Status and culture



June 11, 2022

The book is authored by a culture writer explaining how two critical concepts impact modern life. The author argues that status and culture are so intertwined that we cannot understand how one works without understanding the other, but a major obstacle is that “status itself has…long been a mystery.” Exploring a wealth of research, anecdotal evidence, and observations across a number of disciplines, the author attempts to solve what he calls the “Grand Mystery of Culture,” encompassing questions of why humans gravitate toward some behaviors and not others, how defined sensibilities and conventions emerge, and why behaviors change or persist over time. Every person uses status symbols to communicate, and all conventions also have status value; we understand that not all of them are equal, and some are more desirable than others. The signaling strategies of different classes vary widely, from the vintage antique luxuries and social capital of old money families and the privileged information of professional classes to the flashy luxuries favored by flagship millionaires in the new money class. In a global society where information is increasingly democratized, displays of raw wealth become the most easy-to-read symbols, which is why lower-income individuals and citizens of developing economies often flock to conspicuous consumption. A crucial take-away from the book is that status is not going to get less important anytime soon, so it is imperative that we are more proactive not only in lessening inequality in legal and economic spheres, but also being more conscientious of how we confer status in our interactions and what we value. “We all compete for status, whether we like it or not,” writes the author. “We can at least better explain the rules to make it a fairer fight.” The book is hefty but compellingly readable—essential for anyone desiring a deeper understanding of status inequity. TW


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