociologists think that various factors such as education, employment, and income have a sufficient impact on achieved status. Achieved status is the opposite of ascribed status. While ascribed status refers to the social position delegated to one at birth based on background, achieved status is the social position one earns throughout their lifetime.

One example of achieved status is the term "pull yourself up by your bootstraps", essentially meaning work hard, and you will get places even if you start with nothing. This is perhaps the more respected and felt to be more deserved in many cultures including the United States. An example of the high respect American's give to those who do "pull themselves up by the bootstraps" is the story of Christopher Gardner, a man from San Francisco who hit rock bottom, eventually becoming homeless with his young son. Gardner had persistence and worked hard for months to gain a career as a stockbroker, and eventually became a millionaire. This is a story of real success and probably more interesting to many Americans than the stories about heiresses and heirs. Gardner wrote a book entitled, The Pursuit of Happyness depicting his situation and in 2006 a feature film based on the book was released with the same title.

Many state that this type of "rags to riches" story that exemplifies the "American Dream" is a rare occurrence. This is referred to as the Horatio Alger Myth. In actuality, evidence suggests that inequality is greatly increasing and social mobility is becoming more and more difficult in American society. As class divisions increase, the likelihood of a person accomplishing what Chris Gardner was able to accomplish diminishes, and is replaced with a more realistic scenario in which the bright and talented are unable to escape poverty. [16]

Education & Employment[edit]

In the workplace today, acquiring a college degree is an important part of either attaining or sustaining an achieved status. When a person begins working, they are easily replaceable. If they are to obtain a higher education, they become well qualified and are less likely to lose their job. Many students today are not only working towards their Associate’s Degree but their Bachelor's, Master's and more. Those who are knowledgeable, well trained, and influential within their job are considered to have an “achieved status”.


Those born within a lower class or start jobs with lower incomes are more likely to acquire an “achieved status”. People who inherited power through family are considered to have an "ascribed status". (Their income is likely to be high from the beginning). 'The American Dream' is a concept involving equal opportunity, which many people value with income. People believe that with this ideal, however hard you work, you will get rewarded for that, and everyone has a chance to make a living for themselves. Citizens and immigrants alike take advantage of the achieved status mindset in America, which is why many people try to find jobs there.

Achieved Status in the United States[edit]

American society possesses a number of examples of achieved status. In America, it is culturally acceptable (if you have the necessary resources) to begin life at the low end of the social ladder and to work your way up, by means of achieving a proper education, making useful social connections, and getting promoted within your career. Achieved status is not a position that a person is born into, but rather, it is attained through effort. Examples of achieved status in the U.S. are becoming an Olympic athlete, a doctor, or even a criminal. Although this struggle from the low end of the social ladder to the upper has become ingrained in the idea of America ("The American Dream"), the actual occurrence of someone rising from lower class to higher class is extremely rare.

Ascribed Status and Unearned Privilege in the United States[edit]

The United States does not have an actual caste system such as India where one is born into a social class and must stay there. However, as previously mentioned, it isn't as common as many would think for one to rise from the lower class to a much higher class. The question we must answer then, is there an ascribed status in the United States? One way status is automatically given to someone in the U.S. is through their race. Race in the U.S. is a huge issue and although many believe that all races have the chance to change their status through education and "hard work", that may be harder for someone of a different background than white Americans.

The reason for this is because of unearned privilege or what many call now, white privilege. Unearned privileges came about today because of past power and race issues. For example, when the United States first got discovered, white Europeans asserted their power and dominance over the existing Native peoples. As these white Europeans took power over the entirety of the United States they began to take part in things such as slavery, discrimination, and legal dominance. Racism and discrimination is still affecting these minority groups today. They can not possibly be on the same playing field as white Americans because for so long they were had to go through obstacles that reaffirmed racist and discriminatory ideals. Some of these unearned privileges white Americans get today are being offered a job interview easier, living in a nicer neighborhood because they were never subject to gentrification, or not being hassled by the police. These unearned privileges now exist regardless of current racist attitudes, because they once affirmed that white skin color is the norm, while being colored is different.

Types of Political Organization[edit]

There are four types of political organization within groups and they are split between centralized or uncentralized political systems. The four groups are bands, tribes, chiefdoms, and states. States and chiefdoms are centralized while tribes and bands are uncentralized or egalitarian groups.

