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How Are Societies Organized?

Commonalities Across Time and Space

The Diversity of Human Societies

Can Indians of different castes (such as
Brahmins and Untouchables) marry?
Can Sudanese women divorce their husbands?
Do Inuit (Eskimo) couples live with the wife or
the husbands family?
Can women marry women in Kenya?
Browse the worldwide database, the Human
Relations Area Files

Sex (biologically attributed)

Gender (socially attributed)
Culture- specific
distinctions are
made on the basis
of practical issues
and power relations
Ex: berdache and
questions womens
and mens roles

Alternative gender roles were among the

most widely shared features of North
American societies. Male berdaches have
been documented in over 155 tribes. In
about a third of these groups, a formal
status also existed for females who
undertook a mans lifestyle, becoming
hunters, warriors, and chiefs.

What is the History of Gender

Women and men valued equally
through most of human history
Evidence of womens subordination
first appears about 5000 years ago
Related to new economic roles in
socially stratified societies
Associated with the appearance of
Accompanied by thinking that
attributes behavioral differences to
biology, not culture
This thinking is like the arguments
that support racism
Motivated by states attempts to
control fertility (the means of REproduction) and thus facilitate state
control over labor, inheritance,
military service, etc

Traditionally, age has
been associated with
greater wisdom and this
recognized with special
Contemporary society
undermines this in
several ways (ex. rapid
technological change, the
spatial and social
distancing of older
members from younger
members of the society)

Kinship and Family

These basic social units
vary in composition and
structure, but all societies
have them:
basic reproduction and
inheritance unit
support (economic,
social, emotional, moral,
protects children

A Domestic Partnership found
Throughout the World
forms and rules vary but all
impose rules of sexual access
ensure children are provided for
clarify inheritance rules
examples of rules:
woman marriage among the Kipsigis of Kenya
levirate (woman marries brothers) and sororate
(man marries sisters)
exogamy (marriage outside the community) and
endogamy (marriage within the
descent and residence: matrilineal/matrilocal,
patrilineal/patrilocal, bi-lineal/bi-local
polygyny (more than one wife) and polyandry
(more than one husband)

Common Interests and Identities

ethnicity, community,
politics, religion, etc

standing in society relative
to others within ones
ascribed (at birth) (ex.
the UK royal family)
achieved (won through
merit) (ex. Abraham
Lincoln among US


broad categories of economic

status and social position
elaborate systems of learned
behavior formed around core
values (ex: simplicity and
directness vs. elaborated ritual
and diplomacy
Caste, in which social class is
ascribed at birth and is the
same as the birth family,
contrasts with the fluid US
class system which promises
upward mobility through
education, wealth acquisition,

function in society
both in kinship (mother,
uncle, daughter, nephew,
and in occupation
(firefighter, lawyer,
sanitation worker)
individuals have multiple
roles in society

position in a
hierarchy (ex.
Canadian court
system, US

System by which
individuals or other
units are unranked,
or ranked
according to
changing needs
All societies have
both hierarchical
and heterarchical