Category Archives: Social Status

Caste System

Here in America when you are born you have the choice to become whoever or whatever you want. In places like India where the caste system is in place when you are born you are to automatically assume the same social rank, or position as your parents. Caste means hereditary rank, usually religiously dictated, that tends to be fixed and immobile. The caste system is mostly associated with Hinduism in India and in some other countries as well. In India there are priests, warriors, merchants, and artisans/farmers. They are also known as Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra. These are the four major castes. There is also a fifth caste known as the untouchables or the Dalit caste. The Dalit caste is known to be so low in rank and unclean that they are said to have no place in this system of stratification.

People who live within a caste system have no choice about their social rank, they cannot change which caste they are in. You are expected to marry within your caste as well. This reminds me of a time when I was in middle school and some classmates were telling me that since my parents didn’t go to college and don’t have good jobs that I would turn out the same way. Just because I was born into a family that doesn’t have a history of going to college doesn’t mean that I can’t. I can experience social mobility and can change the social rank that I am in.

Social mobility is not seen in places like India, people do not have the right to move from one position in a society’s stratification system to another. The caste system is a closed system; the people involved have little to no way of social mobility. People live very unequally in the caste system and they should be able to do whatever they want, go wherever they want, and be able to be or marry whoever they want. There should be no invisible walls keeping these castes separate. There should be an open system everywhere in the world. An open system is where the position of an individual is because of their own achieved status, not because of their parent’s status. Even a class system would be better than a caste system because you have the freedom and opportunity to move from one class to another, it’s all up to you.

— Emily

 

 

Relative Poverty

Relativity, by definition, is when one thing is dependent in relation to something else. So in layman’s terms, an example would be that pain is relative. If I drop a stone on my hand it may hurt me more than if someone else dropped the same stone on them; so how does this relate to sociology? This affects about 46 million United State citizens currently according to official calculations. Any clue yet?  Well, I will begin by explaining what poverty is. Poverty is often defined as the base line which is the bare minimum for someone to survive on. This is referred as the “absolute poverty.” For someone to be classified as in poverty, by the definition of absolute poverty, they would have to be unable to afford clothing, shelter, and food. Whereas “relative poverty” is a comparative standard by which someone’s lifestyle is considered to be in poverty in comparison to that of the majority. An example would be someone who does not own a TV. and a car, yet can afford to stay fed and clothed with a roof over their head. Relative Poverty often shifts and changes due to the times, whereas absolute poverty stays almost the same. The power of relativity associated with poverty is fueled and manifested through our media/marketing dense culture.

Take The United States for example (as I am from here), we have a culture where what you have plays a large part in how others interact with you. This relates to the idea of face work, where effort is put into maintaining a proper image to avoid public scrutiny. You may ask how this is associated with relative poverty. Well I will share a story in this blog to explain the connection, which will begin with a close friend of mine who lost his job. While he lost his job his wife still worked however, they suffered financially, struggling to pay the bills. Let’s call my friend Bill.  Bill shared how at the time he was so self-conscious about his friends and family knowing his status, that he created a story, using “face work” so that none of his friends and family knew until years later. I felt this was a very important piece to share about relative poverty because even though they still had clothes on their back, and food on the table, Bill felt he needed to present to the world that he was still working and nothing was going wrong. Face work is at times a factor in people suffering from relative poverty, especially if they moved down the socioeconomic ladder. For example, having lost your job, you still dressed up and left as if you were heading to work, even though you were no longer working.

As I mentioned before, absolute poverty is the base line that no family should live below. Although Bill’s wife was able to work full-time and still earned more than a majority of the world’s population, they still were suffering from poverty compared to the standards within their community. He was an owner of a contracting firm and lost his business during 2008-2009, at the same time they continued to live in an upper-middle class neighborhood. So, while Bill and his family would be considered poor, they did not suffer like many others do globally. Many nations, sometimes referred to as less industrialized nations, suffer from widespread absolute poverty. An example would be someone who is below absolute poverty would not have enough to meet even the basic needs.

I believe dominant ideology, which is the set of cultural beliefs and practices that legitimates existing powerful social, economic, and political interests, plays a role in relative poverty. Because, once there is a set of ways that are deemed superior, people will try to aspire to that and place people either in it or out. From his family or friends, Bill was taught that it is weak for a family man to fall to his knees and lose a business. This concept connects to relative poverty because in many developed countries like the United States what we perceive as poverty is largely linked to the dominant ideology. Bill perceived that not having a male income is “bad”, and that by cutting his expenses his peers would look down on him.  This is all based on how the media portrays those who are financially restricted.

