Social Prestige

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Social Prestige


the significance or appeal that social consciousness ascribes to various aspects of human activity. Social prestige may result from such social roles as occupation or status in an organization; it may also result from an individual’s sociopolitical or leisure activities. In addition, social prestige may be based on such psychological qualities as initiative, courage, and intellectualism or on such physical attributes as beauty. Other sources of social prestige are property, consumer goods, cultural values, and, in particular, social groups, institutions, and organizations.

Social prestige is also related to authority, respect, and influence. In the final analysis, the bearer of social prestige is an individual who is endowed with this quality by society as a whole or by particular groups. Material objects may also become transitory symbols of social prestige.

Social prestige is most apparent in the evaluations (generally verbal) by which people rank the objects of social prestige; it is also apparent in the actions by which people manifest their preferences.

The Marxist concept of social prestige proceeds from the conviction that evaluations of prestige are rooted in social reality and above all in the existing social structure; evaluations of prestige are decisively influenced by the prevailing system of value orientations, a system that facilitates the approximate correlation of phenomena in accordance with their ability to satisfy social needs. The dependence of prestige-related evaluations on the system of value orientations explains why such evaluations are dynamic in character. For example, various occupations have had different degrees of social prestige during different historical periods. At the same time, evaluations of prestige have a certain stability and often persist even after the conditions engendering these evaluations no longer exist.

In antagonistic class society, the same object of prestige may have unequal and sometimes antithetical degrees of prestige for people of different classes, social groups, or demographic groups. The prevailing ideology in such a society affirms prestige connected with wealth and expressed in the number of slaves or serfs or the amount of land or capital owned by an individual. Prestige is also attributed to noble origins and social connections or to one’s role in a bureaucratic hierarchy. On the other hand, the mass of working people attributes great prestige to persons with talent, professional skill, and diligence and to champions of social justice.

Variations in evaluations of social prestige occur in socialist society as well. However, the convergence of classes and social groups in socialist society gradually leads to a leveling of disparate evaluations of prestige on the part of members of different social groups.

The importance of social prestige ultimately stems from the human desire to gain respect within one’s social milieu and from the individual’s need for self-affirmation. At the same time, the extent of social prestige often determines whether an individual or organization can successfully achieve an aim. Therefore, efforts to acquire or maintain a high level of social prestige play an important role in individual motivation and in the activity of organizations. Social prestige encourages activities beneficial to the functioning and development of society.

Under socialism, a person’s place in society is determined primarily by his labor. Accordingly, efficient and creative labor has high prestige value that is an important incentive to the professional activity of workers in socialist society. At the same time, the bourgeois practice of making a fetish of social prestige can have a negative effect on the life of society. In particular, consumer demand for new products, which is urged by advertising, is often stimulated not so much by concern for improved quality as by considerations of prestige. The boosting of the prestige of individuals or organizations through the mass media has a negative effect on the life of society as well. Companies specializing in organizing such campaigns for clients have come into existence in the USA during the 1970’s. The wish to belong to momentarily prestigious occupations often results in an uneven distribution of labor resources.

Empirical studies of social prestige in the socialist countries have aided in the decision-making process at various levels of administration. Such research has included studies of the prestige of various occupations, studies of the sources of mass information, and studies of consumer goods as related to demand and fashion. These studies have utilized such techniques of measuring social prestige as scales and factor analysis.


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