chapter  6
24 Pages

Status, hierarchy and ethnic diversity

Hierarchy is one of the most important principles of classification in any society, as anthropologists have shown, but it is important to recognise that the assumptions one brings to the subject from one’s own background may need radical revision in a different cultural context. Louis Dumont (1980) has illustrated this clearly in his introduction to Homo Hierarchicus, a detailed study of the Indian caste system, where he points out that the emphasis on equality in modern Western society may blind its members and prejudice them against a proper understanding of his subject matter. He draws on the classic studies of Tocqueville and Talcott Parsons to show that hierarchy is an inevitable part of social life, but he goes on to emphasise that this hierarchy may be ‘quite independent of natural inequalities or the distribution of power’ (1980:20). This point is important to bear in mind in the case of Japan.