A band society is a foraging group and is the smallest group of political organization ranging anywhere from 20 to 200 people but typically consisting of about 80 people, many of which are relatives either by birth or marriage. Since a band is a foraging society they do not have a place of permanent residence because they are constantly moving around. The reason a band is referred to as egalitarian is because there is no distinction between an upper and a lower class but they do have a leader, but not in the traditional sense because they have no power, or influence over people.

The other uncentralized group is a tribe which falls somewhere between a band and one of the more centralized groups. They are comprised of several bands but their leadership is based on ascribed and achieved statuses, some tribes may have a chief, and their organization is based on kinship. A tribe is more reliant on horticulture and pastoralism rather than foraging like bands and are usually a larger group than bands. A sub division of a tribe is the “Big man” system and they have a very influential person as the leader of the group but this person does not have formal authority.

The Bushmen of South Africa are traditionally a society of people that are comprised of a band and thus egalitarian. Since they moved around a lot they had traditional gear that they wear which included a hide sling, blanket, and cloak in order to carry their food, firewood, a digging stick and even a separate smaller cloak to carry a baby. The woman gather and the men typically hunt in this society and the children do not have jobs.

In a Chiefdom, the people are led by one person known as a chief. The chief governs over a group of tribes which are related through blood or marriage. This centralized style of government has a social hierarchy and economic stratification unlike bands and tribes. On the other hand, a state is much more centralized than a chiefdom and has formal laws and authority. They have power to tax, maintain law and order, and to keep track of their citizens.

Nation, Nationalities and Nation-State[edit]

In the past, nations came about when groups of people who were similar in ways such as language, appearance, religious beliefs, and history came together to form territories, nation-states, and eventually countries. Out of these nations came the sense of nationalities and nationalism.

Nation: A group of people believed to share the same history, culture, identity and oftentimes ethnicity.
Nation-State: A political unit consisting of an autonomous state inhabited predominantly by a people sharing a common culture, history and language. [16]
Nationality: The sense of belonging and loyalty to a particular nation that comes about through origin, birth or naturalization.[17] Often, government officials will encourage citizens to feel loyalty and devotion for their nation-states; this is called nationalism.
Nation-building: An effort to instill a sense of nationality into the citizens of a state.

Social Control[edit]

Social control is the enforcement of conformity by society unto its members ( and is present in both large and small-scale societies. Present in numerous forms, social control allows for regulation and cooperation between groups of individuals. Laws, mediation, and negotiation are all forms of social control, but vary in frequency depending on the size and type of society that is being affected. In small scale societies, formal type laws are rare, and instead public punishment is implemented in order to shame or ridicule the offender. By shaming those who don’t conform to society standards, the individual is further separated from the group, which possess the ability to act as a warning to other members of the society. Depending on the type of small-scale society, the offender is treated differently. In tribes, leadership isn’t centralized, and it depends on group assistance, while being based off of both achievement and ascribed status. A single leader in these communities resolves conflict and relies on status and influence rather than on power. In these communities if an individual doesn’t conform to the tribes standards, they lose their ability to rely on other members of the society. Chiefdoms tend to have a more centralized leadership and is based more off of social rank and economic status to define stratification. A chief is completely in power and is in control of the resolution of conflict. In large-scale societies, elected officials are often the source of political control and have the ability to create laws and societal laws that dictate acceptable behavior and consequence. Although there are numerous forms of political type institutions, democratic, communist, oligarchies, social control in states generally follows the same set of standards. Used maintain social stratification, social control in states is form and mainly based on laws. Tasks are often specialized and heavily regulated such as police and judges, and unlike small-scale societies often use capital punishment.


Power is the measure of a person's ability to control the environment around them, including the behavior of other people.

"Human beings actively work to reshape the environments in which they live to suit their own purposes." (Schultz& Lavenda, Cultural Anthropology) This quote is linked to the definition of power in its' cultural usage. If a human being's environment includes citizens then their power is measured by how much control they have over the masses. Political power is the most common form of power in the world. If one has a seat in the government then that person has a certain level of power over their subordinates.

