Rankism is a term coined by physicist, educationalist and citizen diplomat Robert W. Fuller. Fuller has defined rankism as: "abusive, discriminatory, or exploitative behavior towards people who have less power because of their lower rank in a particular hierarchy. Fuller claims that rankism also describes the abuse of the power inherent in superior rank, with the view that rank-based abuse underlies many other phenomena such as bullying, racism, sexism, and homophobia.


Fuller asserts that rankism involves:

  • exploiting one's position within a hierarchy to secure unwarranted advantages and benefits, without regard to the deprivation of people deemed to be inferior;
  • illegitimate use of rank (e.g., abusive parent or priest, corrupt CEO, bully boss, prisoner abuse, etc.);
  • treating rank as a shield that permits one person to insult or humiliate others with impunity;
  • using rank to perpetuate position long after it can be justified while quashing talented people who might challenge that position;
  • exporting rank achieved in one sphere of activity to claim superior importance as a person;
  • use of rank illegitimately acquired or held (as in situations resting on specious distinctions of social rank such as racism, sexism, etc.).

Fuller has also written that:

  • victims of rankists may find themselves publicly humiliated or ignored and treated as invisible;
  • rankism can occur in any social hierarchy, such as corporations, families, non-profit organizations, and universities;.
  • the opponents of rankism believe that position and power should be used to serve the group over which one holds authority.

Use of term

The term rankism first appeared in print in the Oberlin Alumni Magazine for fall of 1997. Fuller later wrote a book on the topic called Somebodies and Nobodies: Overcoming the Abuse of Rank which he began distributing on his web site as a free e-book in 2000 and published in print form in 2003. Also in 2000, Fuller used the term in a series of op-ed pieces for the California newspaper The Berkeley Daily Planet.

The first use of the term in a management journal occurred in 2001, when Fuller wrote an article for the Leader to Leader Institute (formerly the Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management) about the abuse of rank in hierarchies.

Fuller's second book on the subject, All Rise: Somebodies, Nobodies, and the Politics of Dignity, was published in 2006. In 2008, Fuller and co-author Pamela A. Gerloff released an eighty-six page "action-oriented guide on the issue of rankism and the steps individuals can take to address it.

The term has also been extended to incorporate the idea of bullying, as suggested by this quote from the website Canadian Living (http://www.canadianliving.com): "Basically, rankism is bullying someone of a lower rank.

The Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies (HumanDHS) network, of which Robert Fuller is a member, has also accepted the concept of rankism as core to their mission. They assert: "...the mission we have undertaken at Human DHS is the confrontation of abuse, rankism and the humiliation endemic to it, on the historical scale."

Rankism and dignity

According to Fuller, the abuse of rank is experienced by victims as an affront to their dignity. He defines the term dignitarian as "a condition in which the dignity of all people is honored and protected." Fuller and his supporters have launched a new social movement to promote the creation of a dignitarian society. The Dignitarian Movement asserts that their aim is to overcome rankism in the same way that the civil rights and women's movements target racism and sexism.

See also

References and notes

Further reading

  • Berger, Daniel (2005). "Book review: Somebodies and Nobodies: Overcoming the Abuse of Rank". Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 198 (8): 571.
  • Ehrenreich, Barbara (2008). This Land is Their Land. New York, NY: Metropolitan Books. ISBN 0-850-8840-7.
  • Kleiner, Art (2004). "Diversity and its discontents". Strategy + Business (Spring 2004):
  • Knisely, Robert (2003). "Rank prejudice". Washington Monthly 35 (4):
  • Richardson, Elaina (2003). "Respect". O Magazine 83 3549.
  • Schultz, Connie "Taking it out on the clerks". The Cleveland Plain Dealer
  • Wambach, Julie Ann (2008). Battles between Somebodies and Nobodies: Combat Abuse of Rank at Work and at Home. Brookside Press. ISBN 978-0-9814818-0-7.

External links

  • Academe Online - Anonymous, (September/October 2006) "Class Issues Outside the Classroom"
  • Brazen Careerist - Penelope Trunk, (August 27, 2006) "Battle Cry Against Power Tripping" interview with Robert Fuller, at Brazen Careerist
  • Breaking Ranks - Bibliography on Fuller's website
  • Breaking Ranks - Other articles by Fuller
  • Branking Ranks -Course syllabi on Fuller's website
  • Canadian Living - Diana Fisher, "Rankism: Bullying someone of a lower rank at work"
  • DigDi.org - 'The Dignitarian Dialogues' (website that seeks to start a public discussion of rankism)
  • Dignitarians.org - 'The Dignitarian Foundation: Protecting the dignity of others as you would your own' (foundation dedicated to developing training materials and advocacy tools to fight rankism)
  • Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies - an organization composed of over one thousand academics and practitioners from around the globe dedicated to confronting humiliation
  • Rankism- Knol article on rankism (expert summary)
  • Right-Rank.com – 'Right-Rank is a tool for dealing with rankism, the abuse of rank within a hierarchy. Respect for everyone, regardless of rank.' (integrates concept of rankism into a therapeutic practice)
  • SomebodyBook.com - I Feel Like Nobody When... I Feel Like a Somebody When... (children's book that introduces issues related to rankism), Stephanie Heuer (2005)
  • YubaNet.com - '"Executive" monkeys influenced by other executives, not subordinates', Duke University Medical Center (March 22, 2006)
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