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.
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Berger et al. (1977) define salience as whether the characteristic has relevance in the group. For example, gender would not be a salient cue in single-sex company but would be salient in male-female interaction.
In naturalistic contexts: (1) the status cues displayed by actors are often multiple (see Collins 2000) and may be ambiguous, overlapping, and/or contradictory; (2) status information is often communicated not only through direct interaction but also through an individual’s reputation and his/her embeddedness in networks of social relations (see Podolny 2005); and (3) status rewards may be conferred on the basis of performance on multiple tasks in potentially different domains over time.
The purpose of this article is not to devise an alternative theory of the emergence of status cues or symbolic boundaries in interaction but rather to study how individuals draw from the various status cues and schemas available to them in naturalistic social settings when evaluating the relative worth of others and conferring status prizes.
“Bouncer” is a slang term for doorperson.
I have purposefully omitted the names of particular publications so as to protect the identity of the club and its staff.
Celebrities were also given such tables.
However, this door person declined to be interviewed.
However, it important to note that the dearth of nonwhite customers was likely compounded by self-selection. Door staff reported that the numbers of African Americans and Latinos attempting to enter the club had dwindled over the past several years. Door staff attributed this decline in the number of non-foreign minorities to an intentional decision on the part of management to stop playing hip hop music in the club in favor of strictly European, techno, Latin, and Middle Eastern music. Consequently, a certain amount of self-selection may be occurring on the part of African American and Latino Americans. Moreover, the lack of racial diversity that currently characterizes the club may make it a less desirable destination for these groups. Finally, given that US-born Latinos and blacks are regularly turned away from the door, it may be that the club has gained a reputation for being unfriendly to members of these groups, resulting in further self-selection and low numbers within the club.
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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.
Appendix: Interview Guide
Appendix: Interview Guide
Opening/Warm Up Questions
How long have you been working as a doorman? How long have you been working at [club]?
How did you come into this line of work?
Which nights do you work? Do you have a favorite night to work? If so/not why? Do you have a least favorite night to work? If so/not why?
How do you feel about your job? Are there aspects you like about it? Dislike about it? What do you think is the most difficult part of your job?
How do you explain your line of work to people who are not other door staff?
How do your friends feel about your being a bouncer? Your family?
What are the different roles you work at the club [for each, probe responsibilities, attitudes towards the role]
When you work the door, do you ever have to turn people away? [If yes] Under what circumstances does this happen?
What percentage of customers would you guess you turn away on a given night?
What do you look for in a customer?
How do you personally assess whether to admit a specific customer?
How do you personally assess whether to turn away a specific customer?
Tell me about the last three customers whom you admitted
Tell me about the last three customers whom you rejected
Please describe an ideal customer
Is there a dress code? What is it for men? Women? Are there exceptions?
When the club is close to capacity (or there is space for only a few people), how does selection work? Are the criteria similar or different than when the club is less busy?
Do patrons ever try strategies for getting in? What are some of these strategies?
○ Probe for bribes, flirtation, name-dropping
How does the promoter list work?
Have you ever had to turn away a “regular” (i.e., someone you know from the club)? For what reason(s)?
How do you feel when you have to turn people away? What kind of reactions do you get when turning people away?
Selection Process—VIP (If bouncer regularly works the VIP area)
You said that you work the VIP room on the weekends. How does someone get into the VIP area?
Is the selection process for the VIP different from selection at the door? How so?
Do people ever try things to get into the VIP area? If so, what kind of things do they do? What do men do? What do women do?
How would you describe the people inside the club?
Relationship with Other Club Staff
On a typical night, how much do you interact with the club management? In what ways do you interact with them? Does this change depending on which role you are working each night?
Do you have formal meetings with management? If so, how often? What usually happens during these meetings?
Does the management have official rules that they want you to follow? If so, what are they? How do you feel about these rules?
○ Probe for policies about selection, “special treatment” for particular guests
Have you ever had formal training with the managers? If so, what has this training consisted of?
Overall, how do you feel about the management? Have you ever had conflicts with them? If so, about what?
On a typical night, how much do you interact with the club promoters? In what ways do you interact with them?
How do you feel about the club promoters? Do you ever have conflicts with them? If so, why?
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Rivera, L.A. Status Distinctions in Interaction: Social Selection and Exclusion at an Elite Nightclub. Qual Sociol 33, 229–255 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11133-010-9152-2
- Cultural capital
- Social capital