Sociology Status
by
Michael Sauder
  • LAST REVIEWED: 09 September 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 July 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0060

Introduction

Social status is a central dimension of stratification, making up one leg of the traditional “class, status, power” division among the bases of societal inequality. Originating in the work of Max Weber, this division, by asserting the independent influence of status groups and interests, represented a key departure from Karl Marx’s insistence on the primacy of economic or class relationships. Despite the long-established prominence of this concept in the field of sociology, status has been variously defined and employed. Some definitions, following Veblen, focus on the individual aspects of status, referring to the rank, prestige, or esteem of one’s position in a social hierarchy. Other definitions focus on status groups or communities defined by shared lifestyles; these groups use these common status identities to gain access to valuable resources, privileges, and entitlements and defend those they already possess. Contemporary empirical research on status has focused primarily on socioeconomic status or experimental studies of small groups, although there is a burgeoning literature on the role that status plays in structuring markets and determining organizational outcomes.

Classics and General Statements

While there are no major textbooks or handbooks dedicated exclusively to status, the short treatise by Turner 1988 on the subject provides a useful overview as does, although to a lesser extent, the Stub 1972 collection of essays with introductory commentary. The classic works in this area retain their value as the most comprehensive statements on the various aspects of status processes. Most important are Veblen 1994 (originally published in 1899), which includes arguments about the centrality of status and status symbolism to human society; Weber 1978 (originally published in 1913), which includes analysis of status groups, social closure, and the independent influence of status stratification (a line of argument extended by Mills 1963); and later theorizing about status distribution as a form of social control by Goode 1978. The distinction in Linton 1936 between ascribed and achieved status sets the stage for the very fruitful line of research in status attainment, of which Blau and Duncan 1967 was the pioneering work.

  • Blau, Peter M., and Otis Dudley Duncan. 1967. The American occupational structure. New York: John Wiley.

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    Blau and Duncan document how socioeconomic status is transmitted from one generation to the next in the United States through measurement of the degree to which an individual’s occupational status is grounded in social origin (represented by the occupational status of the individual’s father) and how much has to do with education.

  • Goode, William J. 1978. The celebration of heroes: Prestige as a social control system. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    A central text in the study of status, Goode presents a definitive analysis of how prestige serves as a mechanism of social control in modern society by increasing group commitment, integration, and continuity. Goode examines, for example, the means by which prestige is allocated, how it shapes behavior, under what conditions status rewards are considered fair, and how systems for the distribution of prestige change over time.

  • Linton, Ralph. 1936. The study of man: An introduction. New York: D. Appleton-Century.

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    Defining status as a “collection of rights and duties,” Linton originates the classic distinction between ascribed status, which is given as a product of birthright, and achieved status, which is earned through the special qualities and merits of the individual.

  • Mills, C. Wright. 1963. The sociology of stratification. In Power, politics, and people: The collected essays of C. Wright Mills. Edited by Irving Louis Horowitz, 305–324. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Mills updates and extends Weber’s multidimensional model of stratification, noting in particular how mid-20th-century status concerns influence life chances and perceptions of the stratification order. Originally published in 1954.

  • Stub, Holger R., ed. 1972. Status communities in modern society: Alternatives to class analysis. Hinsdale, IL: Dryden.

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    Proposing that status communities offer an analytically useful alternative to class conceptions for understanding modern stratification, this volume is composed of twenty-seven wide-ranging readings on status stratification. Topics include status symbols, prestige and lifestyle, elite status circles, lower-level status communities, and social mobility.

  • Turner, Bryan S. 1988. Status. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press.

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    This book provides a thorough treatment of the status field, emphasizing Weber’s theories of status group and lifestyle. Emphasizing the politico-legal aspects of status, Turner analyzes the historical development of status entitlements and details how this view departs from Marx’s class analysis.

  • Veblen, Thorstein. 1994. The theory of the leisure class. New York: Dover.

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    In his classic treatise, Veblen argues for the central significance of status concerns to social life. Noting the nearly universal impulse of humans to invidiously compare themselves to their peers, Veblen emphasizes the importance of conspicuous consumption and leisure. Veblen concludes that the quest for status drives desires for wealth and power rather than resulting from them. Originally published in 1899.

  • Weber, Max. 1978. Economy and Society: An outline of interpretive sociology. 2 vols. Edited by G. Roth and C. Wittich. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    In this monumental collection of essays and theoretical statements, Weber lays the groundwork for much of the subsequent status research in sociology. Of particular influence is his definition of status and status group (pp. 305–307), his discussion of social closure based on status differences (pp. 339–348), and his famous essay on the dimensions of stratification (pp. 926–940). Originally published in 1913.

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