Hierarchical society

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In the human sciences, class society refers to a hierarchically ordered part of a society made up of closed social groups - the classes or birth classes - with their own legal , social and cultural norms, whose cohesion is based on common ancestry , occupation , property or education .


Stand, class and shift

A distinction must be sociological terms class and layer the state: from a social class and social stratification, the stand out for its self-defined differences to other groups, so a professional honor or professional ethics , as able Constitution a constitutional can take dimension - then found also an analogous emblem (such as seals , flags and coats of arms , insignia of management functions).

In addition, in contrast to class and social class, which represent a social role , class is a person's personal attribute. In this respect, the civil society resembles the caste system . The class order is conservative, individuals cannot easily move from class to class, while promotion and relegation in class or stratum can be determined by changing circumstances. Often class and caste are even hereditary (birth status ) .

Estates and feudalism

The estates society is also to be distinguished from the feudal society , although in the historical perspective they mostly go hand in hand. Feudalism describes a hierarchical concept between lord and follower (Hintersasse), which is primarily formed in the ruling class, and to this end forms class elements (e.g. those of a nobility or a clergy ), but forms a vertical division of society, while the class forms one Represents subculture . Feudal order is a personal relationship between two individuals, while estate order is a functional relationship. Furthermore, the feudal order primarily comprises the distribution of land and its value creation, i.e. it is based on an agriculturally organized society , while estates represent a phenomenon of a form of society based on the division of labor . From a psychological point of view, the feudal state reflects the internal structure of the family or clan , while the class society reflects the position of the family or clan externally.

Estates and associations of estates

Seen in isolation, a stand does not necessarily have to be part of a completely class society. Like the term caste, stand refers to how the group works. Typical examples of this are military classes ("warrior caste") or religious classes: In the sociology of early history - the written cultures - however, the occurrence of a certain class does not mean that a class society exists. The stand can be organized vertically or horizontally as well as externally it can assume a certain position within a hierarchy or stratification and be embedded in a different overall form of society than a stand.

A stand is characterized by its own stand culture, which characterizes and delimits it within the overall culture of the stand society, to which it contributes as a subculture.


Derived meaning in today's usage

  • In civil law speaks to the civil status (marital status) and marital status . The registry office has also evolved from the medieval class structure.
  • In relation to medieval guilds, the term “state” generally refers to a professional group, the profession .
  • The professional code covers professional groups such as lawyers, doctors, pharmacists, notaries or public accountants - professional profiles with special responsibility that still have an independent professional ethic today; analogously, the responsible functions of judges and lawyers, teachers or civil servants are primarily referred to as “status”.

See also

  • Middle class - the term is not used correctly in a sociological sense when it describes a social class, the middle class . It is used in economic policy for the "medium-sized companies" run by the owner himself with up to (~) 200 employees (<€ 50 million annual turnover) - but this group of companies does not form an independent community today.
  • Stand literature


  • Marian Füssel, Thomas Weller (Ed.): Order and Distinction. Practices of social representation in the corporate society . Rhema, Münster 2005, ISBN 978-3-930454-55-6 .
  • Winfried Schulze (ed.): Corporate society and social mobility (=  writings of the historical college . Colloquia 12). Oldenbourg, Munich 1988, ISBN 978-3-486-54351-3 ( digitized version ).
  • Winfried Schulze: From common good to self-interest. About the change in norms in the corporate society of the early modern period (= writings of the historical college. Lectures. Vol. 13). Munich 1987 ( digitized version ).
  • Peter Feldbauer, Herbert Knittler, Ernst Bruckmüller : Governance structure and class formation. Contributions to the typology of the Austrian countries from their medieval bases. Publishing house for history and politics, Vienna 1973.
  • Gertraude Mikl-Horke: Sociology. Historical context and sociological theory drafts. Oldenbourg , Vienna / Munich 2001, ISBN 3-486-25660-2 .