Re: rank, hierarchy, and power

Harriet Whitehead (whitehea@WSUAIX.CSC.WSU.EDU)
Sun, 8 Jan 1995 07:53:20 -31802

Mike is urging Dwight and the rest of us to notice the ambiguity in our
use of the word hierarchy, stating that the scientific (taxonomic) sense
of hierarchy, a part-to-whole relationship, as in MAN = men and women, is
"very different" from an inequality of rank relationship, eg. sargeant and
corporal. But in social life, this "very differentness" has a way of
vanishing, don't you think? And this is the very good reason so many
social scientists use the term ambiguously. Take sargeant and corporal.
There is a nested, taxonomic level to their relationship. The sargeant
heads/represents/commands a larger military unit than the corporal and
one that will include coporals within it. Similarly a family "head",
lineage "head," etc. in kinship systems; village "head," etc. in
geo-residential social forms and so on. I would venture to argue that in
social life the encompassed/encompassing relationship almost always
implies a recognized rank difference. Someone may respond that this is
not true of class relationships. The upper-classes do not include or
encompass the lower classes. And indeed they do not, outside of very
delimited contexts, have command rights over the lower classes. But at a
very pan-societal level, "upper classes" are seen as "representing" or
"speaking for" their nation-as-a-whole, as being in some sense "ruling
classes," so even hear the relationship between rank and representation
of the whole asserts itself.

On Fri, 6 Jan 1995, Mike Lieber wrote:

> I appreciate very much Dwight Read's thoughtful post on the meanings of
> "mankind" and on gender-specific and gender non-specific kin terms. I have
> one quibble--actually more than a quibble--with the way that Dright, along
> with most anthropologists, use the term hierarchy. Only in our field is the
> term hierarchy (and its derivatives like hierarchical) used ambiguously to
> denote two very different kinds of relationship. Given the politically and
> emotionally charged uses of these terms and their connotations, I would like
> to see anthropological usage change to reflect the use of hierarchy in the
> sciences. Hierarchy in almost other field refers to a relation with a
> whole-to-part ordering, the relationship of a whole to its parts being one of
> logical type. The example that Dwight gives is a classical one:
> person
> /
> male female
> This is a relationship of category to its members, the one that Russell and
> Whitehead used to construct the theory of logical types in _Principia
> Mathematica_. The category (whole) is distinct from its members in that it
> cannot be a member of itself. This difference of logical type characterizes
> any hierarchy, e.g., the nucleus is part of the cell, the cell part of the
> tissue, the tissue part of the organ, etc.. This is an example of a "nested
> hierarchy" with each level nested in the one above it.
> Hierarchy is quite distinct from an asymmetry of rank. The sargeant outranks
> the corporal, i.e., has rights over the corporal (can do to the corporal) that
> the corporal does not have over the sargeant. This is not a hierarchical
> relation because both the sargeant and the corporal are of the same logical
> type, both soldiers. More importantly, the corporal is not part of the
> sargeant. Their relation is a part-to-part relation, not a whole-to-part
> relation. The nature of hierarchical constaints are, ordinarily, quite
> different from the kinds of constraints inherent in rank differences. The
> term, power, then usually applies very differently to each.
> [rest omitted]
> Mike Lieber