Cultural Anthropology/Social Stratification, Power and Conflict

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Social Groups[edit]

Social Groups can loosely be defined as people sharing the same social relation [1]. In depth, a social group is a band 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:

  • The primary group consists of people who interact with each other and know each other personally,
  • 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.


A "friend" is defined as a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations. There are many different degrees of friendships, for example, many people could react in a friendly manner to people they have only met a couple of times. While there can be deeper friendship relationships, friendship seems to often times come second to kin. In other cultures, friendship is considered 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]. Friendships generally are chosen, and this choice is usually based on equality, needs, or similarities.


Chico State University

A club is defined as a group of people organized for a common purpose, especially a group that meets regularly [4]. Joining a club helps people meet others who have similar interests or beliefs as them. Anyone can start a club about anything they wish as long as others join, and the number of members can vary. Some clubs are associated to institutions such as a schools or churches, while others are open to the general community. Some general examples of clubs include art, book, cooking, dance, sport clubs, etc. Culture clubs evolve around different cultures from around the world, and these clubs are welcoming to people of differing cultures as well.

A specific and common type of club found on college campuses are fraternities/sororities. These clubs are exclusive and can be used to gain political/career building advantages. These groups often host parties and dances, and give back to the community through philanthropic work. These types of clubs can often have many misconceptions about them in Western societies and cultures. For example, in almost every movie or book that has fraternities/sororities in them, they are generally portrayed as irresponsible, party-filled, messy, crazy groups to be a part of, when in all actuality, the majority of them require you to have and maintain a certain GPA, require you to have a set number of volunteer hours in their community, and also help the people in them to network throughout their college years, which can lead to future careers and networking opportunities.

Recently, online communities have become increasingly popular and can be seen as a type of club. People from different cultures and regions can meet together to discuss topics, contribute work to online projects, or just for entertainment purposes. Some examples of this are video game modding communities, chat rooms, and forums. In addition to these, there has also been an increasing following for YouTube personalities. YouTube has grown to be one of the largest online communities, because it is video based, and can have videos and personalities producing a wide array of content, including things like video gaming, makeup artist lessons, general tutorials regarding just about everything, "story time" videos, and much more.

Counterculture Groups[edit]

A counterculture group is a group of people that choose to come together and reject the social norms of society and oppose their values. These groups are typically more popular among young individuals, who reject the values that were important to an older generation of people.

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 "hippie" counterculture movement during the 1960s in America. This counter movement saw young people begin to reject societal norms and the way american culture was functioning at the time. It Consisted mainly of college-age men and women who became politically active, and began holding movements speaking about civil rights, sexual liberation, and against the Vietnam War. [1] They also sought to include more roles for women besides the traditional mother and housewife role they had been typically placed in. This group was embraced and is associated with recreational drug use and ‘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. Counterculture can also be broadened to include any group that does not adhere to mainstream values. 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. [2]

One example of a counterculture group are gangs. Gangs consist of gang members and are regularly associated with illegal activities, such as trafficking weapons and drugs. There are street gangs (carry out these activities in the cities and suburbs), prison gangs (which function in the prison system but are often an extension of street gangs), and biker gangs (travel on motorcycles). Gangs are often racially uniform. For example, the street gangs known as Sorenos, Nuestra Familia, and La Eme are predominately Latin American. The Bloods and Crips are predominately African American. The Triads are a notorious Asian gang that is heavily involved in the international drug trade. Biker gangs are predominately white and gangs like Hell's Angels, traffic drugs throughout the united states.[3] Gangs may practice ritual initiations such as getting jumped in or out of a gang. This initiation consists of members of a gang violently hurting and beating new members as a way of proving the new members "toughness" in a gang. The same thing goes for members seeking escape from the gang life. Gangs may 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. 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 as well as certain vocal phrases like whistle tones to distinguish one another on the streets. Similary hand gestures are used as symbols to express a connection with one affiliated gang or another. The rivalry began in the 1970s, when the Bloods rose in competition with the Crips in crack production and distribution in Los Angeles, California.

The rise of the internet has given a new avenue for counterculture. Social media has allowed groups of individuals from around the world to form groups, in which counter-cultural ideas can be circulated. There are some sites, such as the chan boards, that take pride in their counterculture ideas. Anonymity allows for ideas and opinions to be expressed without cultural backlash, and thus is more resistant to pluralistic ignorance. This makes relatively uncensored and anonymous areas of the internet hotbeds for countercultures.


