Thursday, February 10, 2011

Class Reflections #4

In my field prep class on Wednesday (Feb 9) we discussed the concept of how we as humans make divisions among people.

Ways in which we divide include:
- Race
- Ethnic groups
- Gender
- Education
- Employment
- Religion
- Kin
- Mental ability

In this post I'm mostly going to be asking questions. There aren't any real answers I suppose to any of them but if you have a response, I'd love to hear it.

Why do we divide people? Why do we make these divisions?
I think that as humans we have this need to categorize and classify things and people in order to create a systematic way of turning disorder and chaos into something we can understand. There are so many people that to look at them individually is a complicated idea. So instead of doing this we group people together. This may or may not be ethical but it just is how things are done it seems. We are all born with a perspective on the world. Our parents teach us their perspective and we usually follow suite. We can attempt to break these and rebuild our own vision but this is a difficult process. I'm not even sure if it can be really done. I say this because it may not be a perspective you agree with or side with or think that way, but it is the context and background that you have in which to evaluate the world around you. You may try to rid yourself of it, but in a sense you cannot completely toss it. I'm not sure if I'm making any sense, but those are some of the ideas that I have with this.

Taking this idea of division among people we can discuss Social Stratification.
One definition of this term is "Stratification can be defined various ways, but most commonly refers to institutionalized inequalities in power, wealth, and status between categories of persons within a single social system (e.g., classes, castes, ethnic groups)" (

It is easy to say that in India there are definite forms of classification and castes occurring, but in the U.S. it seems a more ambiguous term. Though it is ambiguous it does and must occur to some decree. So how would you describe social stratification in the U.S.?

Perhaps some ways in which we can use this term is how we classify people according income, employment and where you live.

I went to High School in L.A county. My school had over 4,000 students and was a lot of ethnic diversity. Students would distinguish themselves according to their cliques which almost always related to your ethnic background. Another distinguishing factor was money. There were a good amount of students who were from welfare funded families and lower incomes... and then there were those whose parents were fairly wealthy. By looking at someone, how they dressed, who they hung out with you could tell what part of town they were from. Its this idea of classifications that allows society to give its members ways to figure out its place within the system. Where do you fit in? Where can you sit at lunch? Who should you hang out?

In we class we also made a list of ways in which we describe people:
- appearance
- accent
- religion
- education
- work
- free time
- ethnography
- gender
- age
- athletic
- hairstyle
- values
- where they are from
- relations
- car drive
- possessions
- personality
- spelling ability

We were then asked to think about how as individuals we rank these as important for the worth of someone, then how society in general would and so forth. It was an interesting activity and it just brought memories where maybe I had judged someone in some of these terms and vice versa when I know I had been judged or set into a certain group or classifier because of it. Its interesting to think of how society views us according to these terms.

To add another dimension to this idea we were asked to think of what classifiers are important to the culture which are doing our field study in. How will we be seen or categorized in their eyes?

I think this was a great activity because it connects to my project on identity. How does the world see you? How does society classify you? What group does it stick you with? Is this ethical? How is this classification made? How is it different from your own categorizations? We have an identity we give ourselves, but society also deems us with an identity. How do these two identities work together? How do they clash? How do we find balance and peace with this? Does any of this really matter at all (meaning does it really matter for us to have set identity? and does it really matter how society views you)?

The idea of racism and how it came about was brought up. Is racism an innate way of thinking? Is it taught? Is it a chosen perspective? How have people justified racism in the past? They have created social, biological, religious and scientific means in which to try and give credence to what they do with this ideology of racism. How can we rid the world of racism and discrimination?

Back to the topic of social stratification - is it a bad, good or neutral way of systematizing people? What factors make it one way or another? Whether its good or bad to some extent it exists in all societies. It is good that if we are going into another culture that we have some idea how their system works. Perhaps we don't agree but how can you hope to live in a society which you don't understand how it functions? The way society creates social stratifications lets you know how to go about interacting with people. It tells you who to show your respect which can be a very important thing to know. If I were going to the Philippines I would want to know what Mano Po is.

1 comment:

  1. I think that you're right when you say that classifying people is something we find necessary as humans. It's a way for us to make sense of the world. And I also think that its fairly futile to try and not put people into certain classes. We could only really do it if we were able to completely rid ourselves of our history and previous knowledge and look into the culture as an unbiased observer. -- In addition, I don't think that it is necessary to completely rid ourselves of these labels.