Deference or Respect?  Status Management Practices Among Prison Inmates*

Brian Colwell
Stanford University

*This research was supported by a Graduate Research Opportunity Dissertation Grant from Stanford University.  Thanks to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the numerous inmates and staff throughout the state that assisted in some capacity on this project.  Many thanks to Karen Cook, Stephanie Mollborn, Justine Tinkler, and Daniel McFarland for their helpful comments on earlier versions.  Direct correspondence to Brian Colwell, Department of Sociology, University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia, MO 65211-6100; colwellb@missouri.edu

ABSTRACT

Interpersonal and intergroup contention is endemic to the social environment of California prisons.  Data from in-depth interviews (N = 74) with prison inmates highlights a conceptual difference between the status behavior understood as signaling “deference” versus those signaling “respect”.  Deference behavior signifies ordinal rank distinctions between actors in a power and prestige order.  Respectful behavior signifies nominal distinctions rooted in perceived similarities and differences between actors.  A theoretical model and typology of respect relations based on the correspondence between an actor’s subjective belief and normative expectations is presented.  The horizontal, intergroup structure found in the California prison system increases the profile of status behavior as marking nominal distinctions.  I propose that the meaning of a given status behavior reflects the instrumentality of social situations and the objectivity or subjectivity of standards actors use in their evaluations of others.  

A core sociological assumption is that people occupy ranked positions in a status hierarchy.  People present many verbal and non-verbal status behaviors to signify their subordinate or superordinate status rank (Berger et al. 1986; Gregory 1994).  Overt communications (i.e., “You are the best athlete”), as well as more subtle and indirect cues such as talking time, directed questioning, voice tone, and eye gaze (Goffman 1956; Ridgeway, Berger, and Smith 1985; Schwartz 1974) are characterized in this regard as displays of deference, respect, honor, or esteem.  But, do such status behaviors necessarily signify hierarchical distinctions among actors?  
Drawing on interview data from inmates in the California prison system I argue that there is a subtle but systematic, difference in the meaning actors impart to objectively identical status behaviors.  
 

The Meaning of Deference and Respect

In contrast to status behavior understood as signifying deference, status behavior understood as signifying respect acknowledges an actor’s value without making salient their respective position in a social hierarchy (Lawrence-Lightfoot 2000).  Perceived differences in competence that compel deference from lower status toward higher status members are less salient in non-instrumental situations (McWilliams and Blumstein 1991).  Situations defined as less instrumentally driven by the actors involved are expected to be more conducive to interpretations of status behavior as signifying a relational dimension of respect rather than deference.

Subjective Respect: Signifying Identities
 I define subjective respect as one actor’s belief that an object (i.e., a person or thing) endowed with social significance possesses valued qualities.1  This belief emerges from the actor’s initial evaluations of a target object and the corresponding sentiments that the evaluations evoke (see Figure 1).  When an actor perceives that a target actor’s qualities reflect their own valued self-definitions, they impart positive symbolic value to the target.  These perceptions evoke sentiments of affinity toward the target actor, which supports the belief that the target deserves respectful treatment.  Respectful treatment of a target actor is a behavioral manifestation of the subjective perception of similarity and sentiment of affinity toward what the target actor symbolically represents.  When an actor perceives the target’s qualities as antithetical to their own, they impart negative symbolic value to the target.  These perceptions evoke sentiments of aversion toward the object, which support the belief that it deserves disrespectful treatment.  Disrespectful treatment of a target object by another is a behavioral manifestation of that person’s subjective perception of dissimilarity and sentiment of aversion toward what the target actor represents.  The affinitive/aversive sentiment that (dis)respectful behavior conveys corresponds to sentiments of superiority/inferiority that deference commonly conveys in more instrumental social situations (Clark 1990; Tönnies [1887]1957).2  The emotional potency of subjective respect and the behavior it promotes also links it to interactive identity maintenance processes.3  

