Social differentiation is a universal condition of human nature. All civilizations and all cultures recognize some kind of elevated social status. High status is a form of power—power being the ability to influence social situations. Social psychology has repeatedly demonstrated that we are inclined to submit to perceived authority and give greater privileges to those that we perceive as having higher status. These dynamics manifest with symbols in a symbolic world. Social power is symbolic power—symbolic power is social power.
Despite the universality of the status symbol, its manifestations are varied and changing, and what was once a status symbol may not be so now. There is a line in which exuberance and taste becomes vulgar—where one culture’s status symbol is another’s taboo. The question is can we take from this contextual and culturally varied practice other universal reductions? Can we deduce further truths on human nature through an examination of the status symbol, its diverse representations, and other status display behaviors?
This site seeks to visually catalog status phenomena and facilitate qualitative theory on the matter.
By Kevin Goodman
Graduate student in the liberal studies program at Skidmore College with a program concentration in the psychology of influence and status.