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Essay on Class Status. Signals and Symbols. Part 3


As you can see, the study of this topic turned out to be much more long and complicated than it seemed from the very beginning. We emphasize that our research remains rather superficial. Our cheap essay writing service can offer a more in-depth study of this topic and many others. And we continue to talk about status symbols.

Sources of the Dynamics of Class Symbolism

Just because of their deceptive nature, symbols of class status can make a descending career and fall into neglect.

There are three types of the career of class status symbols that Hoffman mentions in his earlier articles. First of all, they can fall into decay together with the group that relies on them. When the former ruling class which once held privileged economic positions loses them, it must assert its dominance, increasingly relying on these socialized cultural symbols. But in the long run, this becomes the decline of both the group itself and its symbols because they become comic: instead of success, they are increasingly associated with decline.

At some point, someone is proud that he or she has a fencing master, dance teacher and an aristocratic friend who knows how to dance and fence. And then one of his or her descendants asks: why should I imitate these people with their histrionical manners and huge debts? And then the third estate awakens.

The second difficulty with symbols is the supervising group. Fencing master and dance teacher as a profession arise in order to instill the necessary skills for aristocrats, but they know how to dance and fence better than these aristocrats.

Galileo is invited to set up experiments so that the court and the monarch, in the presence of which he sets up an experiment, establish their political prestige, show their enlightenment, rationality, and involvement in the secrets of the universe. But they unwittingly raise the status of Galileo himself, who is clearly more enlightened than his patron.

And people of art use mythology that they created for others at the beginning in order to belittle those others. At some point, artists begin to despise the bourgeois, and then the bourgeois partly perceive this view of themselves, they begin to take pride in friendship with the bohemia and adopt its demeanor. This is very well described by a sociologist Pierre Bourdieu.

And finally, where the symbol is protected not so much by organic or profound socialization restrictions as by access to information, it experiences fashion cycles. These are just the symbols that say something about an individual only so far as to show that he or she can read them: following the fashion, we show that we know what is fashionable.

However, as knowledge spreads, objects are out of fashion. Some objects denote belonging to higher spheres because they are new. As the lower strata adopt some higher customs, which sometimes takes years and sometimes days, the higher ones are forced to find new symbols for themselves. Normal cycles of fashion for things like colors, films or some artwork can be quite short. Thus, the symbols of class status are constantly in motion. Just like students are always in continuous motion searching for new interesting and relatively cheap websites to buy an essay online.

A Symbol as Strategic Communication

A certain limitation of Hoffman's work is that he regards symbols as a general set of signals belonging to a class, as some sort of arithmetic meant for different symbols, and this obviously is not true. For example, symbols can come in a kind of a chemical reaction with each other, and the properties of the result are not the sum of the properties of each of them.

Let us say, an expensive watch will look completely different depending on what we know about the welfare of a person. If we know that it clearly exceeds the financial capabilities of their owner, or are fake, or bought on credit, that they do not somehow agree with all his or her other kind, then from the status symbol, they transform into something directly opposite turning their owner into a cheap poseur. It will be a particularly bad impression if it seems to us that the owner specifically seeks to draw our attention.

Status signals are always perceived as parts of a wider history in which all available information about an individual is embedded and which includes assumptions about the motives, information we think about and the one we possess as a person thinks.

With the latter fact, another dimension of the evolution of different social signals including class symbols is connected. Hoffman turned to this dimension later, already in the works of the 1960s. Signals differ in how much their signaling nature is common knowledge.

There are signals about which I know that their author knows that I know what they mean, and know that I know that he or she knows that I know and so on. The fact that he or she emits them means that they want to tell me something.

Another situation is the signals that I read in a certain way, but I am not sure if the one who emits them knows that I read them, and I guess not. On the one hand, I trust them more: there is less likelihood that they are emitted in order to mislead me. On the other hand, a signal specially designed to impress marks the upper limit of the possibilities of the one who is trying to impress. If I see that a person spends a hundred thousand dollars on an act of deliberate and demonstrative consumption, I conclude from this that he or she has a hundred thousand dollars, but there is not a million for these purposes.

If, however, the act does not seem to me aimed at making an impression, the upper bar remains unmarked. Finally, I do not have the sensation of an aggressive act, a personal threat that arises if someone tries to prove that he or she is higher than me. To those who do not use the conventional symbols of class superiority, although they could do it, I feel something like gratitude: I appreciate that, having the opportunity to demonstrate their superiority over me, they hold back and behave democratically. However, in addition, the fact that they do not feel the need to constantly assert themselves is in itself a symbol of superiority: they are sufficiently confident in their class position so as not to worry about it.

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