Figure 1:  Theoretical Model of Subjective Respect and Respect Behavior

Colwell Figure 1

The affirmation of self-identities produces positive emotions that reinforces an actor’s commitment to the affirmed self-identity  (Burke and Reitzes 1991; Heise 1979).  Perceptions of similarity link a source’s self-definition with a target actor through affinitive sentiments, and reinforce the source’s belief in the target’s respectability.  These affinitive sentiments blur the emotional distinction between constituent selves.  As such, respectful treatment conveys to the target the underlying belief and sentiments the source holds toward them.  Further, because the source views the target as a symbolic representation of their own self-identity, the behavioral act of respecting the target is a means of reflexive self-affirmation.  In the same manner, disrespectful treatment conveys the underlying subjective belief and corresponding aversive sentiment that originate in a source actor’s perceived disjunction with the qualities that the target actor embodies.  Like respectful treatment, disrespectful treatment toward a target that evokes aversive sentiment is consistent with the direction of that sentiment and is therefore also self-affirming.4  The perceived disjunction between a source and a target actor’s self-conception also insulates the source from empathizing with any stress or pain that disrespectful behavior may elicit in the target.5

1 Although I leave open the definition of respect to include inanimate objects such as national flags or sacred texts, this paper will only consider respect between persons.

2 As diffuse sentiments, affinity and aversion correspond to a range of more specific emotions that are not dealt with here.  However, positive emotions are expected to correspond to sentiments of affinity and negative emotions to sentiments of aversion. 

3 I do not distinguish between types of identities, values, or beliefs that can serve as a basis for the development of subjective respect.  I consider any of these components of the self as viable sources of self-definitional information as suitable for forming perceptions of similarity or dissimilarity with a target.

4 Although self-affirming, these affirmations are not expected to increase commitment to the target, but rather reinforce aversion toward him/her.

Respect Norms: The Regulation of Expressive Behavior

The presence of normative expectations compels actors to consider how others will judge the appropriateness of their own behavior.  Respect norms are enforceable social expectations regulating the respectful or disrespectful treatment of a target actor.  
The strength of normative control is a function of a social group’s monitoring and sanctioning capabilities over its constituent members (Hechter 1987; Horne 2001b).  When the valence of respect norms toward a target is positive, normative control promotes respectful and discourages disrespectful behavior.  When the valence of a group’s respect norms is negative, normative control supports disrespectful behavior and discourages respectful behavior toward a target.  In this way, the valence of respect norms facilitates or constrains the translation of subjective sentiments of respect or disrespect into respectful or disrespectful behavior.  
However, social norms not only act on people—people also exercise some agency over whether, or to what degree, they elect to enforce the norm (Horne 2001a).  Therefore, the more that an actor’s subjective respect coincides with the valence of respect norms the more likely they are to actively monitor and sanction normative compliance (i.e., active enforcement).  Actors with subjective respect that contradicts respect norms are more likely to let others monitor and sanction normative compliance (e.g., passive enforcement), unless failure to do so would reveal their deviant respect beliefs.

Respect Behavior: Coinciding and Contrasting Motivations

Figure 2 displays four idealized conditions that result from the interaction between subjective respect and the prevailing respect norms in a social situation.  In some situations, the direction of an actor’s subjective respect and respect norms may coincide (respect/ respect or disrespect / disrespect) and in other situations, they may contrast (respect / disrespect or disrespect / respect).  The figure is best understood as a Cartesian field with a given actor’s orientation towards a target actor mapping onto any of the four quadrants rather than as distinct, mutually exclusive categories.  Location within the field is a dual function of the positive or negative direction and the absolute strength of subjective respect and respect norms.  An actor gravitates towards the periphery of the field as subjective sentiments (i.e., affinity or aversion), the validity of respect norms (i.e., expected sanctions), or both increase in strength.  The origin would represent a hypothetical condition of subjective and normative indifference towards a target.
 