Types of Power[edit]

1. Money

Money, in many countries today, is the foremost source of power. In countries and societies where money is the main source of exchange, those that are more wealthy can often use it as power by using their wealth to their own benefit or to the benefit of their community. IOU's, the first form of currency, have been used for many centuries. The first actual currency was printed in 1685 and was given to men in the French military in Canada, and were then given value in an exchange market. (First printed Currency) Today there are over 178 currencies in use (CIA World Factbook), with most countries using the currency they produce themselves. Money in any form of currency can be exchanged for other types of currency, thus making the power of money worldwide. Money can also determine the monetary status of certain countries. Depending on how much money is in circulation, the value of that countries money either goes up or down. If there is a lot of money, per say, the value of that countries coin would be a lot less than if there wasn't as much money in circulation. This can influence the exchange rate between countries, making tourists more or less likely to travel there, based on how expensive that country is. In extreme cases, hyperinflation can breakdown a nations monetary system, like in Germany in 1923 when hyperinflation got so high that prices were raised by 2500%.

2. Social Class

Social class is the hierarchy among members of a society, and people are often born into it. It is gained through money, education or one's career. In some cultures people must stay within their social class through life, and in other cultures it is encouraged or admired if people work their way up the social ladder. The class a person belongs to is often associated with an identity or subculture within society. People of a higher class associate and have similar lives as people within that class, and the same goes for people of the lower or middle classes. One extreme example of class is the caste system in India which divides people into five different groups within society. The highest caste is the Brahman, or “priest” and the lowest caste is the Harijan, or the “untouchables.” In this system people are born into their casts and usually marry others from the same group and remain a part of their cast for their entire lives. (Callaham, Tom).

3. Physical Force

Physical force is using physical coercion as a means to gain power and control over others. Physical force may be one country threatening another with its military, or perhaps a neighborhood bully asserting his/her dominance with beatings or threats based on his/her physical stature, like the saying goes,"speak softly and carry a big stick" (Theodore Roosevelt). This is also known as the power of free agency; or "the freedom of self contained individuals to pursue their own interests above everything else and to challenge another for dominance." This form of power is typically seen as physical coercion, which has been used by civilizations for thousands of years in order to survive. Stateless societies typically had this form of power employed, where locals feared other powerful locals, not the king or figurehead of the country.

An example of physical force being used for free agency is the Gulf War. Iraq used their large army to conquer Kuwait so they could gain oil, in an effort to benefit financially. [17] Oil, however, is the lifeblood of many western nations, and for the first time in its history, the United Nations formed a coalition to make sure that the U.S. and Western European Nations would continue to receive cheap gasoline throughout the remainder of the 20th century. This is free agency because Iraq was pursuing its own interests without worrying about how the world or Kuwait would respond. The world then responded in an efficient manner and evicted Iraq from Kuwait, basically telling Iraq that they couldn't do whatever they want just because they are bigger than another country.

Israeli Tanks.

Force usually rest solely in the hands of a person in high position of power. They are able to make others do certain task, or make them stop practicing certain rituals[18]. Force is usually used by using violence, threats and by putting fear into those being controlled. Force can be used in various situations and places like countries, religious sanctuaries, in homes, between two people, and or groups of people. However many people try to resist force and try to retaliate, which can often lead to harm being done to one or both parties involved.

A prime example of the way force is used as a type of power is in the current war on Iraq. The American military invaded Iraq, and is implementing American value systems consistent with those of a constitutional republic rather than the traditional Muslim value systems of the former Islamic Democratic Parliamentary Republic. The military uses various ways to enforce this value system change on the Iraqi people, by using weapons, threats of further action and by imprisoning and capital execution of dissidents that forcefully retaliate against the laws and rules that have been enacted by the new Constitution. Force is the main type of power being used by both sides in their efforts to sway people to their disparate belief systems at the present time.

Another example of a way force is used as a type of power is rape, when a person or persons force themselves sexually on another with out given consent. Usually with threats on the other to cooperate if they do not want to be harmed. This typically involves the offender hurting the other in order for them to do what they want.

In new era of nuclear weapons and WMD, a small sized country can now carry far more force. This indicates a transition of the typical definition of force for warfare from manpower to widespread devastation. With the potential for smaller countries to have a much larger power than their size every before dictated, there have been new restrictions, from the currently more powerful countries, on these new powerful weapons. This can be shown by the North Korean missile tests that were condemned by the US Great Britan, France, Russia, Canada, Germany and, The United Nations.

