Social Hierarchies

Whenever you’re in a club, office, or school, you can never shake the presence of a social hierarchy lingering in the air. Its very presence defines the movement of individuals into and out of the system.

Also called as a status hierarchy or social class hierarchy, social hierarchies exist where a large number or population of people are commonly found. These people make up a society, be it a new one isolated from the rest or a faction coexisting with other hierarchies.

And, humans that we are, we tend to structure and classify ourselves into whatever we see fit. That means that those with executive leadership and more important things to do are at the upper levels while the ordinary members are at the lower ones.

Social hierarchies structure individuals based on how important they appear to be, but the structure doesn’t necessarily mean the polarization of power on the upper parts. So, how do you deal with them?

Here’s an important thing to note: social hierarchies aren’t always bad. Some hierarchies are more encouraging while others tend to border on hostility.

This can be visualized using two office hierarchies. In one, which we will name Office A, has a warmer and more caring environment. It treats neophyte workers with respect and gives everyone a fair chance of performing and moving up the structure. Okay, that sounds good. Now let’s turn to Office B.

Office B has a hostile and cold environment. Those in the higher strata typically treats those below as servants and people undeserving of respect. As a result, people wouldn’t be able to function as well, especially for those who are lower in the structure.

Before you deal with social hierarchies and start spouting lines from your great hero-gets-bullied-and-survives movie to defend yourself from apparent attacks, it is important to evaluate what the social hierarchy really stands for. And before that, we need to explore the basic things in a social hierarchy.

The Nature of an Individual’s Status

There are two types of status in a society. One is ascribed and the other is achieved. Let’s differentiate the two.

  • Ascribed Status

A person with ascribed status is someone whose status they obtained from birth or unwillingly acquires some time later in life. These things may be nonnegotiable, like gender and race. Or it could arise from someone else’s social status, for example, the daughter of a rich couple is automatically rich because of the presence of her parents’ status. The thing with ascribed status is that the individual doesn’t chose.

  • Achieved Status

Achieved status is a status that someone has earned. In a school environment, athletes are typically regarded and admired by the society as a whole, especially if the athlete has obtained or won many awards and distinctions. The same goes for any other trait, be it positive or negative.

Social Stratification and Stigmas

It is also worth noting that the statuses above don’t define an individual’s place in the hierarchy. It is also influenced by his socioeconomic status and whether society deems him as perfect or not.

Social stratification is based on a person’s job, occupation, income, wealth, class, status, and power. A person who is rich is automatically a powerful person, since he can influence a broad range of people. The stratification is usually divided into three: upper, middle, and lower.

Social stigmas are the society’s perception of an individual’s “state of perfection.” A society that favors the supermodels and the hunks are more likely to irk at an out-of-shape person.

Stigmas are basically characterized into three forms.

  1. Physical deformitiesThis includes hereditary “flaws” such as a short height and a tendency to store weight around the midsection, physical disability, diseases, and acquired injuries such as burns and scars.
  2. Inconsistencies of a person with the norm of the society. This type of stigma includes criminal background, drug and alcohol abuse and/or addiction, and mental disorders.
  3. Group stigmas. This is a broader form which encompasses a person’s race or skin color, religion, nationality, etc.

That said, we can begin exploring the nature of social hierarchies and how to deal with them. This is going to be a series which may take a while, but the result is a much deeper understanding of social hierarchies, how they work, and what to do when you’re in a hostile one. So I hope you have a wonderful ride as we delve deeper into the stacks, exploring each nut and bolt, of a social hierarchy.

Here is the partial listing of the topics and parts in the Social Hierarchy Series:

  1. Differentiating the Effects of a Hostile and Beneficial Hierarchy
  2. Identifying the Nature of the Hierarchy
  3. To Climb Up the Ladder or Not?
  4. When the Hierarchy Becomes Toxic
  5. Breaking the Norms of a Social Hierarchy
  6. Maintaining Individuality in a Hierarchy
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