Figure 2: Typology of Respect Relations

Colwell Figure 2

“Amity” refers to the case in which a person’s subjective respect and respect norms coincide in the conveyance of affinity with a target actor.  “Antagonism” is when subjective respect and respect norms coincide in the conveyance of aversion.  When an actor is in a condition of amity or antagonism, respect norms facilitate a person’s intrinsic motive to self-affirm through the respectful or disrespectful treatment of another.  Under these conditions, the perceptual primacy of their subjective sentiment toward a target should diminish the salience of normative expectations as motives for their respectful behavior.  Furthermore, the treatment a target receives from third parties is symbolically consequential for the actor’s own self-identity and is therefore, a joint concern.  Subjectively perceiving the target actor’s ‘self’ as either a synthesis (i.e., respectable) or antithesis (i.e., not respectable) of their own, actors are more likely to actively enforce respect norms that coincide with their own subjective beliefs regarding the target.
When a person’s subjective belief contrasts with respect norms, conformity with those norms places the person in a state of either “perfunctory distance” or “civility” toward the target.  Stated differently, persons may subjectively respect or disrespect the target, but refrain from translating these beliefs into behavior.  “Perfunctory distance” is when respect norms prescribe disrespectful behavior that contradicts the source actor’s subjective respect for the target.  “Civility” is when respect norms prescribe respectful behavior that contradicts the source actor’s subjective disrespect for the target.  Disrespectful or respectful behavior under either condition constitutes a surface act or “inauthentic” veneer disguising an actor’s authentic subjective sentiment towards the target (Goffman 1959; Hochschild 1983).
Unlike amity and antagonism, the disjunction between the contrasting conditions of perfunctory distance and civility increases the salience of normative motives.  Rather than identity affirmation, the strength of normative control plays an increasing part in promoting conformity with respect norms.  In addition, since respect norms contradict the person’s subjective belief, active involvement in normative enforcement would run counter to their proprietary sense of respect for the target.  They are therefore less likely to initiate or engage in sanctioning non-conforming behavior (i.e., passive enforcement).
Prison brings together inmates with contrasting self-definitions who, if given a choice, would likely increase their physical and social distance from one another.  The forced coexistence of individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds into the concentrated living environment of prison increases the salience of respect and respect behavior.  The interaction between subjective and normative motivations for respect behavior figures prominently in the self-management practices of the inmate community.  

Method

The data come from 131 in-depth interviews with 31 first-term (83 interviews) and 43 long-time inmates (48 interviews) and are one part of a larger project exploring social relations in high-risk social environments.  The interview data on status relations analyzed here represent one dimension of a broader inquiry into social relations and social order in California prison communities.  The interviews were semi-structured, covering various dimensions of inmate social life with each interview lasting approximately one an a half hours.6     

6 In accord with Human Subjects guidelines regarding vulnerable populations, no inmate was offered a monetary incentive for their participation.  Such compensation was believed to have the potential to produce undue influence on some inmates’ decision to participate in the study

Subjective Respect as a Nominal Signification

Within the context of group norms, individual inmates harbor their own subjective beliefs regarding the respectability of other inmates.  Appraisals of similarity that inform respect beliefs are unlike appraisals leading to deferential beliefs of status rank.  An example of a behavior that highlights the distinction between respect and deference is the practice of “churchgoing”.  One inmate expresses the widespread opinion of the mainline population regarding church-going inmates in his belief that “It’s usually because they got some rape or child sex beef.”  
Unsurprisingly, “churchgoing” symbolically evokes Christian values, with which many inmates personally identify.  Unlike most inmates however, churchgoing inmates organize their lives around religious activity and the Bible.  By overtly associating themselves with Christianity, they undermine their status rank within the population in exchange for a measure of subjective respect from other inmates.  An older inmate in prison for the first time observes how “churchgoing” conjures affinitive sentiments in others without promoting ordinal status rank.  From his perspective, the behavior of churchgoers is a conscious strategy for eliciting the subjective respect of other inmates.

I don’t know what it is but they don’t bother church going people.  So I think mainly it’s a way of escaping a lot of assaults and confrontations.  People probably leave them alone depending on how they believe and they see them doing something that they should be doing themselves,  that’s how they were brought up themselves, to respect faith and the churchgoing folks.  

By making claims to mutually endorsed values, low-status inmates evoke a sense of affinity that translates into a measure of subjective respect from higher-ranking inmates.  Unlike deference, respectful behavior towards churchgoing inmates is not a zero-sum acknowledgement of social rank, but the recognition of mutually endorsed self-definitions.

