sociology 72

Social Status

Write a 500 or more word paper that provides a critical analysis and evaluation of the following questions. (Time New Roman, 12 font, Double spaced)

What are some of your ascribed, achieved, and master statuses?

How are these different from your parents or grandparents?

Do family, work, or other activities hold the same personal identification status for you as they did for your parents or grandparents?

Additionally, in your paper discuss any differences that you notice.

Did your parents or grandparents experience different conflict or strain than you?

Discuss any differences that you notice.

What future statuses do you expect for your life?

How will these differ in personal identification and conflict or strain from you current statuses?

This weeks Reading:

Social Interaction

When studying a micro phenomenon like social interaction you may begin to reflect on yourself and even analyze your own social interactions. This is not a bad thing, but you should be cautious. Sociology like every social science can only speak to the average observations and experiences. There are people who do not fit the average. Let’s look at the What, Who, When, Where of Social Interaction.


Regardless of your allegiance to a particular theory, we need to establish shared meaning to have a proper conversation. Let’s begin with establishing a meaning for the term we will discuss the most, social interaction. It may be rather easy to guess the definition, but we need to cover all parts of it so that it is not just a common sense topic, but a topic that we can research.

Social interaction is the process by which we act toward and react to people around us. Social interaction is central to all human social activity. People influence each other’s behavior through interaction. Elements of social structure, such as race and ethnicity, affect all interaction and can produce different personal outcomes.

We also need to establish a shared meaning for another key concept, social structure. Social structure is an organized pattern of behavior that governs people’s relationships. Because social structure guides our actions, it gives us the feeling that life is orderly and predictable rather than haphazard or random. Social structure guides our actions, making our life orderly.


I hope you can tell from our two key terms that no one, unless a complete recluse, is exempt from social interaction. We are involved in it at points in time when we might not being paying attention to those around us. These interactions are shaped by a few different sociological characteristics about the person. First we need to acknowledge our personal social status and how we notice the social status of others. Social status refers to a social position that a person occupies in society. Statuses vary by the values society gives them. A doctor may have a higher status than a nurse for instance. However, sociologists do not assume one position is always more prestigious than another. A status refers to all societal positions within a culture. Statuses are broken down into status sets. A status set is the collection of social positions that an individual holds. Every person “lives in” many statuses at the same time.

An achieved status is a position that we have through choice, effort, and our own actions and behavior. Achieved statuses are those we earn.

An ascribed status is a position that we are born into. Ascribed status includes race, gender, or family relationships. Most of us are “stuck” with our ascribed statuses, like it or not.

Take a minute to think of some of your ascribed and achieved statuses.

A master status is the status that determines a person’s identity. In most societies—including the United States—gender, age, and race are master statuses because they are very visible.

Most often we equate master status with occupation.

A master status can be negative or positive.

Status inconsistency refers to occupying social positions that create conflict because they are ranked differently. Because we hold many statuses, some clash.

Which of the ascribed and achieved statuses make up your master status?


Whenever an individual is in front of another individual, they will enact a role. A role is the behavior expected of a person in a particular status. We occupy a status but play a role. In this sense, a role is the dynamic aspect of a status. Each status is associated with one or more roles.

Roles can be complementary, such as a professor’s multiple tasks. Roles can be rigid or flexible. For instance, one of the differences between a boss and a secretary’s job is that a boss might have more flexibility in schedule and movement.

Role performance is the actual behavior of a person who occupies a status. For example, a professor may alter her or his role by demanding more of graduate students than of undergraduates.

A role set refers to the different roles attached to a single status.

Role conflict is the frustration and uncertainties a person experiences when confronted with the requirements of two or more statuses. College students often encounter role conflict if they also work, especially full time. The role conflict increases if the student has young children or cares for an aging parent.

Role strain occurs when there is conflict between the roles of two or more statuses, involves incompatible demands among roles within a single status. Students often experience role strain, as when several exams are scheduled on the same day or when three course papers have the same deadline.

