Anthropologies Of Class

5 min read Jul 07, 2024
Anthropologies Of Class

Anthropologies of Class: Understanding Social Hierarchy and Inequality

-Class is a complex and multifaceted concept that has been studied by anthropologists for centuries. Anthropologies of class aim to understand the ways in which social hierarchies are created, maintained, and contested across different cultures and societies.

Defining Class

Class is often defined as a social grouping based on economic, political, and cultural factors. It encompasses the relationships between individuals and groups in terms of their access to resources, power, and prestige. However, the concept of class is not universally defined and can vary greatly across cultures and historical periods.

Marxist Perspective

One of the most influential perspectives on class comes from Karl Marx, who argued that class is determined by an individual's relationship to the means of production. According to Marx, capitalists who own the means of production exploit the labor of the working class, leading to class conflict and the creation of a hierarchical social system.

Weberian Perspective

Max Weber, another influential sociologist, expanded on Marx's ideas by emphasizing the role of status and power in shaping social hierarchies. Weber argued that class is not solely determined by economic factors, but also by social prestige, education, and occupation.

Anthropological Perspectives

Anthropologists have built upon these foundational theories, adapting them to non-Western contexts and highlighting the importance of cultural and symbolic factors in shaping class relations. For example:

Symbolic Capital

Pierre Bourdieu's concept of symbolic capital highlights the role of cultural and symbolic goods (such as education, taste, and style) in maintaining social hierarchies. Bourdieu argues that individuals and groups use symbolic goods to demonstrate their status and distinguish themselves from others.

Class as Performance

Other anthropologists, such as Judith Butler, have emphasized the performative aspects of class. According to Butler, class is not a fixed identity, but rather a performance that is constantly negotiated and reenacted through daily practices and interactions.

Case Studies

Anthropologies of class have been applied to a wide range of case studies, including:

India's Caste System

The Indian caste system is a complex and rigid social hierarchy that is shaped by both economic and ritual factors. Anthropologists have studied how caste is reproduced and contested through daily practices, such as food sharing and ritual performances.

Brazil's Favelas

In Brazil, anthropologists have examined the ways in which Residents of favelas (urban slums) negotiate and resist their marginalization through cultural practices, such as music and dance.


Anthropologies of class offer a nuanced understanding of social hierarchy and inequality, highlighting the role of cultural, symbolic, and performative factors in shaping class relations. By examining the complexities of class across different cultures and societies, anthropologists can contribute to a more informed and equitable understanding of social inequality.

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