Some of the problems associated with face work is that people like Bill have to present themselves as if their life hasn’t been altered. Bill should have had faith in his peers and family to support him and get him back on his feet, but to do so would mean he’d have to disclose his job loss. We have detached from communalism, where no one helps one another. Absolute poverty is a world issue, and we could increase international efforts by sending more aid and education to help pull those who live on a dollar a day to higher paying jobs.  Finally we need to shift our perception about lower income lifestyles so that people do not get caught up and unable to move out of poverty.

Relative poverty really is a made up idea within society; we have the ability as a society to alter what is considered poverty. We can start by increasing programs to offer to people to get out of poverty. We can also bring awareness and understanding to what poverty is so that people like Bill, even after losing his job, can get support. Below is a link to a video relating to this topic that I find to be of great interest!

— Ian

SOCIAL ROLE

All societies in the world are socially stratified meaning wealth, power, and honor are unequally distributed among different groups. In other words all communities are separated into different social classes. The most frequently used basis for categorizing different forms of stratification systems is the way status is acquired.

In sociology social roles are expectations for the ways in which people are expected to behave in specific situations. These expectations are created and defined by the societies in which the people live. Different societies have dissimilar social roles. Role expectations include both actions and qualities.  For example, a teacher may be expected not only to deliver lectures, assign homework, and prepare examinations but also to be dedicated, concerned, and responsible.

We cannot talk about social role without explaining social status. According to sociologists, social status is the honor or prestige attached to one’s position in society.  It may also refer to a rank or position that one holds in a group. For example, we are all students in this class and each one of us is either a son or daughter of somebody. The position or rank of a person or group within the society can be determined in two ways. A person can earn their social status by their own achievements also known as achieved or attained status. Alternatively, a person can be placed in the position. This inherited position is known as ascribed status meaning they are predefined for an individual at birth. For example prince William of England will have many high expectations compare to any poor child born in England.

In modern societies like ours, occupation or job is usually thought of as the main determinant of status. Other factors such as ethnic group, religion, gender, voluntary associations and hobby can have an influence also. This achieved status is when people are placed on the stratification structure based on their individual merits; the most commonly used here in America is education. The amount and kind of education people attain determine the kinds of jobs they get. The kind of work people do is the main determinant of their income.  Therefore, one’s place within the stratification structure is determined by financial, academic or political success. The higher a person is in rank, the better off he is. Moreover, the education, occupation, and income of parents largely determine the kinds of advantages or disadvantages they create for their own children. These situations are the roots of social inequality we observe in every society. Based on that observation, the gap can only grow deeper and deeper with time. For example Blacks are substantially less well educated than Whites just because the parents of blacks are poorly educated themselves. The sharp difference between blacks and whites is the continuing legacy of slavery. For centuries whites could educate themselves, passing that huge advantage to their children while it was forbidden for blacks to get any kind of education.

In the United States of America, there is no difference in the opportunity given to both girls and boys to have access to education. After graduation comes the reality of the work world. In fact, according to Donald J. Treiman, a sociologist, at equal levels of education, women earn about 60 percent of what men earn. This is explained by the gender preference for men over women that prevails in the work place. Women’s potential seems to be undermined by their so called women to-do task. In fact, the work lives for many women are interrupted for childbearing. Consequently many corporations want to avoid the stress of training and hiring somebody else for her job to replace women whenever they have to be put on leave. Moreover when it comes to gender in American society, women and men are assigned predetermined cultural roles. Women assume the roles of mothers, housekeepers, and servants to their husbands and kids, while men are providers, protectors, and heads of the household. More and more, we see a change in society today regarding the gender roles. Indeed, in modern homes, husbands and wives work both outside of the house. Both are providers for their family and both do the housekeeping job for the well being of the all family.

Works cited

Treiman, Donald J. “Status Attainment.” Encyclopedia of Sociology. 2nd ed. Vol. 5. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2001. 3042-3049. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 13 Feb. 2013

MATERIAL CULTURE

Material culture refers to things we consider important, or things that define our culture. Material culture can be a home that you live in or the clothes you wear.  For example, in Congo we have certain clothes we wear that differentiates us from other countries.  This is not just in the Congo, but in some of the other West African countries.  We dress in these types of clothes which are different from the way people in eastern and southern Africa dress. These clothes are the material culture of  West Africa and are considered  valuable..We also consider the way we Congolese woman do our hair  a part of material culture which differs from other countries. For example when people see a woman with this kind of hair they automatically know that she is Congolese by origin .  It’s a part of material culture because people are able to tell where you come from before you even tell them.

