Social position

Social position

Social position is the position of an individual in a given society and culture. A given position (for example, the occupation of "priest") may belong to many individuals. Social position influences social status. One can have several social positions, but only one social status.

Social positions an individual may hold fall into the categories of occupation (medical doctor, academic lecturer), profession (member of associations and organisations), family (parent, sibling, etc.), hobby (member of various clubs and organisations), among others. An individual is likely to create a personal hierarchy of such positions, where one will be a central position while the rest are perhiperal positions.

Social positions are "visible" if they require an individual to wear a uniform or some other kind of identifying mark. Often individual clothes or other attributes will advertise what social position one has at the moment. Non-visible social positions are called "hidden". A position that is deemed the most important to given individual is called "central", others are "peripheral". If a "sequence of positions" is required to obtain a given position, it can be defined as a career, and change of position in this context is a promotion or demotion. Some social positions may make it easier for a given person to obtain others; in other cases, some positions may be restricted based to individuals meeting specific criteria.

Social position together with social role determines individual's place in the social environment and social organisation. A group of social positions will create a social class and a social circle.

A social conflict caused by interference between social positions is called a position conflict.

Identifying Social Position in Social Hierarchy__TOC__

Kristina Lindemann

The Impact of Objective Characteristics on Subjective Social Position

The sociological term for social position is a way of identifying a person’s position within the social hierarchy in a society. Subjective social position indicates people own opinion of their location in society. According to Kristina Lindemann the individual objective characteristics like education, occupation and income are related with the subjective social position. [Lindemann, Kristina. "The Impact of Objective Characteristics on Subjective Social Position." Trames 11 (2007): 54-68.] In addition, the culture and society that a person lives and grows in, heavily impacts an individual’s subjective social position. “An individual’s subjective social position status depends not only on the objective characteristics but also on how people experience society, the way they perceive their position in comparison with others, and what they imagine their position would be in the future.” [Lindemann, Kristina. "The Impact of Objective Characteristics on Subjective Social Position." Trames 11 (2007): 54-68.]

Lindemann divides objective characteristics into two groups, ascribed and achieved characteristics. Ascribed characteristics are things like age, gender, and ethnicity. Achieved characteristics are things like the education level, occupation, or income. Studies have indicated a significant relevance of these characteristics to an individual’s subjective social position. On the other hand, some theories expect that objective characteristics do not have influence on subjective social position. The reference group theory mentioned by Lindemann in her essay states that people see the world as an enlarged version of their reference group. People base their social position upon the people around them. Typically people’s family, friends, and co-workers are usually very similar, and in general, most people see themselves as average and unexceptional. The status maximizing process also mentioned by Lindemann means that subjective social position reflects also person prospects and hopes for future societal attainment.

Lindemann’s empirical study focuses on "Estonian" society. Age, is considered to be very impactful characteristic on people when identifying with their social position in Estonia. Young people give higher estimation to their social position, which is a tendency also found in other Eastern European countries. Gender and ethnicity, are also considerable characteristics in identifying social position. In general, the subjective social position of men and women is not significantly different in western countries. Ethnicity impacts social position differently from country to country. More importantly the influence of ethnicity is closely related to the extent ethnic minorities are accepted by the overall society. [Lindemann, Kristina. "The Impact of Objective Characteristics on Subjective Social Position." Trames 11 (2007): 54-68.]

Different studies have shown that the effect of income on class identification in particular has increased during the last decades in Western countries. In Estonia, the income is the most important determinant that shapes people opinion of their social position. The increased influence of income on the subjective social position can be explained by the rise of consumer society values. In her studies Lindemann also found that occupation and education influence significantly the subjective social position. As expected, managers and professionals and higher educated people identify with the middle or higher stratums, while unskilled workers and low educated people relate with the lower positions in social hierarchy. [Lindemann, Kristina. "The Impact of Objective Characteristics on Subjective Social Position." Trames 11 (2007): 54-68.]

Lois A. Vitt

Stratification and Inequality

In an article written by Lois A. Vitt she proclaims that class refers to a stratification system that divides a society into a hierarchy of social positions. Not only class is also a particular social position within a class stratification system: lower class, working class, middle class, upper class, or other such class designations. This is a method of social ranking that involves money, power, culture, taste, identity, access, and exclusion. “Class conscious” people perceive class distinctions and typically feel the impact of class in powerful ways. [Vitt, Lois A. "Class." Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology. Ritzer, George (ed). Blackwell Publishing, 2007. Blackwell Reference Online. 08 April 2008] All class research approaches, whether designed to probe for conflicting class interests, to measure social mobility, or to test for variances, are descended from overarching theoretical class frameworks. They are rooted in the writings of Marx, followed by refinements and rebuttals in the works of Weber and numerous other social thinkers across many disciplines. “Class sorts out positions in society along a many-runged ladder of economic success and social prestige.

