Full text: Ownership as interpersonal dominance

However, as has been mentioned concerning Veblen’s and Brown's work, a better case might 
be made for Spencer's (1879/1893) “Ceremonial Institutions” as the classic work. Goffman’s 
(1951) first publication was on “Symbols of Class Status”, and though he did cite Durkheim 
(1912), he footnoted Spencer (1879/1893) as his inspiration. Spencer (1879/1893) argues that... 
Efficiency of every kind is a source of self-satisfaction; and proofs of it are prized as 
bringing applause....Trophies of such kinds.... give to their owner some influence over those 
around him.... A vague kind of governing power accrues to him...Naturaily, by primitive men, 
whose lives are predatory and whose respective values largely depend on their powers as 
hunters, animal-trophies are still more prized....But as, among the uncivilized and 
semi-civilized, human enemies are more to be feared than beast-enemies, and conquests 
over men are therefore occasions of greater triumphs than conquests over animals, it 
results that proofs of such conquests are usually still more valued. (Spencer, 1879/1893, pp. 
Thus, power and social status become symbolized by trophy possessions, and these trophies 
in turn become symbolized by mutilations, which become symbolized by presents, visits, and 
obeisances, which become symbolized by polite forms of address, titles, badges, and 
costumes. All such symbolization of status and social ascendency originate in predatory, 
militaristic social organization. 
And this idea that relative elevation is an essential accompaniment of superior rank, we 
shall presently see dictates several kinds of sumptuary regulations....Other derivative 
class-distinctions are sequent upon differences of wealth; which themselves originally 
follow differences of power. From the earliest stage in which master and slave are literally 
captor and captive, abundance of means has been the natural concomitant of mastery, and 
poverty the concomitant of slavery. (Spencer, 1879/1893, p. 194) 
The use of symbolic interpretations by social scientists was reinforced by psychoanalytic 
and semiotic theory. Freud (1900) and other pioneers in psychoanalysis used and popularized 
symbolic interpretations of everyday social interactions, including object relations. Freud 
apparently held neuropsychological explanations that symbolic cognitive representation 
resulted from neural energy potentiating memory-traces and associations between memory 
traces (Strachey, 1953). Freud (1900) also presented a full and scholarly review of the literature 
on symbols and their meanings in dreams. 
Apparently, quite independent of the social science and psychoanalytic interest in 
symbols, semiotics arose from the fields of logic and linguistics. Semiotics might be defined 
as the science of signs. Deeley (1978) argues that it began in the seventeenth century with 
Poinsot's (1632/1 930) Tractatus de Signis and Locke's (1690/1952) Essay Concerning Human 
Understanding. However, its modern origins more typically are located in the linguistic theories 
of Saussure and the inferential theories of Pierce (Fisch, 1978; Singer, 1978; Sless, 1986).

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