Cooperatives are a form of economic group whose members share the profits and/or benefits. Decision-making follows the democratic principal of one vote per person. Cooperatives often play a large role in the local community, since they help local businesses and the profits remain local within that community. Some common cooperatives are Agricultural cooperatives, credit cooperatives and consumer cooperatives. [4] . Agricultural cooperatives often help shape and define the community in which they're in, as many small farming areas are extremely rural and disconnected from other areas of civilizations. Cooperatives serve as a common area where community members can do business as well as socialize and feel connected. The Dairy Farmers of America is one of the largest cooperatives in the United States, it is owned by 15,000 dairy farmers who work together to represent 30% of the US's raw milk production.

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 and to hopefully overcome their problem. 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 also common activities among these groups. Self-help groups attracts individuals who may not have the traditional support of family and friends available or as an active support system in their lives.

There are more than 1,100 self-help groups officially recognized nationwide in the United State. Some common self-help groups are Alcoholics Anonymous, Divorce Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, and Neurotics Anonymous. 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.

Social Stratification, Power and Conflict[edit]

Social stratification is hierarchical relationships between different groups, usually based off inequality and access to wealth, power, and prestige [5] 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, a class structure that is determined by birth. Loosely, it means that in some societies, if your parents are poor, you're going to be poor, too. Same goes for being rich, if you're a glass-half-full person. Gender is often times part of the stratification system. In patriarchal societies, men rank above women of the same race and class, and in matriarchal societies, women are ranked above men. 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, 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 possible for someone to move up or down in their status.


Discrimination is the negative or unfair treatment of a person because of his/her group membership, identity or appearance. Segregation is the action or state of setting someone or something apart from other people or things or being set apart. Discrimination is embedded in American culture both in the past and present. One example of discrimination is slavery of Blacks/African Americans by subjecting them to harsh, free labor and mistreatment. Even after slavery was abolished, freedmen were still discriminated against; this discrimination dictated where they could go, which bathroom or water fountain they were allowed to use, who and how they were able to socialize within the community, and which jobs they could work, etc. Even now, blacks are discriminated against. The most obvious case is the ongoing conflict, abuse, and shootings of blacks inflicted by the police. Another example of discrimination within the United States was Japanese internment camps. After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, 110,000 people of Japanese descent were forced into degrading internment camps in the Pacific Northwest area, based on their identity and appearance and all of whom were American citizens.

Many people like to believe that discrimination was a thing of the past, but even today in our society, specifically in the United States, it is nowhere from being a thing of the past. For example, the War On Drugs has made a lasting impact on the way policing is done, and where it's largest focuses are, which is deeply rooted in neighborhoods and cities that have a large population of People of Color (POC). Another example is the racial climate following the attacks on the world trade center, the result of which is discrimination against Muslims. Hate crimes occurred all over the United States. For example Patrick Cunningham pled guilty on May 9, 2002, for attempting, two days after September 11, 2001, to set fire to cars in the parking lot of Seattle’s Islamic Idriss Mosque. He then fired a gun at worshipers who exited the mosque, and then fled. He was apprehended by police after crashing his vehicle. On December 17, 2002, Cunningham was sentenced to 78 months incarceration.[6] Muslim Americans were also discriminated against in employment, housing and educational sectors.

It should also be noted that while discrimination happens today within communities such as these, that our own, homegrown, terrorism is far greater and way more frequent than that of other countries and religions based outside of the United States. Statistics prove this to be right, yet privilege shields them from criticism or action against them.


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. [5]

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. [6]

Race & Racism[edit]

Race is a concept that organizes people into groups based on specific physical traits that are thought to reflect fundamental and innate differences (Cultural Anthropology, 2015). It is a social creation and not biologically supported.ascribed status. There have been four approaches into how to categorize humans into racial groups, with each being based on trait-based, geographic origin, adaptation to environment, or reproductive isolated groups. The problem with trying to categorize humans into race groups is that often times these categories to not fit an entire group of individuals. Even though origins of racial groups are neither biological nor genetic, they can shape people's biological lives and beliefs due to the disparities between the races of access or exposure to healthcare, disease and other factors. Through this, race has the capability of influencing an individual’s social perception and life possibilities.

