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Social stratification

Kinship is social relationships that are prototypically derived from the universal human experiences of mating, birth, and nurturance. Mating refers to marriage and birth refers decent, but nurturance can be seen as closely related to mating and birth. In the U.S. it is called adoption, but each society has its own definition.
Kinship is also a social organization, in which each society decides how it will be organized, what aspects of the ‘human experiences’ will be emphasized and which will not. Because each society uses different terms to refer to people they recognize as kin, anthropologists have found six major patterns of kinship terminology. These six patterns are based on how people refer to their cousins. These criteria include generation, sex, affinity, collaterality, bifurcation, relative age, and sex of linking relative.
Generation refers to the kin terms that distinguish relatives according to the generation to which the relatives belong. Sex is used to differentiate kin such as in Spanish, primo refers to a male cousin and prima is a female cousin. Affinity is the distinction mad on the basis of connection through marriage. Collaterality is the distinction made between kin who are believed to be in a direct line and those who are ‘off to one side,’ linked to the Ego through a lineal relative (mother and aunt or father and uncle). Bifurcation is a distinction used to refer to the kin on the mother’s side and kin on the father’s side. Relative age refers to relatives of the same category may be distinguished on the basis of whether they are older or younger. Sex linking relatives is similar to collaterality except that it distinguishes between cross relatives and parallel relatives, both referring to cousins. This provides evidence that social organization varies from society to society.
The difference between kinship and stratification is that kinship involves individuals related through blood or marriage. Stratification involves groups of individuals that are related through similar economic, political or racial/ethnic positions. The roles that individuals play in these organizations are different. Kinship roles are more personal rather than by association.
Kinship and stratification are similar in that there are different types of kinship relationships and stratified societies. There are three kinds of kinship relationships: affinal (by marriage), consanguineal (by birth) and fictive (by adoption, godparenthood, or blood brother rites). It can be further broken down by six major patterns of kinship. The different types of stratified societies are slavery, feudalism, castes, and classes. Slavery was practiced in Africa, and in earlier civilizations of Greece and Rome. Feudalism was a rigid division between the mobility and the peasantry. It was based on their access to control over land. This form of stratification dominated in medieval Europe for centuries, but existed in other parts of the world.
Stratified societies developed from egalitarian societies. These societies have no great differences in wealth, power, or prestige between the members. Each member has equal access to the strategic resources of food and shelter. Each individual may have a slightly different status in the community from everyone else, but this difference does not exist among entire categories of people except on the basis of age and sex. Status can not be gained by amassing wealth, but there are forms of behavior that are valued. One such behavior is the sharing of goods, especially food. Neither prestige nor power can be gained from keeping goods to oneself.
Egalitarian societies still exist, but there are very few. Some of these societies became more complex giving rise to stratified societies. These societies allow some members to have permanent; privileged access to wealth, power, and prestige, which may also be inherited. They may be as small as chiefdoms where the chief has the only access to power, wealth, and prestige or entire countries. Two types of stratified societies are caste and class. In a caste society, members are in ranked groups that are closed; individuals are not allowed to move from one caste to another. This is because individuals are born into their caste and can only marry within that caste. A modern example would be India. In class societies have internally ranked subgroups that are open allowing mobility within the classes. Members are allowed to marry outside their classes, unlike castes, which is endogamous.
Stratified societies have criteria to place people in one stratum or another, but each differing from society to society. In the U.S., which has a class system, income is the criterion for placement. This can be complicated or contradicted when race and ethnicity become involved, which is also a criterion. As for caste systems, such as in India, the criterion is occupational specialization. The levels themselves do not link individuals; clientage links individuals from the upper and lower levels. This allows the underprivileged to have some identity. Economics and/or politics link entire groups rather than individuals.
There are few caste or castelike systems left because they are incompatible with modernization. The word caste comes from the Portuguese word casta. It was the Portuguese explorers’ translation of the Hindi word jati. The word means “a category of men thought to be related, to occupy a particular position within a hierarchy of jatis, to marry among themselves and to follow particular practices and occupations” (textbook).
Although there are few castes systems left, one still existence is in India. It has been a feature of Indian life for more than 2,500 years. It was officially abolished in 1949 by the Indian government. Since it had been in existence for so long it is an important element in the social life of the country, especially in the rural areas.
India has four main castes or varnas: the brahmins, or priests; the kshatriyas, or nobles and warriors; the vaishyas, or merchants or craftsmen; the shudras, or common laborers. After these four castes are the outcastes made up the ‘untouchable’, so called because to be touched or even brushed by their shadow, is a form of ritual pollution form members of higher castes. This practice along with endogamy ensures the continued segregation of the castes. It has not been until recently that the practice of endogamy has been breached. Members of differing caste are now allowed to marry.
These main four castes are divided into thousands of subcastes also called jati. They can be confined to local areas, but membership is spread across the continent. They possess their own culture and sometimes their own language. A jati is usually linked to a particular occupation and food, but all members must follow specific guidelines for that job. There is no possibility for changing one’s status because it is inherited, but an entire jati’s relative status may change overtime.
