Qualitative Sociology

, Volume 33, Issue 3, pp 229–255 | Cite as

Status Distinctions in Interaction: Social Selection and Exclusion at an Elite Nightclub

  • Lauren A. RiveraEmail author


Although social status plays a crucial role in the generation and maintenance of social inequalities, how status processes operate in naturalistic social contexts remains less clear. In the following article, I provide a case study of doormen—individuals who simultaneously represent status experts and status judges—at a highly exclusive nightclub to investigate how people draw status distinctions in micro-social settings. Using interview and ethnographic data, I analyze on what bases doormen evaluate the relative worth of patrons and confer the status prize of admission. I find that in making such decisions, doormen drew from a constellation of competence and esteem cues, which were informed by contextually specific status schemas about the relative material, moral, and symbolic worth of particular client groups. Moreover, the ways in which doormen used these cues and schema depended on the identity of the specific patron being evaluated. As such, I argue that processes of interpersonal evaluation and status conferral are contextually specific, culturally embedded, and interpersonally variable. Despite such variations, a patron’s perceived social connections seemed to outweigh other types of cues in admissions decisions. I conclude by discussing these findings in light of both status characteristics theory and Bourdieu’s work on the transubstantiation of capital to suggest that social capital is a powerful status cue that can, under certain conditions, be a more potent source of social distinction and status advantage, or hold a greater conversion value, in systems of stratification than other types of qualities.


Status Micro-sociology Distinction Exclusion Cultural capital Social capital Bourdieu 



I wish to thank Michèle Lamont, Prudence Carter, Jason Kaufman, Natasha Warikoo, Chana Teeger, Simone Ispa-Landa, members of the Qualitative Analysis seminar at Harvard University, Javier Auyero, and the anonymous reviewers at Qualitative Sociology for helpful comments on previous drafts.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Kellogg School of ManagementNorthwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA

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