Sociology of Harry Potter 101
An original editorial by Rachel LaBozetta
While reading the Harry Potter series, I couldnÂt help but notice, as I'm sure you have too, the many, varied themes that arise in the wizarding world, from the very basic matters of love, courage, and friendship to more complex topics such as death, race, class, status, family (as a social institution), and stratification within wizard society. Several of these latter, deeper issues, are what IÂll be discussing in this editorial about sociological aspects in the Harry Potter series, many of which are tied together and can be quite complex and layered within the society. The first half will deal with status and stratification; the second with racial inequality. Let us begin, shall we?
Sociologically, the term "status" means all the socially defined positions in a society. These ÂpositionsÂ may consist of a number of things, from both achieved status (through oneÂs own efforts) and/or ascribed status (that which is assigned, usually, at birth). For instance, letÂs take a look at Molly Weasley. Molly is female, a pure-blood witch, a daughter, and a sister (to Gideon and Fabian Prewett). These are MollyÂs ascribed statuses. However, Molly is also a mother, a wife, a friend, a member of the Order of the Phoenix, and a housewife, which are her achieved statuses.
Ascribed status can also influence achieved status, and vice-versa. For example, Remus Lupin was an excellent student and a prefect at Hogwarts in his time. However, even though he was a perfectly capable and intelligent wizard, because he was a half-breed, and had a low status due to being a werewolf (both being ascribed statuses), he could not move up easily in the world to attain an achieved status. Of course, there are many factors that come into play concerning werewolves such as their rights, like the unfortunate passing of anti-werewolf legislation (OotP, US Hardcover, p. 302), etc. These often-prejudiced events for werewolves stem from their low status in wizard society. Another example is Arthur Weasley. Arthur is a pure-blood wizard, but because he associates with those of lower status, such as Muggle-borns and Muggles, he is received as one with a lower status than those with Âproper wizard feelingÂ (CoS, US Paperback, p. 223) and thus could not get ahead at work for many years, stuck in a low-paying job, in a closet-sized, windowless office at the Ministry. As is the case with Arthur being a Âblood traitor," statuses can raise or lower oneÂs social position in a society:
"ItÂs ArthurÂs fondness for Muggles that has held him back at the Ministry all these years. Fudge thinks he lacks proper wizarding pride."
(GoF, US Hardcover, p.711)
A "master status" is one in which a society or group places much emphasis, which dominates all other statuses and determines an individualÂs or groupÂs place in their society. In the case of the Harry Potter series, the master status revolves around oneÂs blood status, that is, whether or not an individual (or family) is a pure-blood, half-blood, Muggle-born, Muggle, half-breed, Squib, or other race entirely. This heavy emphasis on blood status actually shapes the way in which wizarding society is run, by placing strain and pressure on other statuses such as race and social class (which are extremely intertwined in Harry Potter) to boost the superiority of wizard-kind, especially pure-bloods, who are considered the "elite," over other, lesser wizards and witches with lower blood status, and even over other races.
The importance that the wizarding world places on blood status can be seen in the book series in a large variety of ways, whether it be from political legislation, like ArthurÂs Muggle Protection Act (CoS, US Paperback, p. 51), to the Black family removing those who are not "pure" off of the family tree (OotP, US Hardcover, p. 111-115), in the treatment of house-elves, and even in the torture of Muggles at the Quidditch World Cup (GoF, US Hardcover, p. 119).
Stratification is a system of inequality within a group that is based on a type of hierarchy or ranking, which causes unequal distribution of power that is perpetuated from generation to generation. Wealth, prestige, class, political power, race, or gender can stratify a society. In this section, I will be discussing two ways in which the wizarding world is stratified, that are relevant to the previous section of Âstatus,Â which are slavery and social class.