4. Persuasion

Persuasion:Power based on verbal argument (Schultz-Lavenda, 244).Persuasion is the act of influencing others into adopting an idea. This is usually done through speech and rarely through physical acts. The ability to persuade is highly coveted and is often associated with powerful people in many societies because those who can persuade can be trusted to speak for their people. This is why persuasive speakers speak for those in their societies. For example, the Huichol Indians of Northern Mexico have shaman that see themselves as being able to speak for all of the Huichol and are often involved in negotiations with other societies because of their persuasive abilities. (Shultz-Lavenda 244-245)

There are countless uses for persuasion. The art of persuasion can be used to get humans into bed or to get them to buy material goods. You might use it to sell an idea like a new computer architecture, the end of hunger, a sustainable ecology or that gay and straight humans should have strict equality. You might use it to persuade humans to give up some bad habit like smoking tobacco, abusing alcohol, an obsolete violent religion or cruelty to animals and children. Some professions like rely very heavily on their ability to persuade others, this is especially true for lawyers and car salesmen.

Some basic tips for being a good persuader are:
1. Lead with non-controversial statements
2. Humans reason mostly by analogy. The key is finding the right analogy and letting them reason it through for themselves.
3. In debate, concede as many points as you possibly can. Your opponents will then perceive you as eminently reasonable and stop fighting you so hard.
4. Keep your sense of humor at all times. It is the best weapon for disarming a harsh critic.
5. Use colorful language. Play on all the senses.
6. A pause or complete silence is often more eloquent than any words. It also gives a chance for others to take up the charge.
7. Be as ruthlessly honest as you can. Be willing to share any detail about yourself. That way humans can get a sense of who you really are. They need that before they can trust you.
8. Praise the desired behavior in anyone who exhibits it. The others will mindlessly model the behavior to get praise.
9. Don’t bother with the reasons why you want humans to do something. Get into their heads. Why would they want to do it? People are much more likely to trust you if you obviously like them and have their desires and well being in consideration.
( CITATION: Some tips taken from: )

5. Fame

Combine the two main sources of power and what do you get? Fame. To many, fame means money and a high social class, which it often does. Many western cultures look to those who are famous almost as idols. Money and a high social class, whether gained or born into, are closely related to celebrities and socialites. Those who gain or inherit fame are given power almost automatically, as though being able to act and sing or having the luck of being born into a wealthy family gives them the right to have power over others. Does it give them the right to act this way? No, but society believes this power belongs to the famous.

Jennifer Aniston at the He's Just Not That Into You permiere.

An ethnographic example of the power that comes with fame would be celebrities. In the United States, celebrities are fawned over by their fans, and in some cases receive special treatment over non-celebrities. For example, in the case of imprisonment, celebrities are able to get out of prison early for no apparent reason. One celebrity who was able to get out early was Nicole Richie. Her sentence was four days for driving the wrong way down a road while drunk and she served an entire eighty-two minutes.[19] Not all of the special treatment stars get is from prison, sometimes it is from night clubs like Jennifer Aniston, car dealerships like Britney Spears, or even zoos like Shaquille O’Neal.[20] The culture in the United States allows this special treatment to continue and so it will.

6. Tradition

The power of Tradition in a culture can be defined as the possession of control or command over others through a long established way of thinking. This type of power is usually asserted through means of religion. Religions have long histories, which inevitably create traditional customs, laws, beliefs and ways of thinking or processing. Power of tradition can also be used through cultural beliefs. Certain cultures have traditional beliefs that grant power logically to one sex over the other, such as in patriarchal or matriarchal cultures. Another accustomed form of power through tradition is in the workforce. As aforementioned, tradition creates customs, laws, beliefs and ways of thinking.

