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Understanding the Social Structure Theory With Examples

Neha B Deshpande Mar 15, 2020
The social structure theory studies the way how a society is divided into different sections and classes on the basis of various parameters, and its impact on the mindset of the society. It also studies how oppression of a class leads to criminal activities.
Almost every ancient civilization had 'slaves', who were forced to do tasks as required by their owner. However, the basic rights of slaves differ according to the rules of the social structure of each civilization. Sadly, slavery and human trafficking is still rampant today.
Every organization has its own hierarchy system, consisting of top management to the grass-root level of employees. Likewise, a society has its own hierarchy system too. Of course, discrimination on the basis of work was rampant in old civilizations.
Today also, there are some cultures that exhibit discrimination on the basis of caste, creed, etc. Any society is made of different beliefs, thoughts, conventions, manners, customs, etc.
Societies in older times were divided into different strata and classes, where each class followed their own profession. Marriage with a person from another caste was often restricted. In most systems, those who belonged to the lower strata of society were denied many rights, such as freedom of speech, right to education, etc.
They were forced to do harsh labor work and follow the instructions of their masters. Slaves were often sold off; men as laborers, women to do domestic chores or to brothels. Some traditions also treated a section of people as 'outcasts' or 'untouchables'.
In sociology, the study of the social systems, their division into classes, and their interaction with one another can be defined as the 'social structure theory'. This theory also studies how such a stratification and injustice inflicted on some classes of people leads to crime.

Social Structure Examples

Ancient Greek Civilization

Aristocrats: These were considered as the 'cream of society'. They were highly educated and owned a lot of wealth.
Citizens: Citizens were those who were born in Athens to parents who were Athenian born. Men from this class were allowed to vote.
Metics: Metics were those who were not Athenian born, and migrated from other places. They were denied the right to vote. They mostly composed of middle-class families, who were engaged in various activities such as trading, farming, etc.
Slaves: Slaves were not allowed to own any property, and lived in complete denial of freedom. They had to earn their freedom by paying back a certain amount of money.

Woman's role in 'Ancient Greek' culture

Again, women were mostly confined to their houses, and had very less legal rights. Marriages were typically arranged by the father of the bride, and she had little say in this matter. Their work involved raising children, doing household chores, weaving, and other domestic chores.
Women priests had to perform certain religious duties. Apart from that, there were courtesans and prostitutes.

Ancient Egyptian Civilization

Perhaps, the Egyptians built the pyramids considering its social structure in mind. The pharaoh or the king was considered almost next to God, and hence, was on the topmost level of their social structure.
On the other hand, the slaves were in majority, and were subjected to torture by the upper-class.
Pharaoh: He was given an almost divine position, next to God. His say was the final call in any matter.

Vizier: He was the trusted adviser of the king, who looked after the matters in the kingdom, and served as a right-hand to the king.
High Priests and Nobles: The nobles held various government positions, and the priests were responsible for religious activities.

Soldiers, Merchants, Scribes: Forming a part of the middle-class society, they also held a pivotal role in Egyptian society. Scribes were educated and occupied important positions.
Craftsmen, Farmers: They were commoners who engaged themselves in strenuous labor work.

Slaves: Like all other cultures, slaves were required to do whatever was ordered to them, be it household work, construction, gardening, etc. Slave trading was also rampant in this culture.

Woman's role in Egyptian culture

Though men enjoyed higher positions in the Egyptian civilization, most of the time, women had a high degree of economic freedom. They even had the right to divorce and remarry. They could earn wealth, and buy and sell property too.

Inca Civilization

Sapa-Inca: He was the head/king of the Inca community.

Royalty: They were well-educated people who were the relatives of royal lineage.
Nobility: They were also known as 'Royal Panacas', those who were the other member of the royal family. Other than the members of the family, one could also attain this social status with the help of their distinguished achievements.
Allyus: The common people were known as 'allyus'. They engaged themselves in craftsmanship, farming, and other economic activities.

Woman's role in Inca culture

Women were again expected to do typical household work, rear children after marriage, and help their husbands. The commoners could have only one wife, whereas, the upper class could marry more than one woman. Weaving cloth was considered one of the most important activity of a woman.
Men and women both, were expected to flourish the Incan economy. Also, some women were considered as the 'chosen women'; they were virgins selected for their beauty and other talents, and were confined to the temples. Their life was obviously very harsh as compared to other women.

Mesopotamian Civilization

King and Other Noblemen: Like all civilizations, the king held the supreme power in all decisions. Other nobles held positions in the administration of running the office.
Priests: They were given high importance, and had to perform important religious functions.

Merchants, Artisans: They typically engaged themselves in various trading activities and craftsmanship. These formed part of the middle-class and lower-class of society.
Slaves: Like all other slaves, they were usually captures of war, and were subjected to torture. No freedom was granted to them.

Woman's role in Mesopotamian culture

Most of the women were denied social rights, and their marriages were arranged by their parents when they attained a suitable age. However, an adultery committed by a woman was treated with a much more harsh punishment than an adultery committed by a man. Women were considered as 'property' owned by their respective husbands.

Aztec Civilization

Nobles or Pipiltin: The king's lineage were considered as the nobles, and the king was always chosen from the pipiltins. They occupied royal positions, and were given higher education than others.
Commoners or Macehualtin: They consisted of farmers, artisans, craftsmen, accountants, artisans, etc. They had the basic right to education, and learning and carrying out trade.

Slaves: Those who had financial difficulty engaged themselves in the slavery system. However, they could earn back their freedom in many ways. They could have their own family.

Woman's role in Aztec culture

Women were trained to be good homemakers, and engaged themselves in activities such as cooking, cleaning, and housekeeping, but were allowed to own property. However, they were also condemned by the society, for it was believed that they caused disharmony and disputes.

Mayan Civilization

Kings, Nobles & Priests: The king enjoyed the topmost ranking in society. The upper-class consisted of other nobles and priests, who engaged themselves in activities such as counseling the king, and performing other religious activities.
Merchants, Artisans, and Others: The middle-class consisted of the craftsmen, artisans, farmers, and other professionals. The farmers were at the lowest level of the middle-class.

Slaves: They were predominantly prisoners of war, and were given the lowest rights in society.

Woman's role in Mayan culture

Women had a very important role to play in the Mayan civilization. Apart from the duties of the home, they engaged themselves in various economic and political activities. Of course, they did not undertake important political decisions, and their role was still considered inferior to that of men.
Woman's position in any social structure is one of the most argued and debatable topics around the world. Traditionally, in almost all the systems, women were considered as 'homemakers'. Most of the family systems are patriarchal ones, barring a few.
Though there is a large improvement in their position as of today, there are many nations who still confine them to traditional roles. Also, there is still a strong belief in caste system, and the lower-classes are subjected to prejudice and ridicule by the higher classes.
In this modern age, we hope that these differences start dissolving sooner than later, and freedom and dignity be granted to all individuals.