We know political and economic systems of any culture come and go. We have also witnessed how racial identity can be socially created over hundreds of years and then destroyed within a few generations. Just as an empire rises and falls, so can the traditions of any culture. No matter how much a culture changes and evolves over time one dynamic seems to ream the same, their social organization into particular socioeconomic status. In modern times, we simply refer to this as the social structure or stratification of a society.
A Western civilization – those cultures having primary roots in ancient Greek and Roman thought – social structures can be quite different than those of Non-western civilizations.
At first glance the social structure of Western cultures appears similar to Non-western cultures but upon closer inspection one will start to see stark differences. No matter what culture you are born into there is either a spoken or unspoken social structure or status. In fact, children are immediately given the same social status as their parents when they are born. This is exactly the same as being given the culture you will grow up in and learn to navigate. However, in Western cultures it is much easier to change ones social status once an individual establishes a life and career of their own. This is because Western social structure is not based on a caste system like many Non-Western cultures.
The idea of a social structure or caste in Westernized cultures can, however, be defined to an extent. Sometimes Westernized people tend to migrate to certain social events with like-minded individual based on their personal interests on any given subject matter but this social stratification is a choice unlike the caste system seen in many Non-Westernized cultures. In the article Culture and Social Class the author notes “To Karl Marx, people’s social class membership was determined by their relationship to the means of production, that is, by what they did within a society’s way of producing goods and services.” (Gabrenya Jr., 2003) That is to say, most people identify more with those they have something in common with or with someone they are able to share common experiences and interests. Sometimes those common experiences and interests are formulated “on the job.”
Chart 1 Relationship of social class can be correlated to daily experiences. (Gabrenya Jr., 2003)
In many Western cultures the complexity of dealing with social issues are harder than in a non-Western culture. This is because Westerners in one “class” tend to believe everyone lives, acts, or thinks as they do because we are less aware of the fact that we do have social classes. In non-Western cultures this class and/or caste system is very apparent from the time of birth onward.
Gabrenya Jr. further notes how different fields of study breakdown social structure differently, in the case of a Sociologist they:
“often use a simpler and less ideologically loaded approach to social class, conceiving it as one kind of social stratification. Social stratification is the ubiquitous characteristic of societies to organize people in a hierarchy of levels or “strata” on a variety of dimensions. These dimensions include power, wealth, social status, education level, prestige of one’s occupation, social standing, and many others. Social class is usually studied by comparing people along three closely related stratification continuums, educational attainment, occupational prestige, and sometimes wealth or income.” (Gabrenya Jr., 2003)
Chart 2. Social structures can create problems. This image can be transferred to many social issues due to social stratification. (MIUSA, 2013)
There are a number of ways to study social stratification but psychology seem to be the most comprehensive. However, even psychologist cannot decide how an individual eventually ends up being categorized in one social class over another. Currently there are two models, cognitive idealist model and materialist model, for the creation of Western social structures.
The first model, cognitive idealist model, refers to culture as “the values, rules, norms, religions, scientific theories (right or wrong), and symbols that can be identified in a society.” (Gabrenya Jr., 2003) In this model the way culture eventually forms differs widely based on a number of influences, with religion comprising the largest difference. However, the big take home is that people ultimately think differently and therefore they live differently based these culturally imbedded ideas suggested above.
Chart 3. Cognitive Idealist Model of social structure. (Gabrenya Jr., 2003)
The second model, materialist model, refers to “how the society maintains itself by producing goods and services (“infrastructure”), and how is organizes itself to get this work done (“social structure).” (Gabrenya Jr., 2003) What physiologists have learned is that based on how a culture provides for itself determines how the social structure will be defined. In short, an individual’s culture identity as a whole is a product of that cultures ideas about life because each culture will live life differently based on their needs.
Chart 4. Materialist Model of social structure. (Gabrenya Jr., 2003)
No matter what culture you are born into there is either a spoken or unspoken social structure with a child’s first experience of social status being the status of their parents. This is exactly the same as being given a culture at birth. However, as we learned, social status can change once an individual has the ability to establish a life and career on their own. This is because Western social structure is not based on a caste system like many Non-Western cultures.
Furthermore, physiologist breakdown social status based on materialist and cognitive/idealist perceptions. This is because in the materialist model social status is more closely linked with the way an individual participated in their cultures economic system and their job. While the cognitive/idealist model bases social status on the community in which one lives and therefore shares certain values about the “right way to live” within that community.
Gabrenya Jr., W. K. (2003). Research skills for psychology majors: Everything you need to know to get started – culture and social class. Retrieved from http://my.fit.edu/~gabrenya/social/readings/ses.pdf.
MIUSA. (2013). Understanding disability rights models . Retrieved from http://www.miusa.org/ncde/tipsheets/disabilitymodels.