In an ethnographic attempt to further explain the power of tradition, examine the status of women in Islamic religion. In Farnaz Fassihi’s book of her reporting in Iraq post Saddam Hussein’s fall, she states how her gender is a reoccurring problem when Iraq’s policies are being greatly influenced by its Islamic traditions and its Islamic religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Sistani. Fassihi explains, “I never had to tiptoe around my gender the way I do now…at offices of political parties or clerics, I am required to stand outside under the sweltering sun because the waiting room is designated for men…the entrances to the holy shrines in Karbala and Najaf now have segregated entries with a…police officer checking the attire of visiting female” (Fassihi 116). Fassihi is appalled at the way women are thought of and are treated, but it is the power of tradition that allows men to carry on this way. The power of tradition creates customs within cultures and religions. In the Islamic faith, it is customary for women to dress modestly, in this sense women wear head-covers (see Women in Islam). Tradition can furthermore create beliefs, such as the belief that women should not look men in the eye if outside of their immediate family.

Kinds of Social Power[edit]

  • Interpersonal Power : The ability of one individual to impose his or her own will on another individuals (Schultz-Lavenda, 233).

In its broadest sense, interpersonal power refers to any cause of any change in the behavior of one actor, B, which can be attributed to the effect of another actor, A. It sometimes refers to the capacity to cause such change (Weber [1918] 1968), sometimes to actual use of that capacity (Dahl 1957; Simon 1953) but always to overcoming the "resistance" of B (Weber [1918] 1968), hence causing B to do something B would not otherwise do (Dahl 1957). Interpersonal power is therefore the power of one individual "over" another as opposed to an individual's power to do something, the capacity of an actor to attain some goal (IPES, BookRags).

  • Organizational Power : Highlights how individuals or social units can limit the actions of other individuals in particular social settings (Schultz-Lavenda, 233).

Organizational Power Politics is about how individuals can achieve their objectives in organizational work groups. Office politics or organizational politics, is a significant part of the life of everyone who works with others in formal or informal groups. These relationships are power-tinged, and success can be attained only as we use power effectively. Understanding what power is and how it can be used to gain personal or group objectives is the focus of the book. It provides readers with specific recommendations about the situations in which power use can be effective, and it identifies those tactics most effective in leading subordinates and superiors toward the achievement of our goals. This work will be of interest to scholars and practicing managers seeking information on how better to use organizational politics to attain personal and organizational goals. It provides insight into power theory, as well as a practical model for power use, strategic orientation, and operational tactics (Choice, Greenwood).

  • Structural Power : Organizes social settings themselves and controls the allocation of social labor (Schultz-Lavenda, 233).

Winter and Stewart (1978) have provided a useful taxonomy of power-related constructs linking the organizational and individual levels. Power as an attribute of particular social roles (e.g., jobs) locates individuals in organizational roles that legitimize or require actual power behavior (actions affecting the behavior and emotions of other people) from the individual for effective role performance. The enjoyment of power satisfaction, regardless of social role, requires both feeling powerful as a result of successful power behavior and the capacity to find that feeling gratifying. Thus, power as a source of job satisfaction depends on opportunities for power behavior, frequent successful outcomes of power behavior, and the experience of feeling powerful. This should be more likely in jobs that provide structural power as an attribute of the occupational role (Bnet).

These social powers are often used in a political situation. Becoming the greatest political power cannot only be won through war but also techniques of social power. With such diverse ability dominance in social situations is inevitable and opposing groups or individuals are conquered.

The Role of the State[edit]

Many early political anthropologists assumed that in order for a civilization to be socially civilized, a state was absolutely necessary. They drew on western ideas that without a state, there would only be anarchy and disorder. Anthropologists such as Lewis Henry Morgan proved that there could be successful societies where an actual state is not present. Instead, different people will have different roles, and political power is dispersed among the people. Order within a social group can be maintained without a state as long as the group has a traditional process to organize itself.