Here are some other examples of material culture in West African countries.  These are examples of clothing that we wear to special events like weddings and parties.  This has remained the culture for generations and it helps identify us and our culture. When a woman wears these clothes, it shows respect and also shows that we are proud to show our cultural clothes to others. They are different type of these clothes and different textures. Here you can see they are made into different styles.  Some of the styles show the status of the person wearing it.

This is what men wear for special events.

The other material thing that is considered a part of material culture is the kind of homes people live in. Houses in Congo differentiate people in the society.  Houses represent the status of individuals in the community.  If you come from a rich background, people we automatically tell that you are rich because you can afford to live in a very beautiful house.

The above  is an  example of a house for someone who is rich and has a high status in the society. Material culture has become very important to most Congolese people because if you own a house like this one you create a history and you will be respected.

Another example of homes people consider important and which give them high status is the French-style home.  French-style homes are built to show how much people value material culture. They also show outsiders that we have things that are important to us. I think having material culture is a good thing and can help you in some ways. Not all the homes in Congo are like those shown above.   These are only shown to demonstrate some of the material culture of Congo.

RITES OF PASSAGE

All cultures have certain rites of passage among their population. A rite of passage is defined as “a ritual marking the symbolic transition from one social position to another“(Witt 88). Rites of passage can vary in importance. However they normally involve moving up into a new chapter of life. They are important to cultures and many young children think about the day where they can become a man/woman. In the United States, at the age of sixteen, most teenagers go through the act of getting their driver’s license.  Although after having your license for a while it just becomes a normal way of life, many young children fantasize about their sixteenth birthday so they can join the other adults on the road. Other important birthdays that are treated as rites of passage can be the eighteenth, twenty-first or fiftieth. When one turns eighteen, they have officially soared into the world of adulthood. The twenty-first birthday is when one can legally drink alcohol and the fiftieth birthday is one that many dread. The fiftieth birthday is a milestone of having reached the age of being a senior.

Not all rites of passage in the United States are birthdays, major life events can fall into this category as well. Graduation from high school or college is a passage into the next stage of life. Getting married for the first time and having a baby for the first time allows one to move into a new social status such as being a wife/ husband and a parent.

While reading of other culture’s rite of passage ceremonies, I found myself judging other cultures because of safety or health hazards. My display of ethnocentrism is how many people of the United States would act upon hearing of these events. In Vanuatu, men participate in a rite of passage called land diving. Once a male reaches the age of seven or eight and has been circumcised, they can partake in this event. These males climb on top of a ninety-eight foot tower. They tie vines to their ankles and jump. A good jump ends with the male’s head or shoulders touching the ground. However vines do not have the elastic qualities that bungee cords do, so a miscalculation in the length of the vine can end in serious injuries or death. During a boy’s first jump, his mother holds onto an item signifying his childhood, when he dives the mother throws the item away. This event is now becoming a tourist attraction for people to come see. However many experience culture shock and cannot believe the danger these men put themselves in.

In the Northwest Amazon, the Tukuna people have a rite of passage for young women that involve alienation. Once a young girl begins her menstruation period for the first time, she is forced into seclusion for four to twelve weeks. She is put in a chamber within the dwelling of the family that is constructed for this purpose. The girl is thought to be in danger of demons called the Noo while in this chamber. Near the end of this ritual, guests arrive in masks that allow them to become incarnations of the Noo. After this encounter with these “demons” the young girl stays within the chamber for another two days, she paints her body with black genipa dye for protection from the Noo. After the alienation is over, the young girl is surrounded by her relatives and led out into festivities where her family dances around her until dawn. At that time she is given a fire brand that she will throw at the Noo, breaking their power. The young girl has now safely entered into womanhood.

Even more extreme rites of passage can be found around the world, many of them involve circumcision or body mutilations. Although people of these cultures put themselves through great pain, the reward to become a man/woman is so great that cultures cherish these events and they have lasted through generations. Industrial and post-industrial societies tend not to have such violent acts as rites of passages. Rites of passages that are less extreme include ceremonies such as a Bar Mitzvah for Jewish boys transitioning into men. Whether extreme or not, each type of passage is important to the culture from which it comes from.

 

Works Cited

“10 Bizarre Rites Of Passage.” Listverse. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2013.

“8 Interesting (And Insane) Male Rites of Passages From Around the World.” The Art of Manliness RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2013.

Web. 23 Feb. 2013. <http://listverse.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/ayof-image-21_794222i-tm.jpg&gt;.

