Social Organization. Lao society lacks rigid social classes and no longer has a hereditary elite. Buddhist monks and school teachers are accorded respect, as are elders. Socioeconomic stratification is limited, particularly in rural villages where there is little or no occupational differentiation, and is based on wealth, occupation, and age. The household and extended-kin group form the basis for village social organization. Labor exchange groups for farming or other tasks are usually drawn from the entire village, or from the neighborhood, if it is a larger village.
Political Organization. Laos is a Communist state governed by the Lao People's Revolutionary Party through the party's Central Committee and the Council of Ministers. As of 1989 there was no constitution, although People's Assemblies had been elected at the district, province, and national level. Laos is administratively divided into 16 provinces ( khoueng ) and the municipality of Vientiane. Provinces are subdivided into districts (muang), subdistricts ( tasseng ) and villages ( baan ), although the tassengs are beginning to be abolished. Villages are "natural communities". They are governed by a locally elected headman and village council. Muang officials are appointed by the provincial or national government, and are responsible for most administrative duties such as tax collection, school supervision, and agricultural improvement; they are also the main link in communicating policies promulgated by the central government to the village. Budgetary and personnel constraints severely limit the scope of government services. Most villages have at least a one- or two-grade school, but no health services. The level and quality of education increase with proximity to district and provincial towns.
Social Control. In the village, social control is based on the need to maintain a good reputation in the community. Numerous family economic and life-cycle activities require the support and cooperation of fellow villagers, which will be withheld from those seen as dishonest, lazy, or uncooperative. In extreme cases, persons have been accused of witchcraft and expelled from a village.
Conflict. Whenever possible, open conflict is avoided in Lao society. Intermediaries are used informally to express or resolve discontent. Intervillage conflict is uncommon among Lao villages, but ethnic prejudice has led to disputes between Lao and hill-tribe villages, often over land use and animal grazing. A civil war between leftist and royalist factions continued between 1956 and 1975, and was closely tied to the war in Vietnam.