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'. It is the repressive practice, structure, belief and representation that upholds racial categories and social inequality (Cultural Anthropology, 2015). 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. According to the United Nations conventions, there is no distinction between the term racial discrimination and ethnic discrimination. Racism encompasses both prejudice and discrimination, yet there is a distinction between the two factors. Prejudice is the attitude that a person posseses 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. [7]

Some people believe that there is racism against certain groups of people, specifically white people, and they refer to it as 'reverse racism'. Reverse racism is not possible, though, because racism is deeply rooted in the institutions and societal structures. Structural and institutions that are built to hold certain races up, and push others down, and has not done either to the white race. In fact, they have been the most dominant, specifically in the United States, since coming over to North America and committing genocide on the Indigenous people who had already been inhabiting it for hundreds of years, so that they could gain land and wealth for themselves, which is what the United States was built on. The exploitation and racism that has faced people of color since the beginning of the United States began with slavery, followed by segregation, which was followed by laws that made it illegal to discriminate but didn't regulate or stop much, the war on drugs, and more, has all contributed to the way the United States was formed and built for white people. While white people can fall victim to discrimination and prejudice, they cannot, and do not, feel the wrath of racism. White privilege is a very prominent thing, and is defined as, "a term for societal privileges that benefit people identified as white in Western countries, beyond what is commonly experienced by non-white people under the same social, political, or economic circumstances," as defined by Wikipedia (reference).

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 then the Montgomery Bus Boycotts started. This was a classic example of the lower status that was given to black people in the 1950's. Another example of racism that we have seen 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 but also kept them from experiencing equality under the law, but also opened the door to institutionalized racism. The landmark legal battle of Brown v. Board of Education ruled that separate educational facilities are inherently unequal, therefor declaring school segregation unconstitutional in a unanimous 9-0 decision. [8] Often times, the separation between majority and minority group can lead to racism. There are five main elements that define the minority group.

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

There are also five main elements that define the majority group.

  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 not the common man.
  4. Membership is also by descent.
  5. Marriage usually occurs within the group. [9]

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 group. If these ideas and components are never to be overcame the inequality between races will last for many years.

Race and Racism is tied very strongly to the above points of Discrimination and Segregation. The United States is especially known for this all throughout its history. Even to this day you can see it, not only in America but in any country you visit or see.


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 the 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]


Baptism of a child by affusion

An individual's 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. Sometimes religion can be a factor of achieved status too. Some people find a religion that helps bring them to peace from a past life of hardship and difficulty.

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. [10]. The separation of church and state in Western cultures, and specifically in the United States, are only drawn by a fine line at times. In the United States, the Christian religion tends to have a very large influence in and on the doings and interests of the Republican Party. An example of this is how a big issue they fight against is legal and safe abortions, because it is against what they believe. Another example is gay marriage. Both of these things, while looked into, do not hurt anyone outside of the people who decide to do either, yet it always comes up and is fought against. The reason that the separation of church and state should be stronger, and is so important, is because not everyone believes in God, and not everyone is religious. And in countries like the United States, where there is the freedom of religion, the acceptance of all religions, or lack thereof, should be the main focus, but isn't always.

Achieved Status vs. Ascribed 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. An example of achieved status would be someone who was born into poverty who works and eventually is affluent and powerful in society.

Ascribed status refers to the status that an individual acquires by virtue or by birth. The individual has no control over this status, it is simply the social position they are born into (James 2017). In many instances, this status is a social construct already pre-determined before one is born into the specific culture; it is nearly impossible to move up.

Cultural Example of Achieved Status[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; this includes 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. The number and severity of the obstacles one faces to climb the social ladder often depends on one's race, ethnicity, and beginning economic status.

Example of Ascribed Status: Caste System[edit]

A caste is a system of social stratification found in India (as well as other parts of the world) dividing people into categories based on moral purity and pollution (James 2017). 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 system consists of five different levels. The highest caste is considered the most "pure"- ritually and morally; the castes beneath it decline in "purity" and increase in "pollution". The Castes are as follow:

  • Vedas(The Enlightened)
  • Brahmins (priests and teachers) [7]
  • Kshatriyas (rulers and soldiers)[8]
  • Vaishyas (merchants and traders)[9]
  • Shudras (laborers) [10]

Below these castes are the "Untouchables" or the Achuta (Dalit). [[Image:Beggar India.jpg|thumb|300px|right|Dalit's in Jaipur. An “untouchable” or Dalit is considered outside of the caste system. They are the lowest in the Indian social stratification and treated very poorly often segregated from the rest of society. 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 ritually polluting such as taking care of human waste, metal work, street sweeping. Some insist that the Indian caste system doesn't exist anymore due to the incorporation of democracy, change in government programs and the implementation of rights for the "untouchables"; however, this is mostly only seen in the urban areas.

