Full text: Ownership as interpersonal dominance

political power, talent or physical prowess are still the stuff from which status is made, but 
one can maintain or even gain status by manipulating its symbols for one’s own purposes. 
This is where the importance of things as status symbols lie...Status symbols....express a 
very general aspect of their owners -their power to control others. (Csikszentimihalyi & 
Rochberg-Halton, 1981, pp. 30-31) 
Their analysis of interviews with age-stratified samples of adults, however, revealed relatively 
little appreciation of possessions as status symbols, other than in the mention by a few men of 
their reasons for possessing luxury cars. 
It might also be suitable to here include Brown's account of status. His work was based 
initially on sociolinguistic analyses of playwrights’ representations of forms of address. 
Although Spencer (1879/1893) had a chapter on “Forms of Address” in his section on 
“Ceremonial Institutions”, Brown’s (1965) work seems to be an independent redevelopment of 
theory on the manifestation of status relationships in interpersonal linguistic protocols. 
According to Brown (1965), status is an asymmetrical relationship, as opposed to the symmetry 
of solidarity. Status is marked by sentiments of superiority as opposed to sentiments of liking 
and sympathy. Status is marked by influence, control and power, as opposed to intimacy. 
Status symbols function by encouraging inferences of different attributes based on different 
possessions. Brown noted in his conclusion that popular interest in status symbols exceeds 
interest in solidarity symbols: 
Novelists and popular writers on social sciences have made us thoroughly familiar with the 
notion of status symbols. They have had a lot of fun making us conscious of the cues we 
use in reading status. The list must actually be endless since the lives of people on 
different levels of socio-economic status are unlike in every way. The list of solidarity 
symbols must also be endless since any similarity, intimacy, or proximity can function as 
one. For some reason, however, there is not as much fun to be had from solidarity symbols. 
Popular writers never mention them as such. Either we are less interested in solidarity or 
we feel less conflict about it. Probably the latter. It is, after all, something of a joke that 
people in an avowedly equalitarian society are so extraordinarily alert to signs of status. 
(Brown, 1965, p. 90) 
Notwithstanding the early attention of economists and novelists to status symbols, it was 
the turn-of-the-century social theorists that most thoroughly used and justified explanations 
based on symbols. The social science of symbols is the third tradition of discussion on the 
symbolic functions of possessions. Durkheim’s (1915), The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, 
is commonly cited as the classic work on symbols: 
Durkheim shows us that the natural world is only a backdrop for the symbolic creations of 
humans and their social rituals. As we have come to see through the applications of this 
perspective by Erving Goffman and other recent sociologists, there is not one reality buy 
many, and they exist only by virtue of being enacted by human beings. (Collins & 
Makowsky, 1978, p. 107)

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