Jatis are distinguished by their occupations as well as by the foods they eat. These features affect how members of different jati interact with one another. In Hindu belief, certain foods and occupations are classed as pure and others as polluting. Jatis are ranked in the same manner, purest to most polluted. Ranked highest are the brahmins because they are vegetarians, they are consider so pure that they would be allowed to approach the gods. Next are the kshatriyas, who are also, vegetarians. After them are those who eat ‘clean’ or ‘pure’ meat, such as sheep, goats, chickens and fish. Those that eat ‘unclean’ meat, beef (the cow is sacred in Hindu religion) and pork are ranked lowest. Occupations involving the slaughtering of animals or touching polluted things are themselves polluting. Even the acceptance of food from different jatis is a strict practice. Members of a lower-ranking jati may accept food prepared by higher-ranking jatis. Higher-ranking jati may only accept certain food prepared by lower-ranking jatis. They are also not allowed to eat together.
The Indian caste is closely intertwined with the Hindu religion, which very concerned with the maintenance of the stratified social order. There are certain guidelines and behaviors that each varna’s members must adhere to. According to the Hindu doctrine of karma, an individual is reincarnated again and again through a series of lifetimes, and one’s status in the next lifetime depends on one’s behavior in this one. Those who do not fulfill the requirements of their particular varna will be reincarnated as a member of a lower varna, an outcaste, or even an animal. Thus the Hindu religion is both an expression of the caste system and mechanism for its maintenance.
The Indian caste system is breaking down rapidly in urban areas. This is due to the difficulty in recognizing another person’s caste in a crowded environment where it would be impossible to observe the complicated rules or ritual distance or to avoid ritual pollution. The only places that this highly restrictive and rigid system persists in the countryside and villages where millions still live.
Another caste society that is different, yet similar to the caste system of India is in Western Africa. This society, which resides in the mountain ranges along the boarders of Nigeria and Cameroon, had endogamous groups of ‘blacksmiths. Their status was distinct from that of the other members. They were not despised, but were regarded with awe or feared.
In one such caste of blacksmiths in the kingdom of the Marghi, the members are ngkyagu. They care craft specialists that make a variety of iron tools for ordinary Marghi. The most important tools are hoes for farming, but also make weapons and iron ornaments. They also work leather and wood, they’re barbers, put traditional tribal markings on the women, they’re responsible for shaving the new king’s head, they’re morticians, they’re musicians and some are diviners and ‘doctors’. The female members of the Marghi society are potters.
In some ways the Marghi caste system is similar to that of the Indian system. The Marghi or ngkyagu do not intermarry (endogamous) and will not share the same food. They also have rules about which they can accept beer from, as did the Indians. Ngkyagu can drink beer brewed from Marghi women as long as they have their own drinking vessel; Marghi will not drink beer from ngkyagu women.
The ngykagu do not stand out from the other Marghi, but the Marghi can tell the differences. To the Marghi the ngkyagu are ‘strange’ and ‘different’ because they don’t farm and to a Marghi to be a farmer is to be a Marghi. Those that do not are not considered normal. In contrast, ngkyagu attribute the difference between themselves and other Marghi to the division labor. On the other hand, both groups depend on one another. Marghi rely on the ngkyagu to make their farming tools, but the ngkyagu rely on the Marghi for food.
The ngkyagu have a peculiar relationship with the Marghi kings. The Marghi king takes a ngkyagu female as a bride, violating the rule of endogamy. Since ngkyagu are responsible for burials, they bury the Marghi king in the same manner as they bury themselves. The ngkyagu clans are not included in the choice of Marghi kings, but they have a ‘king’ who decides disputes among ngkyagu.
The Marghi and ngkyagu are mutually interdependent, but ritual prohibitions that divide them show that this interdependence carries symbolic overtones. They are a society of farmers who need to support full-time toolmaking nonfarmers in order to farm. Although the Marghi do not like to depend on the ngkyagu, they will keep the caste specialists around to provide them the tools they can’t make themselves.
The class structure of the United States is made up of the lower, middle, and upper classes and their subdivisions. These class status are achieved, but the power and wealth distribute to these classes are unequal. There is a small percentage of the population that owns almost a third of the country’s wealth, while almost a third of the population lives below the poverty line. The ‘power elite’ of corporate and bureaucratic who makes most of the important decisions in their best interest dominates power. Many people are not directly involved or aware of these decisions.
The U.S. class system is very complex because it not only involves achieved status, but also ascribed status. Race or ethnic background plays a role in the class one belongs, although many don’t like to think so. This aspect of the system is castelike. The various ‘racial’ minorities are endogamous and are given lower collective status than the dominant white majority. American racism has a long history of the observation of social distance (segregation) and ritual pollution (segregated bathrooms and taboos on ‘interracial sex or marriage). This castelike system is even more complicated by the fact that each ‘caste’ may contain an internal class based on stratification system.

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