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Social hierarchy, a multi-tiered pyramid-like social or functional structure having an apex as the centralization of power. The term can also be applied to animal societies, but the term dominance hierarchy is preferred most times. Typically, institutions such as businesses, churches, armies and political movements, etc., are structured hierarchically. Commonly, seniors in the apex position, called bosses, have more power than their subordinates at the base of the structure. Thus, the asymmetrical relationship might be one "has power over" others. Some analysts however question whether power "really" works as the standard indicates. See also: chain of command.

Many social criticisms include a questioning of social hierarchies seen as being unjust. Feminism, for instance, often discusses a hierarchy of gender, in which a culture sees males or masculine traits as superior to females or feminine traits. In these terms, some criticize a hierarchy of only two nodes, "masculine" and "feminine", connected by the asymmetrical relationship "is more valuable to society".

In this context, and in other social criticisms, the word hierarchy usually is used as meaning power hierarchy or power structure. Feminists may not take issue with inanimate objects being organized in a hierarchical fashion, but rather with the specific asymmetrical organization of unequal value and power between men and women and, usually, other social hierarchies such as in racism, anti-gay bias, and bullying.

Distribution of power within political systems

There are many models of power distributions, also known as "forms of government". Most real governments exhibit properties of multiple forms. Common forms are:

  • Autocracy: One individual retains complete and absolute power over others. This is also known as despotism.
  • Monarchism: A king or queen has ultimate control over the distribution of power, but does share it with other individuals. Power is usually transmitted by heredity— in the primogeniture system, for example, the eldest son of a king will ascend to that position when the current king dies or resigns.
  • Oligarchy: Political power is vested in a few individuals, who usually pass power by a hereditary[How to reference and link to summary or text] system.
  • Republic: Voting citizens have ultimate political power, and elect representatives who propose, make, and enforce laws. Also known as representative democracy.
  • Democracy: Citizens directly vote in lawmaking. In contrast to representative democracy, this is sometimes known as a direct democracy.
  • Anarchy: A system where codified law is agreed upon by consensus,[How to reference and link to summary or text] and no individual has power over another. While some think this is the natural state of man, others believe such a system to be unstable.
  • Ochlocracy: What some argue to be the end product of an unstable anarchic lawless system, a system known as "rule by organized crime". Such a system emerges when powerful gang-like organizations arrogate power and develop a semi-legitimate status.

These terms describe models of government more precisely than actual governments, and most real systems are complex mixtures of the systems described above. For example, the United States is primarily a republican democracy, but direct democracy is employed on some issues and in some states (see: referendum). Likewise, the United Kingdom and many European nations are technically monarchies, but de facto republics or democracies as the monarchs have become largely celebrity figureheads rather than actors within the political arena.

Anglo-American scholarship credits the United Kingdom and the United States with the 2nd millennium's transition from monarchism to democracy: the shift is said to have begun with King John's signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 and to have accelerated on account of the English Bill of Rights and Glorious Revolution in the 17th century. At the time of the American Revolution in 1776, while the United Kingdom was technically a monarchy, many historians consider the United Kingdom's political system to have been one of the most "progressive" systems in Europe at the time.

Distribution of wealth

Distribution of wealth is often used as a measure of the progressiveness and social justice of a society. The Gini coefficient measures the economic equality within a society. Developed societies generally vary between 0.2 and 0.5, with welfare states, like Denmark scoring on the lower end and purer free markets like the United States scoring on the higher end.

Critics of capitalism describe it as a system wherein wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few people, the bourgeoisie, who own the means of production and where the majority of people, the proletariat, have none. Others argue that this model is inaccurate, since human and cultural capital are also important in predicting an individual's leverage, autonomy, and eventual fortune, and are more equitably distributed. In the developed world, particularly in materialistic societies like the United States and Japan, have large amounts of wealth tied up in personal possessions like homes, cars, and electronics. People in these societies tend to value these possessions highly, and thus are quite happy with their financial situation.

Opposite to the capitalist system are socialist systems wherein, in theory, wealth is distributed proportionally to one's contribution to society, and communist systems wherein it is distributed according to necessity. Examples of societies nearing these ideals are the Israeli kibbutzim and the anarchist collectives of the Spanish Revolution.

Karl Marx himself argued that it was the goal of the proletariat itself to displace the capitalist system with socialism, changing the social relationships underpinning the class system and then developing into a future communist society in which: "..the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all." Communist Manifesto.

Social status

Social status represents an individual's overall ability to control or influence other people and institutions. Unlike economic status, it is difficult to quantify social status.

Social status is recognized officially by notions of rank, religious title, or academic title, and informally by notions such as reputation and mind share.

See also

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