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“STATUS: Why Is It Everywhere? Why Does It Matter?”

Cecilia Ridgeway
Cecilia Ridgeway
Stanford University
Miller Learning Center, Room 348

Status is a form of inequality based on esteem, respect, and honor. It is ancient and universal yet nevertheless pervades modern institutions, organizations and everyday life. Although we see it all around us in the workplace, the classroom, the neighborhoods we live in, the groups we socialize in, we barely understand status as a social process, what it is and why it matters both to individuals and for inequality in society. Status is often dismissed as a vanity at the individual level and, at the societal level, as a simple gloss on the better understood inequality processes of wealth and power. This is a major mistake that underestimates both the power of status as an individual motive and its central role in perpetuating durable patterns of inequality based on social differences such as gender, race, and class. I argue that status hierarchies are best understood as a cultural invention to organize and manage social relations in a fundamental human condition: cooperative interdependence to achieve valued goals that cannot be achieved alone but that create nested competitive interdependence to maximize individual outcomes from the shared effort. This invention is a two-fold cultural schema, consisting of a deeply learned basic norm of status allocation and changing common knowledge status beliefs that people draw on to coordinate judgements about who or what is more deserving of status. Because status beliefs become attached to social differences such as gender, race, and class, status perpetuates inequalities based those differences as people spread status everywhere through their cooperative endeavors. Thus status is inherently a two-edged sword, part useful social technology for organizing cooperative achievements and part agent of injustice based on social difference.

Speaker Bio: Cecilia L. Ridgeway is the Lucie Stern Professor of Social Sciences, Emerita, in the Sociology Department at Stanford University. She is particularly interested in the role that social hierarchies in everyday social relations play in the larger processes of stratification and inequality in a society.   Much of her research focuses on interpersonal status hierarchies, which are hierarchies of esteem and influence, and the significance of these hierarchies for inequalities based on gender, race, and social class.  She served as the President of the American Sociological Association in 2012-13. 

One of her recently published books, Status: Why Is It Everywhere? Why Does It Matter? (Russell Sage Foundation, 2019), offers a broad analysis of the nature of status as a form of inequality and its role in inequality based on social difference groups like gender and race. 

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