The relationships between the members of contemporary society might seem random and convoluted, yet numerous theories claim that there is a reason for them to exist. Conventional values and traditions have been defining the choices made by people for centuries, yet the system may finally change in the wake of the globalization era.
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Although the description of the infuriatingly rigid system of social statuses and interpersonal interactions as they are described by Ridgeway and Walker, as well as Derber and Magrass, left me somewhat desperate about the further evolution of interpersonal social relationships, the current propensity toward diversity, and the opportunities offered by the global social media offer a glimpse of hope.
The connection between the social status and the social stratification, which Ridgeway and Walker (298) address in their article, is, perhaps, the most obvious and frustrating characteristic of contemporary society. The authors make it quite clear that the structures in question are the source of informal power that can and, in fact, often is abused. That being said, the statements made by the authors beg the question of whether the absence of the said stratification and statuses may cause even greater problems.
Indeed, according to Ridgeway and Walker, these principles of interaction are the glue that holds the society together and defines the communication process to a considerable degree, being the source of not only stratification but also the promotion of important values such as deterrence. Therefore, social stratification limits the opportunities for harming others.
In fact, the emphasis on globalization, which has been persistent for the past few decades, opens a plethora of opportunities for altering the status quo and introducing a positive change. The globalized, multicultural environment creates new interaction contexts, in which the participants will be capable of developing a new stratification system. Thus, the “access to jobs, promotions, and economic opportunities” (Ridgeway and Walker 299) can be provided to not merely a few selected members that are deemed as privileged based on their status but also the rest of the participants in accordance with the basic principles of democracy.
As a result, the current issues related to race, gender, and other characteristics based on which segregation occurs, will be managed successfully so that new and improved hierarchies and models for interpersonal relationships could be designed.
In fact, the transfer to the global environment and the multicultural communication process implies that the legitimation of new and improved social norms that align with the essential principles of equality and justice should occur at a faster pace. One might argue that the presence of a large number of cultures should make the process of developing new and more objective communication standards slower.
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Indeed, the misconceptions and confrontations that are likely to take place during a cross-cultural communication are bound to decelerate the social change. On the other hand, by bringing a wide variety of opinions and ideas into the limelight, one is likely to contribute to the promotion of a gradual change in the status structure by introducing opportunities for the members of the society that are currently at the bottom of the social hierarchy, thus, enabling them to participate and change the patterns of interaction on a global scale.
The identified step may be in conflict with the provisions of the Expectation States Theory (EST), which suggests that an interactional encounter as a unit of the analysis should adhere to the existing performance expectations. On the one hand, the said theory limits the opportunities for determining the alternative solutions to the existing conflict seeing that the set expectations already predispose the choice of a particular solution.
On the other hand, the EST postulates imply that a collective decision about a particular issue should be located and used as the means of managing a particular issue: “The theory argues that when these conditions occur a status organizing process is activated by the actors’ efforts to evaluate their own and others’ task suggestions to reach a successful collective decision about the task” (Ridgeway and Walker 306).
Therefore, it can be assumed that the emphasis on negotiation and cooperation, by which EST can be characterized, provides a loophole for the consistent development of the standards and the introduction of new values and principles as the foundation for the decision-making process. Consequently, important ideas such as equality, compromise, responsibility, etc., can be introduced to cross-cultural communication to address racial, social, gender-related, and other biases.
Even though the authors of both articles seem positively certain about the concept of social interactions that they describe, recent changes in the social interactions suggest that there is an unlimited potential that can be tapped into so that inequalities and the social privilege could be addressed. The opportunities provided by social media tools allow dispersing attention in a different way and shaking the current social hierarchy.
As a result, the concept of invisibility becomes quite dubious when applying it to the specifics of the contemporary interactions between the members of society. While it would be wrong to claim that the current environment for global communication eradicates the premises on which stereotyping and inequality are based, it definitely builds the premises for a significant social change, in which the concept of hidden privileges may be altered significantly along with status structures. The new concept of interpersonal interactions that will replace the current standards of communication will also imply the introduction of a specific structure, yet there is a chance that the new concept of social relationships will be associated with equality and provide equal privileges to all parties involved.
