Social class  

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Pyramid of Capitalist System, anonymous American cartoon (1911)
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Pyramid of Capitalist System, anonymous American cartoon (1911)
This page Social class is part of the politics series.Illustration:Liberty Leading the People (1831, detail) by Eugène Delacroix.
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This page Social class is part of the politics series.
Illustration:Liberty Leading the People (1831, detail) by Eugène Delacroix.

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Social class refers to the hierarchical distinctions between individuals or groups in societies or cultures. Anthropologists, historians and sociologists identify class as universal, although what determines class varies widely from one society to another. Even within a society, different people or groups may have very different ideas about what makes one "high" or "low" in the hierarchy.

The most basic class distinction between the two groups is between the powerful and the powerless. Social classes with more power usually subordinate classes with less power, while attempting to cement their own power positions in society. Social classes with a great deal of power are usually viewed as elites, at least within their own societies.

In the simplest societies, power is closely linked to the ability to assert one's status through physical strength; thus age, gender, and physical health are often common delineators of class in rudimentary tribes. However, spiritual charisma and religious vision can be at least as important. Also, because different livelihoods are so closely intertwined in simple societies, morality often ensures that the old, the young, the weak, and the sick maintain a relatively equal standard of living despite low class status.

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Social class in ancient Rome

Social class in ancient Rome played a major role in the lives of Romans. Ancient Roman society was hierarchical. Free-born adult male Roman citizens were divided into several classes, both by ancestry and by property. There were also several classes of non-citizens with different legal rights, along with slaves, who had no rights, and could be ejected or sold by their master.

Renaissance Europe

The Mantegna Tarocchi, sets of cards made as an educational aid in Ferrara in the late 15th century, used the following hierarchy for the "Conditions of Man", largely ignoring the rural population:

1 Beggar
2 Servant (Famiglio)
3 Craftsman (Artigiano)
4 Merchant (Mercante) - presumably living mostly off income as a landlord
5 Gentleman (gentiluomo)
6 Knight (cavaliere)
7 Doge (doge)- i.e. a local ruler
8 King (Re)
9 Emperor (Imperatore)
10 Pope (Papa)

Pre-revolutionary French

France was an monarchy with a king and other princes at the top of the class structure. The French States-General, established in 1302 was an assembly whose members were ranked according to hereditary class. The First Estate was the clergy, all Roman Catholic, and by this time with the bishops and higher roles dominated by sons of the nobility. The Second Estate consisted of lay members of the nobility, who constituted approximately two percent of the total population. The Third Estate consisted, technically, of everyone else, but was represented by representatives elected by a complicated system, in practice dominated by the bourgeois lawyers who held offices in the various regional Parlements. The peasantry had no official status in this system. This may be contrasted with the ideologically high status of farmers in Confucian China. The rigidity of the French hereditary system has been suggested as a major cause of the French Revolution.

See also

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Social class" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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