Class-Based Social Structure

A Slow Transition

 I am not going to write a great deal about class-based societies at this point. After completing information about an equality-based society I will return to today’s social challenges that are rooted in the class-based social structure.

 Prior to development of agriculture and animal husbandry all societies were hunter-gatherer. The common characteristics of this type of society, as discussed earlier, were based on what the people didn’t know and what they did know about nature. Their societies began to change when they started to learn how to grow food and raise domestic animals.

 The development of agriculture and animal husbandry began about 15,000 years ago in some parts of the world. As these changes started to come about in some hunter-gatherer societies they slowly transitioned to be class-based.  These transitions did not happen overnight. It can take hundreds or thousands of years for such a transformation to occur.

 For example, some areas of the Americas were already class-based upon the arrival of Europeans in the 1500’s. But the Algonquin speakers that John Smith encountered in Virginia in 1607 only had had some agriculture for maybe 200 years prior. They were still heavily dependent on hunter-gatherer resources, social practices and behaviors to survive.

 A sign of the Algonquin speakers’ transition can be seen in their governmental structure. In a hunter-gatherer society each group rules itself through consensus-based decision making. No one person is a ruler. The people Smith met had a different social structure, having some class-based social characteristics. Powhatan ruled a chiefdom in which he could appoint rulers from his group over other groups; in one case his sister was made a ruler over another group. Subservient groups from now Arlington, Virginia, to now North Carolina paid him taxes in the form of goods such as deer hides and food products. East and west his chiefdom covered the area from the Atlantic Ocean to what is known as the “falls line” where the rivers can no longer be navigated without portaging watercraft around the falls. Points along this line are marked by now Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Arlington, Virginia.

 This slow transition from hunter-gatherer to class-based societies occurred all over the world at different times as groups learned to grow food and raise domestic animals. The societies that developed were, and still are, different in many ways, but they all have common characteristics. At this point in our narrative we are only concerned with these common characteristics that all of them have.

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 © Joseph L. Bass, EdD,  October 2020