Facing Social Class: How Societal Rank Influences Interaction

Russell Sage Foundation
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Many Americans, holding fast to the American Dream and the promise of equal opportunity, claim that social class doesn't matter. Yet the ways we talk and dress, our interactions with authority figures, the degree of trust we place in strangers, our religious beliefs, our achievements, our senses of morality and of ourselves—all are marked by social class, a powerful factor affecting every domain of life. In Facing Social Class, social psychologists Susan Fiske and Hazel Rose Markus, and a team of sociologists, anthropologists, linguists, and legal scholars, examine the many ways we communicate our class position to others and how social class shapes our daily, face-to-face interactions—from casual exchanges to interactions at school, work, and home. Facing Social Class exposes the contradiction between the American ideal of equal opportunity and the harsh reality of growing inequality, and it shows how this tension is reflected in cultural ideas and values, institutional practices, everyday social interactions, and psychological tendencies. Contributor Joan Williams examines cultural differences between middle- and working-class people and shows how the cultural gap between social class groups can influence everything from voting practices and political beliefs to work habits, home life, and social behaviors. In a similar vein, Annette Lareau and Jessica McCrory Calarco analyze the cultural advantages or disadvantages exhibited by different classes in institutional settings, such as those between parents and teachers. They find that middle-class parents are better able to advocate effectively for their children in school than are working-class parents, who are less likely to challenge a teacher's authority. Michael Kraus, Michelle Rheinschmidt, and Paul Piff explore the subtle ways we signal class status in social situations. Conversational style and how close one person stands to another, for example, can influence the balance of power in a business interaction. Diana Sanchez and Julie Garcia even demonstrate that markers of low socioeconomic status such as incarceration or unemployment can influence whether individuals are categorized as white or black—a finding that underscores how race and class may work in tandem to shape advantage or disadvantage in social interactions. The United States has one of the highest levels of income inequality and one of the lowest levels of social mobility among industrialized nations, yet many Americans continue to buy into the myth that theirs is a classless society. Facing Social Class faces the reality of how social class operates in our daily lives, why it is so pervasive, and what can be done to alleviate its effects.
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About the author

SUSAN T. FISKE is Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology at Princeton University. HAZEL ROSE MARKUS is Davis-Brack Professor in the Behavioral Sciences in the Department of Psychology, director of the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity (CCSRE), and director of the Mind, Culture, and Society Lab at Stanford University.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Russell Sage Foundation
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Published on
Mar 5, 2012
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Pages
272
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ISBN
9781610447812
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Language
English
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Genres
Family & Relationships / General
Psychology / Interpersonal Relations
Social Science / General
Social Science / Social Classes & Economic Disparity
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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An insightful examination of why we compare ourselves to those above and below us. The United States was founded on the principle of equal opportunity for all, and this ethos continues to inform the nation's collective identity. In reality, however, absolute equality is elusive. The gap between rich and poor has widened in recent decades, and the United States has the highest level of economic inequality of any developed country. Social class and other differences in status reverberate throughout American life, and prejudice based on another's perceived status persists among individuals and groups. In Envy Up, Scorn Down, noted social psychologist Susan Fiske examines the psychological underpinnings of interpersonal and intergroup comparisons, exploring why we compare ourselves to those both above and below us and analyzing the social consequences of such comparisons in day-to-day life. What motivates individuals, groups, and cultures to envy the status of some and scorn the status of others? Who experiences envy and scorn most? Envy Up, Scorn Down marshals a wealth of recent psychological studies as well as findings based on years of Fiske's own research to address such questions. She shows that both envy and scorn have distinctive biological, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral characteristics. And though we are all "wired" for comparison, some individuals are more vulnerable to these motives than others. Dominant personalities, for example, express envy toward high-status groups such as the wealthy and well-educated, and insecurity can lead others to scorn those perceived to have lower status, such as women, minorities, or the disabled. Fiske shows that one's race or ethnicity, gender, and education all correlate with perceived status. Regardless of whether one is accorded higher or lower status, however, all groups rank their members, and all societies rank the various groups within them. We rate each group as either friend or foe, able or unable, and accordingly assign them the traits of warmth or competence. The majority of groups in the United States are ranked either warm or competent but not both, with extreme exceptions: the homeless or the very poor are considered neither warm nor competent. Societies across the globe view older people as warm but incompetent. Conversely, the very rich are generally considered cold but highly competent. Envy Up, Scorn Down explores the nuances of status hierarchies and their consequences and shows that such prejudice in its most virulent form dehumanizes and can lead to devastating outcomes—from the scornful neglect of the homeless to the envious anger historically directed at Tutsis in Rwanda or Jews in Europe. Individuals, groups, and even cultures will always make comparisons between and among themselves. Envy Up, Scorn Down is an accessible and insightful examination of drives we all share and the prejudice that can accompany comparison. The book deftly shows that understanding envy and scorn—and seeking to mitigate their effects—can prove invaluable to our lives, our relationships, and our society.
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