Re: rank, hierarchy, and power

Sun, 8 Jan 1995 12:01:00 PST

Whitehead writes:

"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."

It may be help to draw a diagram of what is involved with the
sergeant/corporal example.

higher rank sergeant -----> {set of persons commanded} = A

| U [set inclusion]

lower rank corporal -----> {set of persons commanded} = B

I take it that Whitehead is arguing for the rank relationship between
sergeant and corporal as arising out of the set/subset relationship between A
and B, under the

Hypothesis: If a person X has a role which
consitutes control over a set of persons A, and a person Y has a
role which constitutes control only over a subset B of persons in the set A,
then in any ranking of their respecive roles, X's role position will have a
higher ranking than Y's role position.

This seems very plausible. However, there may very well be situations where
the ranking is based on some other criterion, such as older/younger; i.e.,
the hypothesis may be sufficient, but is not necessary, as an accounting for
the origin of the ranking. This does not contradict Whitehead's argument.
Rather, the set of criteria by which rankings are established need not always
involve whole/part relationships .

Her additional comment that the distinction between
hierarchy and ranking may become muddled in practise (emically speaking) does
not, I suggest, argue for eliminating the distinction (etically speaking),
but rather for extending the argument to account for why in some situations
the distinction is given cultural salience and in other situations it is not
given cultural salience.

D. Read