Stratification in the wizarding world, like that of the real world, is rooted in both achieved and ascribed statuses, which are carried on from one generation to the next. The Malfoys, for example, are an old, affluent pure-blood family that inherited their wealth, status, and political power. They are, so to speak, "the cream of the crop." At the opposite end of the spectrum, is Kreacher, a house-elf and slave, who, like the Malfoys, inherited his status, though in his case, a low-class, slave status.
We get our first, real look into inequality (in this case, both racial and class inequality) in the Harry Potter series in the second book, Chamber of Secrets, when we meet Dobby, and learn about house-elf enslavement. House-elves are slaves to wizards and tend to belong to old, rich wizard families. They are at the bottom of the social ladder and as Dobby puts it, they are the Âdregs of the Magical worldÂ (CoS, US Paperback, p. 178). They are Âbound to serve one house and family foreverÂ (CoS, US Paperback, p. 14) and must be punished, whether by their own hand or by their master's, if they disobey orders or speak unkindly about the family to which they belong. The house-elves are underrepresented, politically, and have no rights. As Winky so eloquently states, Âhouse-elves does what they is told,Â and so they do (GoF, US Hardcover, p. 98).
In the wizarding world, enslavement of another being is perfectly legal and accepted. Hermione, who is Muggle-born, and was, therefore, raised in Muggle society where slavery is considered wrong, does not understand the acceptance of house-elf enslavement in the wizarding world, and rightly so. Oppression of another being is not a good thing. She asserts her stance on elf rights by creating the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare, a.k.a. S.P.E.W., to try to bring about small changes for elves in the hope that, eventually their world may become better, when bigger changes, such as the eradication of elf slavery may be possible in the future (GoF, US Hardcover, p. 224). Although her heart is in the right place, trying to trick the house-elves into freedom is not the best solution, which could cause more harm than good.
Another way in which the wizarding world is stratified is by social class. There is a class system in place that is based upon oneÂs economic position in the society, which may affect an individualÂs ability to be able to move up in the world (or acquire an achieved status). In the Harry Potter universe, since we donÂt know precise data or statistics, I will just use the three main social classes (upper, middle, and lower) to refer to in this essay, and not any of the in-between classes (like upper-middle, working, lower-middle, etc.). Social class is very intertwined with blood status and race, and effects the ways in which wizard society is stratified. There are many layers, some very complicated, and many overlapping (which I will hopefully explain more fully in the coming section about racial inequality). There are many gray areas when it comes to social class.
We see the first sign of class conflict relatively early on in the series, in the very first book, SorcererÂs Stone. The most noticeable instance is when Draco and Ron meet for the first time:
No need to ask who you are. My father told me all the Weasleys have red hair, freckles, and more children than they can affordÂ
YouÂll soon find that some wizarding families are much better than others, Potter. You donÂt want to go making friends with the wrong sort."
(SS, US Paperback, p. 108)
In this example, Draco is boasting about his familyÂs wealth and high status in wizarding society, as opposed to the Weasleys who are poor and have a lower status. The Malfoys are an old, rich family. They have a large manor, have (at this point) a house-elf, and have no qualms with buying expensive brooms for the entire Slytherin Quidditch team at Hogwarts. They are an upper-class family in wizard society. The Weasleys, however, are poor, and have a lower status because they are Âblood traitors.Â Although they are an old, pure-blood family, like the Malfoys, they are often frowned upon for their association with Muggle-borns and Muggles, and so are considered second class, not only because they are financially not up to snuff, but also because they are Âblood traitors.Â Associating with the Âwrong sort,Â as Draco says, may cost you in the long run. Mr. Weasley, a Âblood traitor,Â could not move ahead at work for many years. Lucius Malfoy, on the other hand, is wealthy and powerful, has a lot of influence at the Ministry, and due to an exchange of gold, could get laws delayed if he wished. Also, he is not a Âblood traitorÂ like Arthur (OotP, US Hardcover, p. 155).
