Kin, Tribe, Ethnicity, Caste, Class, Nation: Patterns of Social Stratification

Kin, Tribe, Ethnicity, Caste,
Class, Nation: Patterns of Social
Ideologies of ‘blood’ and ideologies of ‘kind’
Kinship as an ‘ideology of blood’
Many small-scale societies are made up of groups
that take kinship, i.e. marriage, descent and filiation
as the primary principles of membership.
For example, among the !Kung, membership in a kin
group will determine which hunting and/or gathering
territories you will possess and use.
Descent groups, i.e. groups that define their
membership through descent from a common
ancestor are very common in small-scale societies.
They can be patrilineal, matrilineal, or
consanguineal, i.e. descent is traced from either
mother or father.
A descent group formed from unilineal descent, and
to which a common ancestor can be traced is called
a lineage.
A descent group formed through unilineal descent,
and to which a common ancestor cannot be exactly
traced, is called a clan.
Complex Societies: Forms of
Organization I: Ideologies of ‘blood’
Last day, I mentioned that once states emerged, the
dominant political principle was one expressed
through control over territory, rather than being
based on kinship. Population increases prevented
descent groups from having major political roles,
and states took over the functions of dispute
mediation, and social ‘order’.
However, groups based on ideologies of shared
‘blood’, ‘substance’, or ‘descent’, do not disappear.
Rather they take on new forms: these include
notions of ‘tribe’, caste, ethnicity, and nation.
Notions of shared descent are a powerful way to
create notions of communal solidarity.
Ethnicity and ‘tribalism’
Ideas of shared ‘blood’ are often used to create
feelings of unity and shared destiny in larger groups,
whose members may have no traceable
geneaological connection.
Ideologies of ethnicity based collective identity on
shared descent, relating to common
regional/national origin.
The major aspect of ethnicity is that it is
*relational*, i.e. groups define themselves in terms
of relations of difference to ‘others’. We are
Canadian because we are not American. Ethnicity is
thus an exclusive form of belonging.
Awareness of ethnic identity is shifting; ethnic
movements often arise in relation to political
mobilization and through conflict over resources.
Although ethnicity has an exclusive ideology, its
actual membership is often fluid.
Feature of the South Asian subcontinent.
Thought to have arisen through the transformation of
‘tribes’ in the transition to agricultural revolution.
Elements of caste appear to have existed in the
Harappan civilization, c. 3,000 BC
A major feature of caste is endogamy, i.e. the
requirement that people marry within their own caste,
not outside it.
Also religious and cosmological ranking associated
with caste, found in major Hindu scriptures: earliest
were the division of society into 4 varnas (colours):
Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras.
2nd century AD, a fifth category, the ati-Shudras, or
untouchables was added.
Untouchability was outlawed by the Indian
constitution, 1951.
Nations and Nationalism
Shared heritage and historical experience the basis of
a state.
Common language, shared origin, unique customs are
features that define a sense of nationhood.
Nationalism can often arise as a result of an ethnic
19th century nationalisms, formed through defining
themselves as ‘one people, one language, one culture.’
Difference between territorial nationalism versus a
‘blood’ nationalism, e.g. in Quebec.
Monocultural nationalisms are increasingly challenged
by transnational phenomena and groups, as increasing
quantities of information, cultural knowledge and
people cross ‘national’ boundaries.
Forms of organization in complex
societies 2: ideologies of kind
1. Community: principle os shared co-residence and
interaction of proximity.
Experience of place and celebration of shared history.
Senses of place are often powerful, e.g. much oral history
is inscribed in local landscapes, Western apache.
2. Class: does not require overt membership or shared
Often defined through relationship to major means of
Also included are status distinctions: i.e. how is class
maintained through generations.
Cultural capital: the acquired ability to discriminate
between valued consumer goods according to their social
Social capital: the informal networks through which class
distinctions are maintained through time.