Individuals cope with role strain and conflict in a number of ways. They may deny there is a problem, compromise or negotiate, set priorities, compartmentalize their roles, or not take on any more roles.


Our social interaction takes place any time there is more than one person. It does not even need to include language.

Nonverbal communication is messages sent without using words. This silent language, a “language of behavior” that conveys our real feelings, can be more potent than our words.

Nonverbal communication can include silence, visual cues, gestures, facial expressions, eye contact, and touch. Gender can shape how an individual views touching. Cross-cultural differences also lead to different interpretations of the role of touching.

Online communication has become a prominent way to communicate with 75 percent of Americans connected to the internet. Internet usage varies by sex, age, ethnicity, and social class.

In the theory of dramaturgy (see below) our environment is a stage for our role performances. This theory did not develop during a time when we had online communication, but I can still see many ways that it is applicable.

You might consider the roles put forth on LinkedIn in comparison to the roles that you put forth on another social network.


The answer to why will depend on the theory that you choose. The idea of social interaction is a micro theory, so you should expect that our macro theories do not speak much to this phenomenon.

Symbolic Interactionist:

Symbolic interactionists focus on the idea that people take each other and the context into account when engaging in social interaction. A key idea is the social construction of reality or the notion that reality is created as humans create meaning from social interaction. Hence human reality is socially constructed reality.

According to W.I. and Dorothy Thomas, our perceptions of reality shape our behavior. The famous Thomas theorem, “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences” refers to the perspective that reality is socially constructed. Our definition of reality can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy, the idea that if we define something as real and act upon it, it can become real.


People play different roles and act out scenes for the “audiences” with whom they interact. Because most of us try to present a positive image of ourselves, much of social interaction involves impression management, a process of suppressing unfavorable traits and stressing favorable ones

Social Exchange Theory:

Social exchange theory states that any social interaction between two people is based on each person’s trying to maximize rewards (or benefits) and minimize punishments (or costs). An interaction that elicits rewards, such as approval or a smile, is more likely to be repeated than an interaction that brings costs such as disapproval or criticism.


Feminist theories of social interaction focus on interaction in terms of how it involves dominant-subordinate relationships. How people respond to each other shows power relationships, especially regarding men and women.

Emotions are an important component of interaction. Learning to handle emotional labor, or the management of feelings to create a publicly observable facial and bodily display, is critical in many occupations that demand continuous interaction and masking our true feelings. Women are often subordinated to positions of powerlessness. They are learning a set of feeling roles that go with a lower status position.

Deeper Ideas and Examples

When studying a micro phenomenon like social interaction you may begin to reflect on yourself and even analyze your own social interactions. This is not a bad thing, but you should be cautious. Sociology like every social science can only speak to the average observations and experiences. There are people who do not fit the average. Let’s look at the What, Who, When, Where of Social Interaction.



A status set is the collection of social statuses that an individual occupies. Statuses are always relational, or complementary, because they are connected to other statuses.

Dionne, one of my students, is female, African American, 42 years old, divorced, mother of two, daughter, sister, cousin, aunt, Baptist, Maryland voter, supervisor at a bank, volunteer at a soup kitchen, president of her homeowner’s association, country music fan, choir member, stockholder, and gourmet cook. All of these socially defined positions make up Dionne’s status set.

An ascribed status is a position into which we are born. We can’t control, change, or choose our ascribed statuses that include: sex (male or female), age, race, ethnicity, or family relationships.

Your ascribed statuses, for example, could be “male,” “uncle,” “Latino,” and “brother.” An achieved status, in contrast, is a position that we have through choice, effort, and our own actions and behavior. We have to do something to occupy an achieved status.

A master status can be positive or negative.

For instance, Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, is seen as positive because he’s a billionaire. People often ignore the fact that Gates has been accused of making his fortune by manipulating and usurping computer software and hardware to his own advantage both in the United States and globally. Thus, being rich and famous has its advantages as a master status.