Web. 23 Feb. 2013. <http://us.123rf.com/400wm/400/400/patrimonio/patrimonio0901/patrimonio090100036/4174917-driver-license-identification-card.jpg&gt;.

Web. 23 Feb. 2013. <http://weddingcakes.simpleweddingdecorations.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/bride-and-groom wedding-cake-topper-2013.jpg>.

Witt, Jon. SOC 2012. Ed. Gina Boedeker. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011. 88. Print.

CONFORMITY

Conformity is a rather simple concept to understand. It’s when people act and behave like those around them. Simple, right? Well, conformity is a much broader and complex topic than we initially perceive. It’s not just about behaving like everyone else. It’s about what happens to those who don’t, how conformity plays a huge role in our development, and how it affects us every minute of every day.

Everyone, whether they know it or not, has a mini internal battle about what decisions to make. Do I do this because I want to, or do I do this because everyone thinks I should? We don’t normally actually think this, but it happens nonetheless. Even the clothes we choose to wear in the morning are based on ideas of conformity. Should I wear a suit to work or some jeans and a t-shirt? Everything we do is based on, not only social norms, but the sanctions we might receive if we don’t act appropriately. Sanctions are “the penalties and rewards we face for conduct concerning a social norm” (Witt 130). For example, if I walked down the street and stared at everyone coming my way, I would get weird looks and maybe a few grumbles under the breath. This is a minor negative sanction. A positive sanction would be if I worked hard at my job and received a promotion. We do things and get some kind of a sanction for it, whether that be good or bad. These sanctions directly affect our behaviors. No one wants to go somewhere and get weird looks, so they dress appropriately. This is just one way conformity plays a role in our daily lives.

Conformity also plays a role in socialization. Socialization is the “lifelong process through which people learn the attitudes, values, and behaviors appropriate for members of a particular culture” (Witt 73). Everything that we are taught at a young age shows us how we are to live our lives properly. If we don’t conform to these ideals early, we become outcasts in our society. In our culture it is considered beautiful to be skinny and tan. In other cultures it is beautiful to have small feet and be pale. Depending on the culture you’re raised in, you conform to a different set of social rules and norms. This connects to the idea of a generalized other. This is when “an individual acts, he or she takes into account an entire group of people” (Witt 77). When we conform our behaviors and actions to that of those around us, we aren’t only thinking about ourselves, we are thinking about an entire group of people. This group of people sometimes consists of everyone that you will encounter when you walk outside. Other times it’s only the people you know.

Conformity contributes to our identity as humans. We identify ourselves with the statuses we’ve been given or achieved such as, father, police officer, and president. With each of these statuses comes a specified set of roles we adhere to. For example, a fire fighter will put out a fire, or a baby sitter will feed the children they’re watching. What if the people in these statuses did not conform to the roles they are ascribed. Chaos would ensue because no one would know who was supposed to do what. Conformity provides a sort of order to society so we all can live together peacefully. Conformity is such a natural thing we never really think about. Everything we do and say is some form of conformity. It shapes our identity as people and shapes even the smallest decisions we make. Conformity is a good thing, but can it also be negative?

For some reason, whenever I think of the word “conformity,” I think of it negatively. In my head, being like everyone else sounds terrible. I’ve been taught my whole life that I’m a precious unique little snowflake who shouldn’t be and never will be like everyone else. I think this is true, but to an extent. We are individuals with certain likes and dislikes, but everything we do has been influenced by some outside source. We conform to what we see as correct from our friends, family, and even the media. What would happen if everyone thought and acted the same way? We would go nowhere as a society and become stagnant. We wouldn’t be creating new things and coming up with new ideas abecause everyone would conform to everyone else. We need those anti-conformist people to think of new things and to bring us forward as a society. I think there is a certain balance between lots of conformity and little conformity.

In my personal experience, I’ve found conformity to be awful. Certain things in the society of today I think are wrong and should not be conformed to. For example, I don’t think underage drinking is okay, and I don’t think sex before marriage is okay either. These thoughts are becoming old and obsolete, but I don’t want to conform to these things simply because I think they are wrong.  I think we have to be choosey about the things we conform to. We can’t just do what everyone else is doing because the majority of people are doing it. The old adage of, if he jumped off a cliff would you follow, seems to apply here. We need to decide what parts of society are okay to conform to and which parts are not so okay. When we make these decisions, I think our lives will be easier to live because we will have a better understanding of ourselves and where we fit into the world.

Works Cited

Witt, Jon. Soc. Ed. Gina Boedeker. 2011th ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 2011. N. pag. Print