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  Status (Latin, ‘standing’ or ‘condition’), from one sociological perspective, has a specific legal sense in that it defines the rights and duties of a particular person, for instance in the term marital status. This is the sense that the lawyer and social theorist Henry Maine made of the word in his noted work of 1861, From Status to Contract. In this, he argued that in ‘primitive’ societies relations and statuses based on kin formed the fabric of social and legal life. This was seen to evolve into modern industrial societies where relationships were formed by individuals in a more flexible way through voluntary contracts.

The more general sense of status referring to social rank was proposed by Max Weber in the late 19th century. Weber was critical of Karl Marx\'s notion of class as being too restrictive. In his view, status described a position occupied in society based on a variable hierarchy which was nonetheless definite for any particular instance. It also implied the ideas of respect and self-respect, and various symbols may be displayed or acquired to demonstrate this. Associated with the sense of status is the more recent idea of status denoting a kind of lifestyle which may be acquired in a consumer society.

In 1945, K. Linton (see below) proposed a much-used distinction between that of ascribed and achieved status. Ascribed status designated a position that a person assumed through no effort of his or her own, such as that based on gender, age and kinship relationship. This was believed to be predominant in preindustrial societies. Achieved status was based on an individual\'s efforts or ability to attain a position such as that based on occupation and economic means. This was considered predominant in modern industrial societies. However, even here factors such as age, gender or ethnic group may have a considerable bearing on what kind of status a person can actually achieve in this apparently egalitarian society.

Status may also attach to social groupings rather than to individuals. This is illustrated in societies that hold the honour/shame complex, in which the status of the family depends to a large extent on what the female members do—if she is not chaste, it is the family\'s status that goes down in the eyes of society.

Status considerations may reveal a host of complexities and sometimes contradictions. Among the Muslim pirzade community of New Delhi, for example, women have a low status in the patriarchal (male-dominated) society. But if a woman is married, and in relation to her sons, she may be held to have a high status. Within the course of marriage arrangements she has a very important role to play. In this case, the status of a woman through the developmental cycle of girl, wife and mother counteracts to varying degrees the ascribed status of women in the larger society. DA RK

See also caste; developmental cycle; kinship; marriage; Marxist anthropology; power; social stratification.Further reading Patricia Jeffrey, Frogs in a Well; , K. Linton, The Cultural Background of a Personality.



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