Subjective Respect and Social Integration
Acceptance as a member of an inmate group denotes that group’s normative endorsement of an inmate’s symbolic value and right to respectful treatment by fellow group members.  Securing the subjective respect of other inmates helps integrate unknown inmates into protective social networks.  However, for inmates lacking cultural capital symbolizing values and identities useful for earning the respect of other inmates, reconciling the need for social integration with their own self-identity can be difficult.  A first-time inmate expresses a sense that projecting a demeanor he believes will earn him the respect of others inmates contradicts his own self-identity.

Some people in here say, “You’re too meek, too timid.”  Is it a bad thing to be too timid?  It is to a certain point.  At some point you got to do something but I’m a stoner, I think everybody should get along and not fight. . .One guy said that he didn’t respect me, or he said, “You have to earn my respect.”  I thought this is the last place where I want to get anybody’s respect.  There ain’t nothing respectful about this place.  Living in a 6 by 8 foot cell.  Locked up with a bunch of men.  No women.  I like girls man!

The above inmate believes that earning the respect of other inmates has undesirable consequences.  He has an understanding that earning their respect will facilitate his social integration and perhaps his unwanted attachment to the social milieu of prison itself.  Rather than embracing prison culture, his identity-work reflects distancing strategies (Snow and Anderson 1987).  Although this inmate limits his self-identification and integration with other inmates, the proximate concerns of other inmates produce a greater desire for social integration.
Acquiring initial recognition as a group member requires earning the subjective respect of established group members is and based on the inmates displaying their nominal “prototypicality” (Hogg 1993) or communion with the group habitus (Bourdieu 1990), rather than asserting a given status position within the group’s power and prestige order.

Subjective Disrespect and Social Distance
Child sex predators and rapists symbolize values that are antithetical to the self-image most people have of themselves.  Prison inmates are no exception, and this class of offender evokes widespread aversion in others.  The following inmate points out that when evaluating another inmate, one criterion is whether or not he can identify with the person behind the crime.  If he cannot, then he will demonstrate his aversion by not talking or eating with him.  Any respectful treatment would instantiate an affinitive bond with the inmate, deeming the pariah respectable by “firing him up” (i.e., making him feel good through acknowledgement).

I’ll give respect to a point.  I don’t associate with certain categories.  Like a dude with 10 counts of rape.  I’ll have nothing to do with him.  Or other crimes I can’t justify.  Same on the streets.  How can you stick with a guy that’s a child molester?!  How can you sit there and talk to a guy?!  I can’t sit there, eat with a guy.  Like I’m firing him up.

Because “firing up” the inmate is antithetical to his own identity, doing so would be an uncomfortable denial of his own self-identity.  An inmate’s aversion signifies the target as the symbolic antithesis to his own sense of self, making disrespectful treatment of the target a means of identity affirmation.  At the same time, aversive sentiments protect the source from empathizing with whatever trauma disrespectful behavior may produce in the target.  The same objective, neglectful behavior could also signal ordinal rank, but in this case the standard for evaluation—rooted in the identities of both source and target—implies a more fundamental, nominal disassociation between actors.
    In addition to a widespread aversion to sex predators, another widespread impetus for disrespectful behavior emanates from the aversion some inmates have for members of other racial and ethnic groups.  Aversion is rooted in the belief that membership in an opposing group is indicative of a fundamentally incompatible set of values and self-definitions.
Whatever the basis for subjective disrespect, one interpersonal act of disrespectful behavior ranging in severity from nonverbal slights to physical assaults, can have collective repercussions.  Normative sanctions can either encourage or discourage individual initiatives to express either respect or disrespect.  In this abbreviated article, only the impact of respect norms on suppressing subjective respect sentiments is illustrated.  

Perfunctory Distance and Civility

Normative control is least necessary for motivating respectful or disrespectful behavior in those with coinciding subjective sentiments.  For these inmates, behavior corresponding to group norms is self-affirming and requires only a suitable opportunity rather than additional incentives to evoke its expression.  Respectful behavior is thus intrinsically rewarding.  Likewise, for those with aversive sentiment, expressing disrespect to a person or thing we abhor is also self-affirming and delivers its own intrinsic rewards.  However, a disjunction in subjective respect and respect norms can force an inmate to disguise his subjective sentiment, putting them in a state of either perfunctory distance or civility.

