“Subjective Social Status and Identity Construction in Advanced Knowledge Societies”

‘Identity’ and ‘status’ are two concepts that have furthered our understanding of societal rifts emerging in advanced democracies over past decades, including these rifts’ manifestations in electoral behavior, polarization, or voter preferences. This paper explores theoretical and empirical links between these two concepts, which together occupy a valuable intersection of political economy with sociology and social psychology. Theoretically, I argue that we can only fully understand how and why group identities matter for changing conflict structures in advanced knowledge societies when we also consider subjective status, and vice versa. Empirically, I show how people’s subjective identities relate to their perceived position in a shifting social hierarchy (using original online survey data from Switzerland). I introduce and illustrate three scenarios of how identities and status perceptions may relate to each other, all of which are relevant for politics: 1) shared beliefs about social hierarchies, 2) open struggle over shared definitions of worth, or 3) segmentation, in which different groups maintain separate, even contradictory systems of valuation. These scenarios have very different observable implications; without considering all three scenarios, researchers of status and/or identity may overlook or misjudge important group dynamics that feed into electoral, issue-based, or affective divides in politics today.