Master statuses can also be negative. Instead of getting to know a person in a wheelchair, for example, we might stigmatize her or him as somehow “imperfect” and “flawed.” Here we react to the disability rather than the person’s accomplishments and wonderful personality.

One example of how master status can affect an achieved status is the case of Bill Gates. Gates who is a multibillionaire. Because he is a billionaire, it is considered a positive master status in U.S. society. Leslie Visser was an athlete and a sports analyst, journalist, and sportscaster for over 25 years. She is the first women enshrined in the pro football hall of fame.

Status inconsistency refers to occupying social positions that create conflict because they are ranked differently. Examples include a computer scientist who is a bartender, or a skilled welder who stocks shelves at Wal-Mart. In both cases, neither can find a better job after widespread layoffs.


An example of how roles vary can be seen in the case of Japan where dedication to family overrides achievement unlike many in America. Japanese child-rearing reflects the concept of amae (pronounced ah-mah-eh), a sense of complete dependence based on love and caring. Mothers typically spend every waking hour with their infants. However, most Americans think that this kind of behavior will spoil a child and discourage independence and self-reliance.

Coping with role conflict and role strain is difficult because many people deny that there is a problem.

Many college students take courses in the morning, work part-time during the afternoon or evening, and devote part of the weekend to leisure activities. It’s not always easy, but quite possible, to “segregate” our roles throughout the life course. An example of exiting a role is Michael Brown of FEMA or the Emergency Relief Management Agency after hurricane Katrina destroyed parts of the gulf coast. Brown resigned from job as head of FEMA after criticism of the agency’s performance. Most people will not remember his resignation. In comparison, the resignation of President Nixon the early 1970s is remembered as an important event in American history. Nixon’s famous role exit is in political science and history text books.


The Thomas Theorem can help us understand how social interaction can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies. Carrying this idea further, sociologist Robert Merton (1948/1966) proposed that our definitions of reality can result in a self-fulfilling prophecy: If we define something as real and act upon it, it can, in fact, become real. If we define something as real and act upon it, it can, in fact, become real.

For example, a national study of adolescents in grades 7 to 12 found that students performed well in classrooms where teachers were empathetic, supportive, and promoted self-discipline.

Feminist theories also offer insights on interaction. Interaction and power are keys to understanding dominant-subordinate relationships according to Feminist scholars.

For instance authority and control are not obvious in an interaction, even though they strongly influence the way that people respond to each other, because people often manipulate the people they say they love. An example of this is a controlling relationship. The characteristics of a controlling relationship include blaming, emotional abuse, coercion, intimidation, and threats.


Who’s online and why? The online world of computers or cyberspace is emerging as a new form of communication. Variations by sex, age, ethnicity, and social class shape online communication as a digital divide exist for some groups. Those with higher incomes are more likely to use the web as are Asian families for instance. What we do (and don’t do) online varies by gender. Women are more likely to contact friends while men are more likely to engage in financial activities or get information on hobbies.

Is Online Communication Beneficial or Harmful? Cyberspace can be isolating, however it has emerged as a way to establish communities and has increased interaction for many. Cyberspace can make teaching less satisfying as teachers have less contact with students.

Convenience is a main benefit as cyberspace allows individuals to avoid snail mail. However, the Internet can be slow and spam and viruses reduce its effectiveness.

How we communicate is also affected by the Internet. Email is spontaneous and can lead to saying things we would not say is a face-to-face conversation. Writing emails can be a good way to compose our thoughts. However, misunderstandings are more difficult when writing instead of talking to another person.

Work and leisure are also being redefined by cyberspace. Telecommuting can reduce the costs and hazards of driving for Americans. It can also make separating personal and work difficult.

Relationships and privacy are emerging as issues on the Internet. Online dating is a new form of social interaction. Many feel it can be dangerous. Online interaction can jeopardize privacy. Emails exist in cyberspace for long periods.

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