To the extreme, marriage between classes can be disastrous. For example, SiriusÂs mother blasted relatives off of the family tree when they married someone who was not a pure-blood. An example of this was AndromedaÂs marriage to the Muggle-born wizard, Ted Tonks (OotP, US Hardcover, p. 113). Mrs. Black then disowned and somewhat banished her and her new husband from the family. Remus Lupin believed that because he was a werewolf, marrying Nymphadora Tonks would make her an outcast in her family as well as wizard society (DH, US Hardcover, p. 213).
Social ranking in the Harry Potter universe is complex, especially since class is based, mostly, on a combination of blood status and wealth, but here is a quick summary of the social class hierarchy in the wizarding world:
Upper (First) Class: pure-bloods and possibly some half-bloods
Middle (Second) Class: half-bloods, Muggle-borns, and Âblood traitorsÂ
Lower (Third) Class: Muggle-borns, half-breeds/part-humans, Squibs, Muggles, and other races
Naturally, there will be an overlapping of classes, and even differences of opinion within the magical world itself. For instance, Âblood traitorsÂ like the Weasleys do not see Muggle-born wizards and witches as being any different than they are. They see Muggle-borns as having the same capability, ability, and intelligence as they themselves have, and to them, Muggle-borns can be just as good or better than pure-bloods, and could rise to the top if they wish, being second or first class. Some pure-bloods, like the Malfoys or the Lestranges, see Muggle-borns as being second or third class. They feel superior for having a purer blood status. According to the Imperiused Minister of Magic, Pius Thickness, "...the blood traitors are as bad as the MudbloodsÂ (DH, US Hardcover, p. 247). Other races, like centaurs (who are highly intelligent) or goblins (who are clever and run the wizard bank, Gringotts), are considered lower class because they do not have a pure-blood status since they are not humans, regardless of their level of intelligence or their wealth (and even if they feel that they are above wizard-kind). There will always be variation and overlapping.
One of the central themes in the Potterverse is the unequal treatment of those of different races (i.e. racial inequality). Hopefully, in the second part of this essay, you will be able to get a clearer picture as to how the social definitions set up by wizard-kind affect an individual or groupÂs place in society and their status in a stratification system.
I will be discussing racial groups, not ethnic groups. The difference is that racial groups are defined by physical differences that are set apart from others. For example, goblins, Muggles, and werewolves are racial groups. Ethnic groups, on the other hand, are defined by their national origin, like French wizards or British wizards. To discuss ethnic groups would be very tedious, and frankly, there isnÂt enough information in the Harry Potter series for me to even discuss it. Additionally, I will not be discussing racial groups in terms of skin color among the wizards themselves, like the fact that Dean Thomas is black or that Cornelius Fudge is white. In the book series, J.K. Rowling does not treat this particular distinction between wizards as being of great importance other than to give us, the readers, a physical description of the character so that we may form a mental picture. Pure-blood, half-blood, and Muggle-born witches and wizards, however, will be considered racial groups. (This is where the importance of blood status will figure in.) So only racial groups as they have been defined here will be discussed, folks!
Minority and Majority Groups
A minority is a subordinate group that may be smaller, or larger, than the majority group (those who are in control). The members have less power over their own lives than those in the dominant group. Minority groups often experience unequal treatment by the majority or dominant group, have shared physical and cultural characteristics that distinguish them from the majority group, and have ascribed statuses (statuses that are assigned at birth like race or sex).
In the wizarding world, witches and wizards are the majority group, particularly, but not limited to pure-bloods and half-bloods. They control the government, make laws, and define the stratification system. In other words, they, basically, have the social, economic, and political power in the wizarding world.
Minority groups in the series include non-humans (goblins, giants, merpeople, house-elves, etc.) and half-breeds (part-giants, werewolves, etc.). Squibs are also a minority group. Muggle-borns fall into a gray area of sorts, because they could actually be placed in both the minority and majority groups. On one hand, they are wizards and witches that still have authority. They contribute to the making of laws, own and run businesses, and participate in the government. On the other hand, they often face discrimination in wizard society by those of higher blood status. Muggles are not subject to these minority/majority group distinctions because they do not belong to the wizarding world. However, that does not mean that Muggles are not subject to the racial inequality posed in the wizarding world, they are, and often with catastrophic results.
