Status in small communities

The word “status” gets used a lot in discussions, especially in some gaming communities I’m part of. This is my attempt to understand and describe what the word means, and how status works in a small community. I’ve spoken to people from different countries and communities to try to get different viewpoints; however, this isn’t a scientific article in any way, and the thoughts presented here are my own, incorporating ideas and thoughts from many sources.

My intention when starting this article was to give some sort of definitive answer. Not going to happen. This is a part of an ongoing discussion, but it might be a good reference for later talk. Enjoy, and comment!

What is status?

Social status, according to Wikipedia, is “the honor or prestige attached to one’s position in society”. However, it’s not as simple as that: You don’t hold only one position in one fixed society. Rather, your status is relative to each specific community – and each member of a community will have their own idea of what your status is. It’s a moving target – one of those words that we use that everyone knows what means until you start investigating it. (For more words like that, check out “immersion”, “art” and “love”).

But let me try to define it at least a little bit. It seems status isn’t just one thing – rather, it’s composed of different categories. You could say that the higher your “score” in each category, the higher your total status. I mean, if you were a gamer, you could say that.

So here, without further ado: The categories of status.

Category: Visibility in the community

Do people have reason to notice you in the community? For instance…

  • Are you present at gatherings, big and small? Cons, festivals etc.

  • Do you make your presence known? Are you charismatic, well-dressed, a party animal…

  • Do you make your voice heard? At online fora, panel debates etc.


People notice different things, of course, and have different filters on reality – so one person might not notice you while another knows exactly who you are and where your children go to school. This is based a lot on personal interest, but it also seems there are different types of relational radars, by which I mean:

Some people notice social hierarchies. I know I do: I pay attention to who gets to speak when, who gets to interrupt people, who gets listened to, who makes the final call in group decisions. I sometimes see people as leaders and followers, and base social decisions on that.

Some people care more about social closeness. Who do you trust, personally? Who gets to be in your inner, most intimate circles, and who stays just a little further out? If this is your radar, you’re likely to talk about people in terms of whether they’re trustworthy, how they treat others, because this information is important to you. (Also, see the “Ethics” category below.)

Category: Contribution to the community

This is not the same as visibility. If you do a lot for the community, some people will notice and some won’t. If you talk a lot and do nothing, again, some will notice and some won’t.

So are you an unselfish contributor? Do you do things not just for your own sake, but for the sake of everyone? For instance…

  • Do you organize things for others? Cons, trips etc?

  • Do you help others get their projects going? With funding, social ninja-ing, proofreading etc?

  • Do you set up organizations that strengthen the community?

Category: Cultural production

This one’s a bit tricky, and I’m not sure if I’ve nailed it – that is, something about it feels fuzzy and undefined, but it’s the start of a thought.

  • Do you produce artifacts that are valued by the community? For instance, if you’re in a gaming community, are you a game designer?

This is related to both contribution and visibility; being a cultural producer makes you more visible, and it’s a contribution, but it’s not an unselfish one. These things make this category interesting and hard to pin down.

Category: Attractiveness

Weighted, of course, by what community you’re in – however, there’s no escaping the fact that looks matter.

  • Are you, by the standards of the community, physically attractive?

  • Do you dress right? Or even set the tone for how to dress?

Of course, here a lot of sexual undercurrents and unwritten rules make things a bit muddled. For instance, if you’re a very beautiful and sharply-dressed woman, that might make it harder for you to be accepted for some positions, in some circles etc.

Category: Ethics

The wrong behavior can really fuck up your status in a community, no matter what else you do.

  • Do you behave like a good model participant/leader should?

  • Is your personal conduct good?

  • Is your personal conduct as people would expect from your position?

Fighting is an interesting thing here. It’s wrong to start a war (for instance, to conquer an oil-producing nation while lying about your motives) or a big public fight (for instance, to make the other guy/girl accept that You’re The Smartest). Still, fights can give you great visibility, and as a leader, you might be expected to fight… so yeah. It can make you popular, because we’re animals.

Intra-community behavior

This might be a separate category, or maybe it belongs here; but it’s important to some how you treat others, as people. For instance:

  • Do you see others and help them contribute?

  • Are you kind and helpful to newcomers, and try to make them part of your community?

Category: Influence/power

Yeah, it’s good to be the king. It’s also good to own the web site that everyone visits, so you can decide what’s cool and what’s not. Or to be the person who decides what projects get funded or not.

For instance:

  • Can you make others do what you tell them?

  • Can you make decisions that impact what others can do in the community?

So, there you have it.

That’s what I’ve got right now. If you find this useful or thought-provoking, please let me know in the comments! (I’ll be moderating them, of course, so be nice.)

11 thoughts on “Status in small communities

  1. A note on fighting. I’m not sure where you draw the line on what constitutes fighting, but standing up for you ideas against people who think otherwise and taking that verbal fight is usually a positive trait and also helps visibility. Status gains from it probably depends quite a lot on how much people agree with you and your style of fighting…

  2. I have a half-formed thought about how status is given by the community to individuals. To me, this gets at the heart of what constitutes a community — a community’s values show through in who it accords status to.

    For me, this helps me decide whether I want to join a community. Does it give status to people who act in accordance with my (real or idealized) values? The flip side is that joining a community gives me part of the shared responsibility of upholding those values, as I can choose to not to participate in giving status to people I think are jerks.

    It gets into complicated dynamics because we’re talking about herd mentality here. In all likelihood, the actions of one person aren’t likely to make or break a community — it’s all the actions in tandem that accord status, but generally not the view of one or two people. Then again, high-status people seem to have extra power to accord status to others. For me, the sign of a healthy community is one where no one person or group has the final say, and where there is robust discussion in accordance with my personal values. But that’s only one way to have a community — there are oligarchies and dictatorships, etc etc.

    Anyway, I suppose that what I’m saying is that I feel like I get to exercise my agency by deciding which communities are worth my time.

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  7. I found this interesting. For me, though, you’re describing the antecedents of status. I suspect status itself – how people react to you and what power it gets you – can also be analysed.

    – Do people defer to you?
    – Are you a mandatory invitee to social events?
    – Conversely, do people feel your social events are “must attend”?
    – How many people will rally to your side if you come under attack?
    – In terms of your art, to what extent do you have fans who are blind to its flaws?
    – Do people act as though your words are imbued with special wisdom even when you’re just saying what others have said?

    Etc, etc

  8. So, I just noticed this post is from 2013, so apologies for comment-spamming such an old thread. But to add to the list of status antecedents:
    – How connected are you to people with status? If you’re in the social circle of a high-status person then, through giving you various social boosts, they can gift some of their status to you. This may not create status in itself, but it does provide a leg-up to attracting status in other ways.

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