The very premise on which EST is based begs the question of whether the burden of proof, i.e., the necessity to prove oneself as worthy in the target society, can be made mandatory for everyone as the means of introducing the principles of equality into the contemporary society. The said suggestion, in turn, triggers a nonetheless intriguing idea. Particularly, the necessity of the burden of proof as a part of social interactions can be questioned.
In a society where everyone is deemed worthy and, therefore, entitled to the same number of privileges and opportunities, the prerequisites for equality and global well-being can be created successfully. Furthermore, the suggested point of view is likely to lead to a drop in cross-cultural conflicts since every opinion will be deemed as worth at the very least considering and discussing.
In the context of the global economic realm, the said assumption may imply the possibility of equal reward distribution. The specified step may serve as the foundation for eliminating gender-, race-, and culture-associated biases and prejudices from the workplace environment. Consequently, one may build the environment in which negotiations based on cooperation and compromise should become a possibility. However, as positive as the ideas mentioned above might seem, there might be a problem concerning the performance expectations. Derber and Magrass (310) warn that, once the equal reward distribution is promoted, the performance expectations may eventually sink too low. Without any impetus for overachieving and excelling in their performance, the staff members can become unmotivated.
That being said, motivation as a concept that transcends the realm of business and enters other domains hinges on not only the reward system but also on the class privileges. Addressed by Derber and Magrass (323) in their study, the subject matter implies that attention as a form of reward is typically given to the representatives of the ruling class as opposed to the rest of the population.
While the idea that the people at the helm do not let others gain the attention that they deserve seems atrocious, one must admit that the identified situation serves as an impetus for others to strive to accomplish something that will make them stand out and be noticed. As Derber and Magrass (325) explain, even psychotherapy can be viewed as an attempt to gain more attention by standing in the spotlight and focusing on one’s personal feelings and experiences.
The idea that the ruling class defines the tastes that the rest of the population will develop later on, however, seems rather unappealing and not quite credible to me. As mentioned above, the globalized environment in which people live nowadays, with the opportunities for making one’s opinion heard via social network immediately and on a global scale, provides a plethora of opportunities for grabbing the attention of others. Therefore, the standards for taste change on a regular basis by not the ruling class as much as the global community. The increase in diversity levels plays a huge part in the reveal of hidden privileges and their further elimination from the system of social interactions.
Furthermore, by affirming that the tastes of the people with fewer privileges are shaped by the preferences of those with hidden ones, Derber and Magrass seem to underestimate the power of modern media. Social networks, which provide access to global communication, seem to affect the development of people’s tastes to a considerable degree. Therefore, Derber and Magrass’s assumption that hidden privileges define the further development of the society does not seem quite legitimate in light of the contemporary technological progress one could argue that the IT breakthrough has provided a range of people with new privileges that used to be unavailable to them.
It would be wrong to claim that attention as a part of the social privilege should be viewed as a negative concept, though. Quite on the contrary, all people should be entitled to attention from others, including opponents, coworkers, family members, etc. Speaking of the workplace and education-related attention, though, one might argue that it should be used as the means of eradicating social invisibility yet also encourage the staff members to excel in their performance.
In other words, gaining attention should not be viewed as a goal in itself. Instead, it will have to be represented as the tool for attaining success in the selected areas. Once all people are provided with a chance to shine, they will have to be encouraged to engage in lifelong progress, learning new skills and knowledge with every new experience. Thus, the foundation for global well-being can be built.
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Derber, Charles, and Yale Magrass. “Attention for Sale: the Hidden Privileges of Class.” Self and Society, edited by Ann Branaman, Wiley, 2000, pp. 321-332.
Ridgeway, Cecilia L., and Henry A. Walker. “Status Structures.” Self and Society, edited by Ann Branaman, Wiley, 2000, pp. 298-320.