John Locke[edit]

John Locke (1632-1704) was a British philosopher and physician born in Wrighton, England. He was revered as being among the greatest thinkers of The Enlightenment and considered by many to be the "Father of Liberalism". Locke was a proponent of the social contract as well as many other theories that outline how the state and individual should interact with each other. His writings were incredibly influential to the development of the modern democratic state and contributed to the ideas of highly distinguished philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire. The depth of Locke's philosophy goes as far as to define the concept of self, stating in his theory of mind that the concept of "self" is defined by a state of perpetual consciousness that creates an individual's identity. He appealed to the nature versus nurture argument in defense of nurture having a more significant influence on one's identity rather than the notion that humans are born with innate traits and have a predisposition to a certain quality of character dependent on the circumstances under which they are born. Locke's position in this argument takes on a more liberal perspective and holds experience accountable for the development of human nature. His position on this subject is the basis for his idea that the government possesses a responsibility to its people to ensure an environment that is conducive to upholding positive characteristics of human nature. This concept is apparent in Locke's influence of the United States Declaration of Independence. One of Locke's most famous contributions to the Declaration is his idea that the state is supposed to ensure and protect "life, liberty, and property". This ideal is elaborated upon in Locke's Two Treatises of Government (1689), where he outlines how private property is absolutely essential to preserving freedom and that reason itself is a law that deems all individuals equal in right to ensure that their property is protected, a role that must be taken on by the government. He goes further to describe how sovereignty should not held by the government, but by the people. He delineates how the government can not interfere with the any individuals property without their consent. This idea that the people possess political power as individuals is highly regarded in the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution where the people's right to representation is encrypted in legal doctrine. Fundamental rights detailed in the Constitution such as freedom of religion and freedom of protest can be attributed to John Locke's works. His influence on modern democracies is monumental and so many of his visions are very relevant in politics today.

The Social Contract[edit]

The social contract is a model that came about during the Age of Enlightenment that addresses how the legitimacy of society and government is established. The theory ponders why the state can hold absolute power over the individual and where the means to do so is derived. The answer to these questions proposed by the social contract is that individuals are willing to give up certain rights and freedoms in exchange for government protection of other rights. From this emerges an unspoken agreement between the state and its citizens. In order to have a harmonious society, the social contract must be obeyed by both the government and the individual or else conflict will arise between the state and its people. If the government refuses to protect the rights of the people, the people have an obligation to overthrow the incompetent government and establish a new system that will better suit the interests of the population as a whole. If citizens are not giving up certain freedoms, i.e. not living under formal laws, than the legitimacy of the governing state is essentially nullified because it cannot hold sovereignty over the citizens if there is no documentation to validate its power. This outcome is predicted by the phenomenon that Thomas Hobbes coined as the State of Nature. This is the idea that under conditions where no limitations on rights and freedoms exist, people will act in their own self-interest and not for the betterment of society. Many political theorists and philosophers contributed to the ideas proposed by this theory. Some of the most notable, are Hugo Grotius (1625), Thomas Hobbes (1651), John Locke (1689), and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1762). The ideas of these enlightenment thinkers varied on the role of the state and the nature of human rights. Grotius proposed that humans had natural rights regardless of the political system they are governed by. Hobbes argued that those rights are not innate like Grotius and Locke believe, but that those rights only exist when there is a government to legitimize them and without a government to enforce order, humans would resort to immoral and unethical behavior in seeking their own personal benefit. Locke on the other hand, believed that humans were naturally good in nature and that even without a centralized government, they would be bound morally by human nature to work together and not harm each other. Locke also believed that human rights were inalienable and that the authority of God would always triumph over the rule of a government. Locke's perspective on the social contract was a significant influence on the United States Declaration of Independence and other doctrine of modern democracies.


Distribution of power is highly dependent on cultural values and structure. Cultures with elements that oppose one another are likely to distribute power differently. In a case study done by Richard Borshay Lee in 1969 in the Kalahari (Lee, Christmas in the Kalahari 1969) he finds that a tribe of people referred to as the !Kung have a system very different from our own. When Christmas came around Lee decided he would do the people a favor and buy them a large cow to cook as a goodwill gesture for their celebration. After purchasing the largest bull he could find, all of the tribe set about telling him that his cow was much too thin and unhealthy and wouldn't come close to feeding everyone. This of course was not true because he had chosen the very largest animal available, but as Lee later finds out it is traditional for the !Kung to belittle anyone that does others or the whole tribe a service in order to keep everyone humble. The point of this practice is to keep the power hierarchy of the tribe balanced and fair. That way there are fewer problems that arise with power struggle and dominance issues.


Conflict can be either perceived or actual, and is the result of oppression, opposition, or the disagreement of needs, values, and interests between individuals, groups, and even cultures as a whole. The concept of conflict can assist in gaining further insight into large-scale disharmony between cultures, or simply a brawl between two individuals. Conflict is a result of differences in interests, values, actions, or directions. A conflict can be internal or external.