Ironically, the operation of class in the US is becoming more apparent as globalization serves to illuminate increasingly unequal distribution of income, wealth, and personal power at home. [Vitt, Lois A. "Class." Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology. Ritzer, George (ed). Blackwell Publishing, 2007. Blackwell Reference Online. 08 April 2008]

The MATISS research group. (Maria Fenicia Vescio, George Davey Smith, Simona Giampaoli)

ocio-Economic-Position Overall and Cause-Specific Mortality in an Italian Rural Population

This study found interesting conclusions related to social position in an Italian rural population. The research group found that correlations between the socio-economic-position overall and cause-specific mortality. They concluded that in the lower social group positions these people shared a more adverse risk factors profile and are at a higher risk of death. [Vescio, Maria F., Smith D. George, and Giampaoli Simona. "Socio-Economic-Position Overall and Cause-Specific Mortality in an Italian Rural Population." European Journal of Epidemiology 18.11 (2003): 1051-1058.]

A more adverse risk factors profile among lower classes defined in middle age, explains only part of the social inequalities in mortality. It has been suggested that health outcomes may be related to adult socio-economic position, childhood socio-economic position or both. These studies were conducted in Northern Europe (Scandinavia). For more information refer to the referenced article. [Vescio, Maria F., Smith D. George, and Giampaoli Simona. "Socio-Economic-Position Overall and Cause-Specific Mortality in an Italian Rural Population." European Journal of Epidemiology 18.11 (2003): 1051-1058.]

Erika Hayes James

Race-Related Differences in Promotions and Support: Underlying Effects of Human and Social Capital

One of the ways to change your social position is to increase human capital. The human capital theory suggest that people having more job-relevant resources, such as education and training, should receive more organizational rewards i.e. promotions than people with fewer of these resources. Human capital alone can affect social position to a certain extent. An individual has to have social skills and build social networks to help promote their social position. [James, Erika H. "Race Related Differences in Promotions and Support." Organization Science 11.5 (2000): 493-508.]

Another way to affectively increase your chance of obtaining or sustaining social position is by increasing your social capital. The social capital theory posits that certain qualities in workplace relationships are beneficial for receiving organizational rewards, and employees whose relationships are not characterized by these qualities are at a disadvantage. . [James, Erika H. "Race Related Differences in Promotions and Support." Organization Science 11.5 (2000): 493-508.]

In other words, people who have social relationships with upper management might get to know about a promotion possibility before someone lacking in the social capital infrastructure that relays that sort of information.

Erika James finds through studies and analysis that in general blacks have been promoted at a slower pace than whites. This workplace discrimination occurred most likely because of unequal human/social capital between the two races. Clearly this is not a justification for the actions to occur. The issue of race still exists as a statistically proven factor in American job markets.

Paul S. Adler

Market, Hierarchy, and Trust: The Knowledge Economy and the Future of Capitalism

For an individual to hold a social position thoroughly and knowledgeably they must be trusted in the market and reflect it in their behavior. Paul S. Adler says that a review of trends in employment relations, interdivisional relations, and interfirm relations finds evidence suggesting that the effect of growing knowledge-intensity may indeed be a trend toward greater reliance on trust. He believes the form of trust that is most effective in this context is a distinctively modern kind-- “reflective trust.” -- as opposed to traditionalistic, “blind” trust. [Adler, Paul S. "Market, Hierarchy, and Trust: The Knowledge Economy and the Future of Capitalism." Organization Science 12.2 (2001): 215-234.]

The values at work in modern trust are those of the scientific community: “universalism, communism, disinterestedness, organized skepticism” (Merton 1973 ,p.270) Modern trust is inclusive and open. The author attentively concludes that the efficacy of trust for knowledge management and the likelihood of its growth over time are maximized if: (a) trust is balanced by hierarchical rules to ensure stability and equity, (b) trust is balanced by market competition to ensure flexibility and opportunity, and (c) trust is modern and reflective rather than traditionalistic and blind. There is an element of trust necessary within society and for identifying with a particular social position. Especially relevant to particular community positions where your actions weight heavily on your social position. [Adler, Paul S. "Market, Hierarchy, and Trust: The Knowledge Economy and the Future of Capitalism." Organization Science 12.2 (2001): 215-234.]


In conclusion, a social position can be identified objectively and subjectively. The objective characteristics shape an individuals opinion of their subjective social position. Characteristics like age were found to have the biggest impact on people’s opinion of their subjective social position. A particular society’s social positions are also defined by the "class" system inherent to the culture of that society. People who are conscious of the “class” systems are called “class conscious”. It has also been found that the socio-economic-position of people can greatly affect their mortality rate. The next topic of race unfortunately still plays a role in the social success of an individual in the workplace. When comparing whites to blacks it was found that the whites had faster promotion rates as well as better overall job satisfaction. Lastly, the element of trust does and should be upheld by people. Trust helps to build reputable social positions in the community.


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