In its stronger meaning, it refers to a form of social stratification in which status groups or strata are ranked and organized by legal, political, and cultural criteria. There are many versions of this approach to status. For example, the legal theorist Sir Henry Maine argued that we can conceptualize the history of Western society in terms of a transition from status to contract: that is, from a feudal organization of hierarchically organized strata, to market relations between individuals who are bound together by contracts. Max Weber adopted a similar historical view of the relationships between classes, status groups, and political parties in his famous categorization of power in terms of a distinction between class, status, and party. Weber defined status position in Economy and Society (1922) as the ‘effective claim to social esteem’. These status positions confer both negative and positive privileges, and status is typically based on a special lifestyle, and a formal training. Status is expressed through and maintained by exclusionary practices such as marriage, conventions and customs, and common living arrangements. An aggregate of persons with a common status position form a status group which enjoys a common esteem and certain status monopolies over the resources of the group. Status groups are competitive because they seek to preserve their monopolistic privileges by excluding their rivals from enjoyment of these resources. Finally, depending on the dominant pattern of social stratification, Weber distinguished between status society and class society.
Critics have noted that, especially in American sociology, the concept of status as a central notion of sociology was eroded, because it came to mean little more than a person's subjective evaluation of his or her position in the status hierarchy (that is ‘prestige’). The conflicting and competitive features of status-group relations were translated into the idea of status seeking by individuals (as in ‘prestigious roles’, ‘prestige ranking’, and so forth). Among many American sociologists, class and status came to be used interchangeably, as both concepts were used to measure subjective evaluations of positions in a system of social stratification.
Various attempts have been made to rescue the concept of status by arguing that it involves an objective organization of entitlements and privileges, which in many cases are guaranteed by law and the state, and not simply a subjective awareness of personal esteem. The best short introduction to the concept is Bryan S. Turner's Status (1988). See also CITIZENSHIP; CLOSURE; ESTATE.
sta·tus / ˈstātəs; ˈstatəs/ • n. 1. the relative social, professional, or other standing of someone or something: an improvement in the status of women. ∎ high rank or social standing: those who enjoy wealth and status. ∎ the official classification given to a person, country, or organization, determining their rights or responsibilities: the duchy had been elevated to the status of a principality. 2. the position of affairs at a particular time, esp. in political or commercial contexts: an update on the status of the bill.
The standing, state, or condition of an individual; the rights, obligations, capacities, and incapacities that assign an individual to a given class.
For example, the term status is used in reference to the legal state of being an infant, a ward, or a prisoner, as well as in reference to a person's social standing in the community.