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  • Arts & Culture
  • Issue 43

Signal Boost

How status anxiety drives culture.
Words by Hettie O’Brien. Photograph by Ziqian Liu.

Why are people drawn to particular visual trends and cultural preferences, only to abandon them and adopt alternatives for no apparent reason? The writer W. David Marx, author of Status and Culture: How Our Desire for Social Rank Creates Taste, Identity, Art, Fashion, and Constant Change, has a theory that people gravitate toward certain behaviors and aesthetic styles because of the status such choices convey to others. 

Social groups abide by particular conventions; adopting these conventions is a way of signaling one’s affiliation. A newly minted millionaire can prove their status to other millionaires by whipping out an American Express black card, and a successful businessperson might display their university diplomas, communicating to their colleagues the belief that they got there on merit.

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This story is from Kinfolk Issue Forty-Three

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