Facing Social Class

Facing Social Class: How Societal Rank Influences Interaction

Susan T. Fiske
Hazel Rose Markus
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7758/9781610447812
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  • Book Info
    Facing Social Class
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-781-2
    Subjects: Sociology, Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. CONTRIBUTORS
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION: A WIDE-ANGLE LENS ON THE PSYCHOLOGY OF SOCIAL CLASS
    (pp. 1-12)
    Hazel Rose Markus and Susan T. Fiske

    In the United States, people attach particular significance to the ideal of equality. Yet the empirical picture is clear. Social-class differences and the inequality they reflect now organize American society more than ever. Differences in resources and in the associated status and cultural capital influence whether we fight in a war, vote, or get divorced. They matter for the music we listen to, what we eat for dinner, how we talk, how much we weigh, and how long we live. Social class also shapes social interactions in every domain of life, and that is the focus of the current volume—...

  5. PART I PERVASIVE IDEAS AND SOCIAL CLASS

    • CHAPTER 2 SOCIOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES ON THE FACE-TO-FACE ENACTMENT OF CLASS DISTINCTION
      (pp. 15-38)
      Paul DiMaggio

      Social scientists ordinarily define social class and related concepts in terms of such tangible measures as occupation, income, years of schooling, and home ownership. Humans experience inequality, however, in social interactions, which produce the orderings that our variables index. We learn where we stand by observing how others treat us: deferentially or dismissively; with interest in or indifference to our ideas or desires; with apprehension, reserve, or openness to intimate exchange. Although human status orders are never neatly transitive (Martin 2009), the enactment of status in face-to-face interaction gives us a good idea of our place in the world.

      Work...

    • CHAPTER 3 THE CLASS CULTURE GAP
      (pp. 39-58)
      Joan C. Williams

      Presumably on the theory that no tree falls if no ear hears it, Americans display a convenient tone deafness when it comes to class. One way we make class disappear is to describe virtually everyone as middle class: both the lawyer earning $175,000 a year and the truck driver earning $60,000 a year are likely to think of themselves as middle class. In fact, the lawyer would likely refer to himself as upper middle class. This usage has real consequences, as when Harvard decided to offer financial aid to “middle and upper-middle income families” earning up to $180,000 a year...

  6. PART II INSTITUTIONS AND SOCIAL CLASS

    • CHAPTER 4 CLASS, CULTURAL CAPITAL, AND INSTITUTIONS: THE CASE OF FAMILIES AND SCHOOLS
      (pp. 61-86)
      Annette Lareau and Jessica McCrory Calarco

      Americans are persuaded by the power of individualism and thus believe that individuals shape their own life chances by the choices they make (Warner, Meeker, and Eels 2006). As a result, Americans generally do not accept that the social class of parents shapes the life chances of their children. Social scientists are much more likely to recognize the power of social class in shaping life chances. Nevertheless, when social scientists have studied social class, they often have viewed it as an individual trait: a marker of relative status (Adler et al. 1994; Karabel and Astin 1975; Kohn 1963; Rosenberg and...

    • CHAPTER 5 IT’S YOUR CHOICE: HOW THE MIDDLE-CLASS MODEL OF INDEPENDENCE DISADVANTAGES WORKING-CLASS AMERICANS
      (pp. 87-106)
      Nicole M. Stephens, Stephanie A. Fryberg and Hazel Rose Markus

      Middle-class standing confers considerable, yet invisible, advantage in American society. Beyond greater material resources, the hidden advantage of middle-class standing is psychological: a sense of ownership, influence, entitlement, and control over oneself and the world. The middle-class experience, defined here by the attainment of a four-year college degree, encourages people to see themselves as independent actors, free to choose their possible selves and to create their future paths. For many working-class Americans, who have less than a four-year college degree, this independent sense of self is largely out of reach. Working-class standing typically denies people the material resources, the authority...

  7. PART III INTERACTIONS AND SOCIAL CLASS

    • CHAPTER 6 DÉJÀ VU: THE CONTINUING MISRECOGNITION OF LOW-INCOME CHILDREN’S VERBAL ABILITIES
      (pp. 109-130)
      Peggy J. Miller and Douglas E. Sperry

      There is an old debate in education and developmental psychology about whether the language of young children from low-income and minority backgrounds is deficient or simply different from the mainstream standard. According to the language deprivation position, such children underachieve because they enter school with a language deficit that originates in the linguistic deprivation of their preschool home environments. This view was ascendant in the 1960s, generating a great deal of classroom-based research comparing poor (mainly African American) and middle-class (mainly white) children and leading to educational interventions designed to teach poor children to talk (for example, Bereiter and Engelmann...