Prejudice and Discrimination
Prejudice is the negative attitude or opinion toward a person or group, which is rooted in such characteristics as social class, religion, culture, ethnicity, or race. In the magical world, prejudice and discrimination are closely intertwined with not only racial inequality, but also blood status. The use of the term ÂMudblood,Â for example, is an excellent example of prejudice in wizard society. It not only shows the importance of status in the society (between upper and lower class wizards/witches), it also shows a level of racial inequality as well (between Muggle-borns and pure-bloods). When Draco told Hermione she was a Âfilthy little MudbloodÂ he was not only attacking her class and blood status, but also the fact that she was descended from Muggles, who are a different race from wizards (CoS, US Paperback, pp. 112-116). Another example would be Dolores UmbridgeÂs comment about Âextremely dangerous half-breeds,Â which displays her prejudice towards Remus Lupin because he is a werewolf (OotP, US Hardcover, p. 243).
Sometimes prejudiced views are rooted in ethnocentric ideals. Ethnocentrism is the belief that oneÂs own culture and ways of life are superior to all others. The clashing of goblins and wizards when it comes to ownership rights over goblin-made objects is an example of ethnocentrism (DH, US Hardcover, p. 517).
Racism, the idea that oneÂs own race is best, is also prevalent in wizard society. Draco, for example, often displays a racist attitude toward Hermione:
"Want one Granger?Â said Malfoy, holding out a badge to Hermione. ÂIÂve got loads. But donÂt touch my hand, now. IÂve just washed it, you see; donÂt want a Mudblood sliming it up.Â
(GoF, US Hardcover, p. 298)
Those in minority groups often suffer because of ethnocentric and racist ideals. Racism often brings along discrimination, exploitation (house-elves, for example, suffer from the exploitation of labor), and prejudice.
Discrimination is the unfair treatment of a person or group, which includes the denial of rights and opportunities, based on prejudices or other haphazard reasons. Discrimination is the action that can result from a prejudiced attitude.
There are many examples of discrimination in the Harry Potter series. Umbridge, who is prejudiced against half-breeds, uses her authority to pass anti-werewolf legislation, making it difficult for werewolves to find employment, and has attempted to pass laws that would hurt merpeople (OotP, US Hardcover, p. 302). Umbridge also demonstrates her half-breed prejudice when she fires Hagrid. Wizards are actually being discriminatory in enslaving house-elves. Death Eaters believe that pure-bloods are superior and have no qualms with physically abusing Muggles, Muggle-borns, goblins, or any race that has a lower status than themselves. Even Slughorn, having house-elves taste-testing his wine for poison, is showing discriminatory behavior towards the house-elf race (HBP, US Hardcover, p. 485).
Prejudice and discrimination can also lead to more serious outcomes. For example, there is no lack of hate crimes that occur in the Harry Potter series. Muggle-baiting is a hate crime, as is Muggle torture. During the Quidditch World Cup, Death Eaters put on quite a show of Muggle torture by dangling and contorting the poor Roberts family in midair through the campsites (GoF, US Hardcover, p. 119-120). The Muggle-born Registration Commission's purpose, in Deathly Hallows, is to round up and expel Muggle-borns from wizard society (DH, US Hardcover, p. 209-210), which parallels similar anti-Jewish legislation in Nazi Germany during WWII. Mass genocide of Muggles occurs as well (a type of Âracial cleansingÂ) performed by the most extreme of wizards.
Segregation is another issue in the magical world. Werewolves, for example, are segregated. They are shunned from society, have difficulty finding jobs (especially due to the passing of anti-werewolf legislation), and are, generally, unable to attend school (Lupin was an exception due to DumbledoreÂs help).
