Status is a pervasive and fundamental aspect of everyday life. For as long as people have roamed the earth, status has served to differentiate them hierarchically. Status permeates throughout any and all contexts and situations in which people congregate or interact socially. From informal groups reacting to a tragedy on the street to formal teams charged with the attainment of specific organizational goals, status differences emerge to stratify people in a way that minimizes chaos and enhances social order. Status is also quite influential in predicting perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors. The article begins by identifying a number of core texts on status. It then defines status, and in doing so, highlights the fragmented conceptualizations present in the literature and further discusses the distinctive characteristics that differentiate status from other similar constructs such as power, reputation, and popularity. After defining status, the article follows by discussing some of its outcomes and antecedents. It concludes by highlighting several theoretical frameworks used to explain status-related phenomena. This article limits its focus to research on status within an organization, that is, the status of individual employees. Throughout this article, findings are summarized for the study of status in the fields of social psychology and sociology, in addition to those specific to management. This includes studies that employed demographic characteristics (e.g., gender, race) as proxies for status. This is done for two reasons. First, whereas “status has occupied a rather minor place in the management and organization literature” (Pearce 2011a, p. 1; cited under General Overview), it has been widely examined by psychologists and sociologists for many years. Thus, a disproportionately large percentage of what we know about status comes from these two fields. Second, several studies from the management field demonstrate that status-related phenomena (including those stemming from demographic differences) generalize to organizations. In fact, as noted, status functions anywhere people interact socially, especially in settings where people share common, interdependent goals (Ridgeway and Walker 1995; cited under General Overview), such as the workplace.
Because such a large proportion of our status-related knowledge originates in the fields of sociology and social psychology, management scholars interested in studying the topic would be wise to reference texts from these disciplines, as well as those directly related to management and organizations. For a comprehensive historical perspective on social stratification from a sociological angle, Scott 1996 is an excellent first stop. A nice complement to Scott’s book is the chapter Fiske 2010, which adopts a more social psychological perspective to stratification. After acquiring a solid understanding of the role status plays in stratification, pick up Magee and Galinsky 2008 (cited under Self-Reinforcement), whose authors discuss the many factors contributing to the reinforcement and stability of status hierarchies (see also Ridgeway and Walker 1995 for more on the stability of status structures). Then move to work that explicitly addresses status in the organizational context. Pearce 2011a and Pearce 2011b are compiled works from a number of contributing authors, each of whom has examined status from a unique topical angle. In 2012, Organization Science published a special issue on workplace status (Chen, et al. 2012), and Piazza and Castellucci 2014 reviewed the literature. Taken together, these three sources provide a well-rounded overview of the current state of research on status in organizations.
Chen, Ya-Ru, Randall S. Peterson, Damon J. Phillips, Joel M. Podolny, and Cecelia L. Ridgeway, eds. “Special Issue: Bringing Status to the Table—Attaining, Maintaining, and Experiencing Status in Organizations and Markets.” Organization Science 23.2 (2012).
This special issue provides the most recent collection of research on the topic of organizational status, incorporating studies on both status in organizations and status in markets. The introduction, written by the editors, discusses the salience and importance of status in the workplace and integrates each article in a manner that emphasizes the consequences of organizational status, as well as the factors that contribute to its attainment and maintenance.
Fiske, Susan T. “Interpersonal Stratification: Status, Power, and Subordination.” In Handbook of Social Psychology. 5th ed. Edited by Susan T. Fiske, Daniel T. Gilbert, and Gardner Lindzey, 941–982. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2010.
The author focuses on the interpersonal aspects of status, highlighting its dynamic nature in social interactions and suggesting that there are both advantages and disadvantages associated with all positions on the social hierarchy. She also does a nice job of delineating a number of concepts that are quite similar to status, including hierarchy, power, subordination, and oppression.
Pearce, Jone L. “Introduction: The Power of Status.” In Status in Management and Organizations. Edited by Jone L. Pearce, 1–22. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011a.
The author provides a high-level review of the literature on status in the workplace. In doing so, she highlights the importance of status in organizations, discusses the conceptual confusion surrounding the meaning of status, and notes the relative dearth of status-related studies in the management space.
Pearce, Jone L. Status in Management and Organizations. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011b.
This book links status to a wide variety of organization-relevant topics including workplace fairness, self-categorization, and race. Pay particular attention to the two chapters personally written by Pearce, which review the status literature, integrate the book’s contributions, and call for future research on status in management and organizations.
Piazza, Alessandro, and Fabrizio Castellucci. “Status in Organization and Management Theory.” Journal of Management 40.1 (2014): 287–315.
This article provides the most recent and comprehensive review of status in organizations. Although status plays a relatively nominal role in the management literature, the authors note that it has experienced a surge of scholarly interest in recent years. In their review of studies examining status at various levels of analysis (i.e., micro, meso, macro), they present an integrative theoretical framework and encourage scholars to collaborate across levels in the future.
Ridgeway, Cecilia L., and Henry A. Walker. “Status Structures.” In Sociological Perspectives on Social Psychology. Edited by Karen S. Cook, Gary Alan Fine, and James S. House. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 1995.
The authors discuss the factors contributing to the emergence, legitimacy, and stability of status structures.
Scott, John. Stratification and Power: Structures of Class, Status and Command. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 1996.
The author discusses the dominant historical perspectives on social stratification, such as those put forth by Max Weber and Karl Marx. He does a wonderful job of integrating classical work with more modern (mid-1990s) thinking related to societal status. This book is an excellent resource for studying status from a sociological angle.
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