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In this lesson, we discuss social interaction theory, putting particular emphasis on the concept of social statuses. We identify and define several types of statuses, including ascribed, achieved, and master status.

Social Interaction Theory

Throughout our lives, we socialize and interact with many different people.

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This engagement with others helps us to develop as individuals and to make sense of the world around us. Sociologists study our interactions as part of social interaction theory, which reveals interesting patterns of the way we act and react in response to others. Of particular interest in this lesson is our use of a social status as a guide for appropriate behavior around others. Let’s define status and talk about different types of statuses that we all have.

What Is Status?

First, what is a social status? Status refers to a social position one holds in a group, organization or society.

Many think of status as a synonym for prestige, and it’s true that certain positions do have more prestige than others, such as doctors, CEOs and so on. However, to sociologists, status and prestige are not the same thing. Everyone has a status regardless of rank or power.

Status simply explains how a person ‘fits’ into a social structure, such as a family, school, business, society and more.For example, imagine the fictional King Arthur who most of us are familiar with. He had several statuses just as many of us do, including male, son, warrior, British and king (just to name a few).It can be easy to confuse a status with a role.

We will talk about social roles in depth in another lesson, but the basic difference between the two is that we occupy a status but play a role.Every status has an expected set of behavioral expectations – a role to play. For example, a woman becomes a mother when she has a child, and so occupies the status of a mother. She is expected to play the role of mother by caring for and loving her children (among other things).

In essence, statuses are passive (remember, we occupy them), but roles are active (we play them).

Achieved Status

There are a few different types or categories of statuses. One is an achieved status, which is a status that one earns or chooses to take on. It reflects a person’s abilities, efforts, and life choices. It can be a status that one would be proud to have, such as doctor or professional athlete. However, since achieved status reflects a person’s efforts and choices, it will reflect the bad as well as the good.

Some statuses are less than desirable, such as alcoholic and criminal.Think about King Arthur again. Arthur had several statuses that he achieved. One is husband – he obtained that status by marrying Guinevere. Another is warrior – a status he achieved because of his effort in learning to fight in battle.

Ascribed Status

Another type of status that is often contrasted with an achieved status is an ascribed status, which is a status that one is either born with or takes on involuntarily.

This is the type of status that is beyond our control, like sex, race and socioeconomic status at birth. For example, when King Arthur was born, he automatically obtained the statuses of son, male, British and more.Interestingly, in some cultures, ascribed status is considered to be more important than achieved status. In America, we emphasize personal achievement, and people can, in theory, move freely up and down the social ladder, but that is not true in other cultures.

In agrarian societies (those that are rural and dependent on agriculture), it’s common to place more value on ascribed status. For them, a status you were born with (such as social class) is the one you have for life, regardless of your personal achievements.

Master Status

Being a U.S. president is a master status.
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