    • CHAPTER 7 CLASS RULES, STATUS DYNAMICS, AND “GATEWAY” INTERACTIONS
      (pp. 131-151)
      Cecilia L. Ridgeway and Susan R. Fisk

      How do social-class differences affect the status dynamics of interpersonal encounters? That is, how do class differences affect who is listened to, taken seriously, and judged as competent, so that he or she becomes, or fails to become, respected and influential in group situations? Because status is an evaluative ranking among individuals or groups based on social esteem and respect, such interpersonal dynamics of evaluation and influence are best understood as status dynamics (Ridgeway and Walker 1995). It is typical for implicit status hierarchies of influence and esteem to emerge in interpersonal encounters, especially those that are goal oriented (Berger...

    • CHAPTER 8 THE INTERSECTION OF RESOURCES AND RANK: SIGNALING SOCIAL CLASS IN FACE-TO-FACE ENCOUNTERS
      (pp. 152-172)
      Michael W. Kraus, Michelle L. Rheinschmidt and Paul K. Piff

      The psychological study of social class—or socioeconomic status—has traditionally focused on the disadvantaged social environments that surround individuals from lower social-class backgrounds. Inhabiting environments of reduced educational attainment, occupational prestige, and economic wealth, lower-class individuals are at increased risk, relative to their upper-class counterparts, for a number of health and psychological hardships (Adler et al. 1994). More recently, the psychological study of social class has turned to examining how the contrasting environments of lower- and upper-class status give rise to different cultural identities, a critical feature of social class that significantly influences interpersonal behavior (see, for example, Johnson,...

  8. PART IV INDIVIDUALS AND SOCIAL CLASS

    • CHAPTER 9 BEHAVIORAL DECISION RESEARCH, SOCIAL CLASS, AND IMPLICATIONS FOR PUBLIC POLICY
      (pp. 175-194)
      Crystal C. Hall

      In 2009 the American Community Survey estimated that roughly 14 percent of Americans were living below the poverty line (U.S. Census Bureau 2010). Despite policies and programs to address achievement gaps and behavior differences between individuals from different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, striking discrepancies persist between the experiences, performance, and outcomes of working-class and middle-class individuals. In this chapter, I explore the applications and implications that behavioral decision research has for policy design and implementation in the domain of services and benefits for low-income populations.

      Traditionally, two perspectives have been taken within the social sciences to explain poverty and the...

    • CHAPTER 10 WHEN HARD AND SOFT CLASH: CLASS-BASED INDIVIDUALISMS IN MANHATTAN AND QUEENS
      (pp. 195-215)
      Adrie Kusserow

      Like many graduate students in cultural anthropology, I sat for hours in seminars where learned professors introduced me to the subtleties and complexities of ethno-conceptions of the self in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America only to come “home” in their comparisons to a generic, almost caricatured description of the American self as simply individualistic. And while the individualistic conceptions of self they described as a backdrop to these more “exotic” selves resonated with my own upper-middle-class background and upbringing (and that of many of the academics in Cambridge, Massachusetts), I could not imagine how the working-class parents from nearby...

    • CHAPTER 11 PUTTING RACE IN CONTEXT: SOCIOECONOMIC STATUS PREDICTS RACIAL FLUIDITY
      (pp. 216-233)
      Diana T. Sanchez and Julie A. Garcia

      In the fall of 2007, the United States elected Barack Obama as its forty-fourth president and its first African American president. Not surprisingly, his election fueled conversations about the state of ethnic relations in the United States. Many considered his election to be a victory over racism. However, both his election and the media frenzy over his racial background suggest that we are far from achieving a colorblind society. Obama was born to a white mother and a black father; many people questioned his racial status. Headlines such as “Is Obama Black Enough?” (Coates 2007) shed light on the difficulty...

    • CHAPTER 12 THE SECRET HANDSHAKE: TRUST IN CROSS-CLASS ENCOUNTERS
      (pp. 234-252)
      Susan T. Fiske, Miguel Moya, Ann Marie Russell and Courtney Bearns

      InLost in the Meritocracy, Walter Kirn (2009) vividly describes the alienating experience of coming from rural Minnesota to college at Princeton, where he constantly felt like a misfit among the privileged. He grew to mistrust his roommates, who simply assumed he would chip in for their expensive furniture and alcohol purchases. At the same time, they evidently mistrusted him, excluding and ignoring him. Even now, some colleagues at Princeton describe the “secret handshake” that they are certain everyone else knows, as a subtle signal of belonging to the trusted upper-class club. More broadly, ethnographic accounts detail such class-membership codes...

  9. INDEX
    (pp. 253-264)