As on the individual basis, conflict may result as a component of an emotional upset. These emotional upsets can be perceived as behavioral, physiological, or cognitive in nature.

  • behavioral is the expression of emotional experience and can be verbal, non-verbal, intentional, or unintentional.
  • physiological is the physical correspondence between the feelings given by emotions and personal identity.
  • cognitive is the concept that on an individual basis and experience is given a specific level of relevancy.

From the standpoint of cultures, engagement in conflicts is due to a variety of sources. More specifically, those within diplomacy, economy, military, and religion.

Types of conflict[edit]

  • Diplomatic conflict: Diplomatic conflict arises when the interests of different countries are not compatible [21]. States or nation-states create plans and objectives to improve the welfare of the state or nation-state and/or its citizens. To satisfy an objective, a government sometimes demands resources from a neighboring government. Conflict becomes apparent when a government attempts to complete an objective even at the expense of a close nation or a nation involved in the objective. An objective of a government can range from increasing resources that another nation has possession of or security.
An example of diplomatic conflict would be the Cold War. This was a struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union including their allies to influence developing countries into adopting their political and economic ideologies. The conflict escalated to such a severe degree that it spawned the Korean and Vietnam Wars. The conflict began at the end of World War II and concluded at the beginning of the 1990's soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Cold War illustrates how conflicting objectives by powerful nation-states can affect such an extensive population, often to their detriment. Instead of a tangible resource, security and global dominance was objective of the conflicting nation-states.
  • Economic conflict: Economic conflict occurs when there is a disagreement over the distribution of wealth of a state or nation-state [22]. There is often conflict within a state when resources are scarce and must be rationed across its population. When resources become scarce, especially in wartime, the government or other special interests that have power in a state or nation-state control the distribution of wealth and resources in that state or nation-state. That is, the government has the power to appropriate and distribute goods and/or services to the population as it sees fit. This leads to struggles by other minority interests such as labor strikes, litigation, and lockouts. Economic conflict is also an inherent problem in colonialism, and can often escalate into violent revolutions because of unbalanced resource distribution. In modern times, this same conflict can be seen in the globalization issue, with international corporations serving the role of resource controllers/distributors.
Soldiers in military conflict/war. Soldiers crossing the Rhine River.

  • Military conflict: Military conflict generally occurs when two opposing nations revert to the use of violent force to dispute conflicts through fighting. The nation or state with the most powerful military uses the nation's military as leverage in negotiations to reach a compromise or understanding.

War is the one of main consequence of military conflict if negotiations can not be resolved, and can generally be defined as armed conflict between nation-states or large political groups. Although a civil war is an internal conflict between separate parties within the same state or nation.

  • Religious-based conflict: Religious-based conflict occurs between two religious groups, often when a larger, more powerful group attempts to take over a smaller one. There are currently at least nineteen areas of major religious conflict going on throughout the world; the more notable ones include, but are not limited to, Israel and Iraq (Al-Qaida). Although some of the world’s most gruesome wars have been fought on the basis of religion, religious-based conflict is not always violent. It is not uncommon for religious groups to be at odds with one another, directly or indirectly, due to the tendency of each religion to assume the position of being the sole truth.
Bomb terror in Iraq
The Iraq War: One conflict that is prevalent today takes place between the Shiite and Sunni Muslims in Iraq. The Shiites [23] are deeply motivated to make Iraq an Islam nation by Iraq’s neighbor, Iran, which has successfully converted to an Islam-led government. Under, Saddam Hussein (the former dictator of Iraq), Sunnis could practice their religion freely and attain political influence and power; the Shiites, however, were not favored by Saddam and therefore were not allowed such freedom. After the fall of the dictatorship, the Shiites quickly proceeded to take advantage of this opportunity for the leadership of Iraq. With the combination of the loss of a stable leader and the American military occupation of the nation, chaos has ensued in the form of violent religious-based conflict. Religious radicals from both the Sunni and Shiite religions regularly hash it out with explosives and gunfire, and the fight is only exacerbated by the presence of the American military, while innocent civilians are inevitably caught in the crossfire.


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