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Hierarchies in Cosmere Societies (collecting material for a Master's)

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I hope this is the right forum for this question? If not, I'm happy to be redirected.

In short: I study English and History in a Master of Education programm, and will write my Master's thesis in the winter semester. Since I'll be spending a considerable amount of time obsessing over a topic, I thought I would pick one I'm happy to obsess about anyway: Sanderson's writing. Together with my professor, I picked three possible ideas, one of which I am coming here for.

I was hoping that the collective brain of the 17th shard could help me pinpoint some storylines, chapters, interactions, etc. that would fall under my topic, so I get a better idea for what I'm working with than I could have myself, so I can figure out if this is the topic I want to persue.

What is the topic?

Broad: Hierarchy in Brandon Sanderson's Cosmere

to better explain: I will ask and examine questions such as How to Class/Race/Caste relations work in the Cosmere worlds? , How are these hierarchies structured? , how are hierarchies kept up/enforced, where and how can they bend and under which circumstances? , how do these hierarchies affect... ...the story? the character? the world? How does magic influence the hierarchies in the Cosmere? Is it an enabler, a tool, a subverter, etc?

I'll give a few examples of what I'm already thinking of including:

  • The Skaa and the Nobles in TFE era Scadrial. a "bred" worker race. The revolution, uprisings. Inquisitors as enforcers, including punishing those who venture outside of their class like Vin's father. Vin's bastardness. Blood-relations being responsible for magic potential. Zane, a bastard, being used by Straff because of his powers as a Mistborn. Atium as a means of financial control, which also makes House Venture the most powerful.
  • Lighteyes/Darkeyes on Roshar. Kaladin, the model minority character. Kaladin stepping out of line with "and for my boon" and being punished. Lighteye-supremacy as the result of Radiant ancestry. Magic - the Knights Radiant - subverting the caste system. Kaladin's family in Hearthstone and Roshone. The slaves and bridge crews. I don't have very many specific scenes in mind for this part, sadly.
  • "Parshmen" on Roshar. Well, yeah. another Slave Race. Which we later learn is magically forced on them. Yikes. Here, "Shen"/Rlain especially
  • Singer society vs Voidbringer society (once the Fused are back). The "lower" ranks literally providing bodies for the Fused. Also not sure how much there is to write about other than that aspect, though.
  • Elantrians. Magic as a random picker of who gets to be part of the immortal elite, but also Elantrians giving back and providing. Dilafs hatred for them caused by expectations for their reality-bending abilities.
  • Sel: The hiararchy in Fjordell. We don't have many sources here sadly, but The Chain is definitely an interesting aspect for how hierarchies are utilized and justified.
  • Emperor's Soul: The hierarchy being reinstated/propped up because the ruling class uses supposedly forbidden tools (Shai's magic)
  • Nalthis: Giving breath to the gods to keep them alive in the hope of getting something in return one day.

These are ideas of what I could include that I came up with. If you can think of other aspects, storylines etc. that might fit the topic, I would be very grateful to hear about them! Ideally, I would have 2-4 books i could focus on in the end, for exmaple The Final Empire and The Emperor's Soul and [This is where i hope to put whichever SA books has the most stuff on my topic], but I will include examples and parts from everything that has anything to do with my topic.

Thank you for your help!


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  • 1 month later...

I thought about it a bit and here are some more potential ideas. I might come up with some more later:



  • Technology as a means of enforcing hierarchy: The Lord Ruler ensured most technological innovation was strictly monitored. This ensured that technological solutions that would displace the need for skaa were never realized.
  • Mistborn as an ability also upset the general Patriarchal bent to pre-catacendre society. In this way the magic was both an enabler and a subverter. 


  • When a particular Hierarchy collapses, commerce is the fall back (barring war). I believe in Elantris the king was said to be in charge largely because of the economic power he had as a merchant. 


  • Religion's role in enforcing hierarchy as a separate entity from government. I find it interesting how Alethkar arrived at a separation of Church and State, but how there is a partnership to produce a unified culture. It reminds me a lot of 19th and 20th century USA (and more broadly the West as a whole). 

Meeting new cultures can drastically upset existing hierarchies. When humans met the Listeners it drastically upset how they organized their society.

Secret Project 1:

  • One of the main ways hierarchy was enforced that we observed was controlling movement of people. By restricting travel in such a dangerous area people were unable to change their place in the general hierarchy. 
Edited by Wayne's Pickle
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If you look into the hierarchies within hierarchies of Roshar, the dahn and nahn, you can see control via lower classes not being granted the right to travel, or the right to own land. Lower ranking darkeyed men are forced to be conscripted into the military, with only higher ranking darkeyes having immunity to the draft. There is also the fact that Darkeyes cannot leave the nahn system unless they gain a shard, which is essentially impossible. 

The Lighteyed and Darkeyed pages on Coppermind are not complete, but have a lot of information and citations. So it can help you get information, and find places in the book for further research into the class systems. 

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  • 1 month later...

One thing to maybe think of is the fact that Radiants are supposed to automatically become 4th Dahn, but the fact that darkeyed people can become lighteyed hasn't led to a breakdown of the system. They've simply been slotted into the lighteyed group while the rest of the darkeyes are left where they are. Or at least it's something I think is interesting. It's pretty much queue-jumping when it could have been a cultural turning point.

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