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master status


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Each individual occupies a number of status positions, some ascribed (such as sex or race), and some achieved (such as educational level or occupation). The master status of an individual is one which, in most or all social situations, will overpower or dominate all other statuses. The term was coined by American sociologist Everett Hughes in the 1940s, with special reference to race. Occupation, race, and sex may all function as master statuses in Western societies, and can produce powerful contradictions and social dilemmas when important status positions contradict perceived roles and stereotypes—for example the female astronaut, or the African-American surgeon. In these situations, social actors must make status decisions, which may take the form of denial (the astronaut labelled ‘unnatural’ or the physician as ‘exceptional’); or responses may take the form of exclusion, or the acceptance of a new master status. Master status influences every other aspect of life, including personal identity. Since status is a social label and not a personal choice, the individual has little control over his or her master status in any given social interaction.

Subjects: Sociology.


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