Example of Ascribed Status: Gender[edit]

An ascribed status of an individual can be based on the sex that they are born. Gender typing is the process by which a child becomes aware of his/her gender and starts behaving in that socially constructed acceptable way of that gender. Often there are certain activities that are reserved for males or 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.[11]

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 can lead to differences in intellectual and emotional development. For example, girls are provided with toys such as Barbies that encourage them to learn social rules and imitate behaviors. In contrast, boys are given more active toys and encouraged to explore. 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 and boys are more likely to obtain higher paid, higher status careers such as, pilot, architect, doctor, or lawyer, largely influence by their toys and surroundings. [12]

Political Organization[edit]

In modern human societies, people have organized in groups, usually according to their status/role in society, which can include but are not limited to, political parties, non-governmental organizations, advocacy groups, and special interest groups. Hence, these groups have become known as political organizations. In terms of anthropology, political organization gives thorough information on the values/ideas of separate individuals.

Types of Political Organization[edit]

There are four types of political organization within groups and they are split between centralized or uncentralized political systems. An uncentralized political system is a political organization that requires several different parties to make a decision/law where as the centralized system is a political organization that is made up of one group that holds all authority within a government. [11]

Between the centralized and uncentralized forms of political organization, there are four groups. These four groups are composed of either bands, tribes, chiefdoms, or states. States and chiefdoms are centralized whereas tribes and bands are uncentralized or also known as egalitarian groups.

  • 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. Most of the people within this group 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.
  • Tribe - 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.
  • Bushman - 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.
  • 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. [13]
Nationality (Nation-Building): The sense of belonging and loyalty to a particular nation that comes about through origin, birth or naturalization.[14] 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.


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, is the foremost source of power. 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. 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 country's money either goes up or down. If there is a lot of money, per say, the value of that country's 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%.

Money can also be used to help persuade politics in a country. A specific example is that in the United States, Super PACs are legal. This allows companies and unions, even sometimes individuals, to anonymously donate as much money as they want to politicians. Another example of money in politics is Citizens United. Money can, and is, used to gain political power in countries like the United States, and a lot of it goes on without many of their citizens knowing much about it.

2. Social Class

Social class is the hierarchy among members of a society. Often people are born into it, or it is gained through money, education, or career. In some cultures people must stay within their social class through life (ascribed status), and in other cultures it is allowable or even respected if people work their way up the social ladder (achieved status). 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.

3. Physical Force

Physical force is using physical coercion as a means to gain power and control over others. Physical coercion 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. 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[15]. Force usually involves violence, threats and by putting fear. 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.

Other examples of physical force may be one country threatening another with its military, or a neighborhood bully asserting his/her dominance with threats and physical beatings. 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." 

A specific 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. [12] 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.

In new era of nuclear weapons and WMD, the threat of violence or physical force can be just as effective as actually perpetuating the violence. We see examples of this during the Cold War, when extreme nuclear proliferation, lead to an arms race between the United States and the USSR. Nuclear proliferation lead to the theory of mutually assured destruction, which occurs when conflict would cause the complete annihilation of both the attacker and the defender. Neither side has any incentive to initiate a conflict or to disarm, and it therefor serves as a preventative measure. We saw the height of this kind of strategic theory, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, which was the closest the world has ever gotten to all out nuclear holocaust.

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 People 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). Blackmail is a tool of persuasion with more sinister intentions. It is usually in the form of using a threat, whether it is a way of tarnishing one's reputation or performing an act that can do harm on a person's way of life. And in exchange of not pursuing this threat, needs or satisfactions are met.

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, even though they do not necessarily have the right to have this power.

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.[16]

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, cultural beliefs and workforce. Religions have long histories, which inevitably create traditional customs, laws, beliefs and ways of thinking or processing. Certain cultures have traditional beliefs that grant power logically to one sex over the other, such as in patriarchal or matriarchal cultures.

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 the cause of any change in the behavior of one actor, B, which can be attributed to the effect of another actor, A. It can refer to the capacity and usage of that capacity to cause such change (Weber [1918] 1968), (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).

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.


Conflict may 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 an 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 [17]. 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 [18]. 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.


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[5] ^ Hirshleifer, Jack. The Dark Side of the Force: Economic Foundations of Conflict Theory. Cambridge University Press,

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[9] Tink. "A Glance At Recent Celebrity Treatment." Associated Content - 5 Sept. 2007. 09 Mar. 2009 <>.

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[17] ^ James, Paul. "Social Groups and Conflict." Blackboard. 2009. Western Washington University. 8 Mar. 2009 <>.

[18] ^ Korry, Elaine. "A Fraternity Hazing Gone Wrong." 14 Nov. 2005. NPR. 8 Mar. 2009 <>.

[19] ^ Dukcevich, Davide. "Best Fraternities For Future CEOs." Forbes. 13 Jan. 2003. 8 Mar. 2009 <>.

[20] ^ "Ku Klux Klan." The Columbia Encyclopedia. Sixth ed. 2008. 8 Mar. 2009 <>.

[21] ^ Business Dictionary. 8 Mar. 2009 <>.

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