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Master Status

Stephen Hunt

Subject Psychology
Sociology » Social Psychology, Sociology of Sex, Gender, and Sexuality

Key-Topics identity

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x


The term master status denotes a perceived social standing that has exceptional significance for individual identity, frequently shaping a person's entire social experience. The concept is at least implied within the theoretical framework of structural functionalism, especially the work of Talcott Parsons who was predisposed toward using the expression in a normative sense. Here, master status is attached to the prestige relating to the individual's primary social role (cf. Parsons 1951 ). However, in the disciplines of sociology and social psychology, master status is a concept used more specifically in the field of deviance. The principal development of the notion of a master status is usually attributed to the theories of Howard Becker, especially through his work Outsiders (1963). For Becker, a master status usually implies a negative connotation. It is related to the potential effects upon an individual of being openly labeled as deviant. In Becker's analysis a deviant act only becomes deviant when social actors perceive and define it as such. It follows that deviants are those who are labeled as a result of these sociopsychological processes. A label is not neutral since it contains an evaluation of the person to whom it is attached. A major consequence of labeling is the formation of a master status surpassing and indeed contaminating all other statuses possessed by an ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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