What Is a Hierarchical Society?

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A hierarchical society involves two or more organisms working together to ensure their survival within a clearly defined stratified structure. In a hierarchical society, certain social positions and statuses have more prestige and importance than others. Hierarchical societies are not generally meritocracies, where people receive reward and status solely in response to their achievement. Hierarchical societies function with a “top dog” position that is protected and coveted.

Looking to social science models, such as structural-functional theory, some theorists believe that all societies are, in one way or another, hierarchical. The ideology on the subject of hierarchy is that societies do not function properly without some type of top and bottom. Hierarchy in society comes in many forms, from the pharaohs ruling over the slaves of ancient Egypt to the captains of industry employing countless minimum-wage workers worldwide.

When a society is hierarchical, stratification touches nearly every part of daily life. In these societies, families and individuals aspire to a lifestyle and social standing where they have more affluence and personal freedom. Some hierarchical societies have a history of conquest and industry, where families have a chance at upward mobility. Other societies with hierarchical systems are so rigid, any chance of advancing within them is next to impossible.