Essay on Status

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Status originates from Latin and means in the social sciences standing in society; status commonly denotes the state of affairs and legal position of a person. In sociology, the notion of status or social status designates location and position of collectivities — communities, groups or strata — in the social hierarchy of honor and prestige. Positions are distinguished from one another in terms of differentiated duties and rights, immunities and privileges gained in professions or other significant areas of social life, and are usually associated with a common lifestyle and consumption pattern. In turn, these distinguishing traits are attributed a hierarchical value that generally represents the scale of social worth in society.

Ralph Linton, an anthropologist, defines status as a position in a ”particular pattern” (1936: 113). The status of an individual is the ”sum total” of the positions he has acquired in society. Status is moreover gained mainly by achievement or ascription. It is achieved through personal efforts and it is ascribed on the basis of traits individuals have, for instance, their gender or ethnicity. Linton’s approach departs from an earlier definition of status as the legal position of a person and accentuates that social standing is defined according to the degree of attributed prestige, esteem, and respect rather than possession of wealth and power.

Max Weber argues that status denotes ”a quality of honor or a lack of it” (1974: 405), which is differentially attributed, constituting a system of social stratification based on custom and communal values. Status groups enjoy the same level of honor and are characterized by a common consumption pattern and a lifestyle. These groups strive to enhance the position of their members by claiming rights and privileges, while resisting status loss. In Weber’s view, status groups differ from classes, however, in the long run both become ”knitted” and interlinked: a highly valued status group will acquire wealth and power, and a wealthy class will acquire a high status (Weber 1974: 180—94.

Scientific preoccupation with status in western societies has been significant in exploring the constitution of social order and the relation of individuals to this order. Contemporary studies in status could be categorized in three broad areas: status and occupational stratification, status and ”expectation states theory,” and ”status conversion” or ”inconsistency.” The first area of research comprises the paradigm best known as occupational stratification. This paradigm attempts to measure the standing of occupations in order to determine the structure of social stratification and (upward) social mobility. It also attempts to define the significance of occupation in determining the location of individuals in the social hierarchy. Research is mainly quantitative and some of the main criteria or ”variables” employed are education, type of occupation, and income, best known as the socioeconomic index. Terms such as social or occupational status and occupational prestige are used interchangeably.

Expectation states theory, the second major research area in status, generally involves an attempt to uncover processes of evaluation among members of a well-defined group. Experimental findings indicate that individuals who are viewed as having a higher status are also considered by fellow group members to perform better even if this is not the case. Status clues, status characteristics and status symbols are concepts to describe how individuals exchange information in a tacit manner about their social status.

A third broad area of research and theorizing refers to phenomena of ”status conversion” and ”status inconsistency.” Benoit drawing on Weber discusses status equilibration and status conversion mechanisms. The terms denote that different ”types” of status tend to reach a common level; that is, an individual’s high status in the economic hierarchy will match the achieved status in the ”political hierarchy” and this in turn will be equivalent to the status in the ”hierarchy of prestige” (Benoit 1966: 80). Hughes on the other hand examines status inconsistencies. The term means that a person occupies simultaneously different statuses, as for example women employed in highly esteemed economic or political positions. In practice, these persons are made invisible to clients or are directed to tasks that presumably fit better their ”natural” social roles (1971). Hughes’s approach touches upon the interrelational aspect of status: it is enjoyed when, if, and as long as it is granted by others. This aspect forms the crux of the matter in issues of inequality and social exclusion. The concept of status is thus still relevant today in studying social processes and outcomes related to unequal access to and use of social goods and services.

Bibliography:

  1. Benoit, E. (1966) [1944] Status, status types, and status interrelations. In: Biddle, B. J. & Thomas, E. J. (eds.), Role Theory: Concepts and Research. J. Wiley, New York, pp. 77—80.
  2. Hughes, E. C. (1971) The Sociological Eye: Selected Papers. Aldine-Atherton, Chicago, IL.
  3. Linton, R. (1936) The Study of Man. Appleton-Century, New York.
  4. Weber, M. (1974) [1948] From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, trans. & ed. H. H. Gerth & C. Wright Mills. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London.

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