Here is a quick list of discrimination and prejudice that occurs in the Harry Potter series:
Pure-blood and Half-blood Wizards and Witches (majority group):
Little to no prejudice or discrimination occurs unless an individual (ex. Andromeda) or group (ex. The Weasley family) are considered Âblood traitors,Â to which they will face the same prejudice and discrimination as the minority groups. According to Pius Thickness, ÂÂ
the blood traitors are as bad as the Mudbloods" (DH, US Hardcover, p. 247).
Muggle-born Wizards and Witches (majority/minority group):
They are witches and wizards who may be subject to negative social consequences due to having a low status relative to those in the majority group. They are on the receiving end of the term ÂMudblood,Â which means dirty or common blood (CoS, US Paperback, p. 112-116). To some pure-bloods it is shameful to be associated with a Muggle-born, which could lead to being labeled a Âblood traitorÂ or banishment from a family. In Deathly Hallows, Muggle-borns face death, torture, expulsion from society, the stripping of their wands, etc.
Muggles (group not available):
Although Muggles are not a part of the magical world, they still face a large amount of discrimination and prejudice from wizard-kind. Muggles are completely separated from wizard society. However,they are often seen as the lowest class of humans by wizards, and even, to the extreme, are seen as mere animals. For example, SiriusÂs relative, Araminta Meliflua, tried to legalize Muggle-hunting (OotP, US Hardcover, p. 113). Muggles are tortured and killed by pure-blood extremists.
Squibs (minority group):
Squibs are the opposite of Muggle-borns. They come from wizard stock, but have no magical abilities. Because Squibs lack magical power, they can never fully be a part of wizard society. There is not too much in the books about exactly how Squibs live or fit into the society. We know that Argus Filch makes a living as the caretaker at Hogwarts, and Mrs. Figg breeds kneazles. Although their ancestry is noted, unlike with wizards and witches, the Ministry does not document the whereabouts of Squibs, only those who are magical (OotP, US Hardcover, p. 143). According to Auntie Muriel, Squibs used to be Âhushed upÂ and were encouraged to incorporate themselves into Muggle society where theyÂd be more accepted (DH, US Hardcover, p. 155).
Half-Breeds (minority group):
Often discriminated against. Half-breeds include part-giants, werewolves, part-veela, centaurs, etc. In other words, it includes those who are part human and part non-human. Hagrid and Madam Maxime face prejudice, discrimination, and stereotyping because they are related to giants, who are known to be quite aggressive by nature:
ÂOr else - wellÂ
Â Fudge sounded embarrassed. ÂWell, IÂll reserve judgment until after IÂve seen the place where he was found, but you say it just past the Beauxbatons carriage? Dumbledore, you know what that woman is?Â
(GoF, US Hardcover, p. 580)
Werewolves are segregated from society and are seen as those who are not to be trusted. They are socially ostracized. Intermarriage is discouraged. Lupin, a werewolf, married Tonks, a human, and by wizard societyÂs standards, she has become an outcast (DH, US Hardcover, p. 213).
Non-Humans in General (minority group):
They are denied wand rights, by law.
Goblins (minority group):
Although they run the wizard bank, Gringotts, and have representation at the Ministry, goblins have been denied many rights for centuries. There is a long history of fighting between wizards and goblins.
Centaurs and Merpeople (minority groups):
Both groups are denied rights and are restricted to certain geographic areas by the Ministry.
House-elves (minority group):
House-elves are fully enslaved and completely under wizard power. They have no rights and no representation at the Ministry. Many rules and laws bind them to their masters.
The wizarding world, which is filled with interesting plants, creatures, magic, and tantalizing candy also suffers, as we suffer, from problems like status, stratification, and racial inequality within their society. I hope that with this sociological look into the magical world of Harry Potter
, you will all see how very similar it is to the real world in which we live. I hope that this editorial has given you food for thought and that youÂve enjoyed reading it as much as IÂve thoroughly enjoyed writing it!
Posted by: Amy