Micro-Sociality of the Giftee

Doing Status in Interaction: Charisma and Privilege

Convenors: Chiara Bassetti (University of Trento) & Emanuele Bottazzi (Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche)
Contacts: chiara.bassetti@unitn.it, emanuele.bottazzi@loa.istc.cnr.it

What is to be dominant in an everyday situation like at site seeing with friends, queuing at the grocery store or dancing in a club? In looking at how class distinction, or status, becomes salient and plays out in situated interaction, Di Maggio leverages theories from Bernestein, Bourdieu, and Collins, and concludes that “class identities are not very stable, not very salient, and only weakly elaborated” (p. 30) and asks therefore how to distinguish between “effects caused by social-class differences […] from generic effects situationally emergent social power and subordination” (ibid.)? This is particularly complex in those situations where, in his own terms, there is no script for the interaction, and no information on the participant/s’ status is available to the other one/s, as it happens for instance when asking information to a stranger in the street. This qualifies, therefore, as an intriguing empirical field for researching how the “dominance of the situation” (Collins 2009) comes to be in interaction.

As status is multidimensional, several sources of power may be considered. Weber (1968) identified three sources: traditional, bureaucratic and charismatic. How to account for this at the micro-interactional level? For instance, charisma must be considered also taking into account non-conceptual dimensions, such as rhythm (Bassetti, Bottazzi 2015), whereas the other two forms of power hold a clear conceptual dimension. The original meaning of the word charisma is, in Greek, gifted, in the most basic sense of the term (a gift given to someone). To be the recipient of a gift (giftee) is to entertain a relationship with a desirable object, a relationship that may configure itself as one of situated dominance. If to be charismatic can be seen at times as being talented, to be a giftee can be seen not only as being talented but also as being the receiver of something (the issuer being God, your family, another individual…). And thus somewhat invested of power.

Alongside charisma, what other sources of situational dominance are there? Is there something else to be considered that may contribute to one’s dominance in interaction. Privilege (being white, being male, being rich, etc.) is one of these candidates, as being a giftee and being charismatic share with being privileged the fact of existing without the necessity of being asked or searched for. To be gifted, to be charismatic and to be privileged appear to be somewhat close when they estrinsecate themselves in situated interaction. They are treated and thought of —managed one could say— in very similar ways, although such ways range from attraction and adoration, to resistance, and possibly, to hostility, aggression, despise.

Open Questions

Can privilege also be a source of charismatic power in micro-interaction? To put it differently, how do power sources intersect (hooks 1981, 2000)? Are being charismatic, gifted and privileged three disjointed categories or are there overlaps? More generally, what does it mean “doing status” in interaction? How does status play out in the making of the orderliness of a given interaction? Which is the role of the context —e.g. degree of scriptedness and availability of information on the participants— in this? Or, can charisma and privilege be equivocated in interaction, such that the situated charismatic leader can be revealed as just being a privileged one? Is this a relevant nexus between the conceptual and the nonconceptual dimension? How to deal with the issue of the awareness of participants in their fascination for the giftee? What is to be aware of the privilege?


Charisma, privilege, giftee, situated dominance, doing status, intersectionality, (non)conceptual dimension.

Fields of Study 

Intersectionality studies, gender studies, studies of power and inequalities, micro-sociology, ethnomethodology, contemporary sociological theory, philosophy of the social sciences, social ontology


Bassetti, C, Bottazzi, E. (2015), ‘The Power of Rhythm. From Dance Rehearsals to Adult-Newborn Interaction’, Etnografia e Ricerca Qualitativa, 8, 3, pp. 453-480.

Collins, R. (2009), Violence: A micro-sociological theory, Princeton, Princeton University Press.

Di Maggio, P. (2012), Sociological perspectives on the face-to-face enactment of class distinction. In S. T. Fiske and H. R. Markus (Eds.), Facing social class: How societal rank influences interaction (pp. 15-38). New York, NY, US: Russell Sage Foundation.

hooks, b. (1981) Ain’t I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism, Boston, South End Press.

hooks, b. (2000) Where We Stand: Class Matters, New York, Routledge.

Weber, M. (1968), Economy and society: an outline of interpretive sociology (1922), Bedminster Press, NYC.


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