Social Order: Hierarchy

An important mechanism for social differentiation, and for managing the social order, is hierarchy: the "categorization of a group of people according to ability or status" (dictionary.com). In almost all social systems, hierarchy is ubiquitous; inequality of access is a consistent fact across communities, regions, nations, and civilizations. Five socio-cultural hierarchies are critical to ecosystem functioning: wealth, power, status, knowledge, and territory.

Status can be measured by public polling techniques that capture public opinion; knowledge can be indicated by educational attainment. Territory can be measured by ownership patterns, the distribution of land by size (that is, the proportion of landholders with large tracts), or the distribution of water rights (by acre-feet). Changes in hierarchies, by altering who has access to critical resources and social institutions, can dramatically alter the human ecosystem.

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