Perfunctory Distance
Respect norms prohibiting or curtailing the expression of respect behavior put inmates with a subjective respect for an out-group member in a state of perfunctory distance.  The following inmate, aware of the disjunction between his subjective respect for an outgroup inmate and the respect norms governing the relationship, exhibits perfunctory distance.  

On the tier I’m on I know almost everybody.  Different races, it doesn’t matter to me.  Some guys I’ve known for years and I have a lot of respect for them.  When I pass we always have good things to say to each other.  Genuine feelings.  I’ll talk to a guy for 5-10 minutes, but then we both know it’s time to move on.  But those conversations are rewarding because it breaks the barrier.
But you don’t take it any further?
No.  The racial barrier that makes up a prison.  It’s just something that everybody knows and it’s always gone on.

The intensity of subjective respect harbored by many inmates typically overrides that of those, such as the above inmate, with more moderate orientations.  For white and southern Hispanic inmates, the norms prohibiting the sharing of food, a cigarette, or other exchange that could lead to the receiver’s “contamination” by black inmates are actively enforced by the more racist inmates with an antagonistic orientation.  One admittedly racist inmate explains his subjective endorsement of sanctioning those inmates who openly violate respect norms and in doing so undermine group closure:

If you don’t stick to your own then you’re an outsider and you’ll get the shit beat out of you.  We’ve had a white Crip and white Muslim and they had to go.  It’s a disrespect to the white race, so they had to go.
 So where would a white Crip or Muslim belong?
Not with the Whites.  The Whites told the Muslims that he had to go.  He couldn’t stay on this yard.  The Whites went to the Muslims and said, “Either you get him off the yard or we will.”  It would just cause a race riot, so he left.  It wasn’t worth it to them so they told him he had to leave.

A sufficient number of inmates have a greater proclivity, based on their aversive sentiment, to monitor and sanction the conduct of others.  This willingness to support respect norms strengthens their influence over inmates with either opposing or ambivalent subjective sentiments.  As one white inmate says, “On the streets I’d eat after a black guy, in here, shit, it’d get you killed!”  
In the close confines of prison there are many opportunities for inmates to identify with one another, whether through a shared appreciation of music genre, faith, or some other perceived similarities.  Outside of prison eleven of the inmates who participated in this study had close, and in some cases familial relationships, with persons belonging to opposing racial, ethnic, or gang affiliations.  All of these inmates adopted an orientation of perfunctory distance by curtailing the public expression of affinity toward inmates belonging to the same categories as their loved ones.  

Civility
Civility is normatively promoted respectful behavior enacted in spite of an inmate’s subjective disrespect for another inmate.  One inmate’s extension of civility is therefore an inauthentic acknowledgment of a target actor’s measure of value to the source and a normatively supported restraint on self-affirming gestures of disrespect.  A northern Hispanic inmate explains:

Pretty much we respect other groups.  You aren’t supposed to be disrespectful or do anything, like, you’re white, like disrespecting you to just get everybody in a wreck.  If I was just to say, “Fuck you” just because, that is not tolerated.

Promoting civility on the part of inmates with aversive sentiment for others is in the group’s interest because, as previously mentioned, the conflict that arises through disrespectful behavior may be borne by the entire group.  
The influence of respect norms enables an inmate to attribute the motives for his own behavior to external constraint rather than subjective endorsement of the target’s similarity to them.  The following inmate describes his own treatment by inmates affiliated with outgroups as a consequence of respect norms rather than their subjective respect for him.

A lot of guys I would see for years and never talk to but they see me out reffing games, so they know me from that.  But other than that I don’t talk to them.  We keep our space.  Not out of respect.  It just comes down to the do’s and the don’ts.  You can do some things and you don’t do other things.  You just don’t.  Everybody knows that and everybody follows that.

So if a guy is following the do’s and the don’ts but it’s not because he respects you, then why does he do it?

The consequences.  Every group takes care of its own.  If you violate the do’s or don’ts then you drag in your whole group.  Nobody is out by themselves.  

When normative control weakens, inmates with subjective disrespect are less inclined to disguise their aversive sentiments for a target through civility.  The following interaction between inmates held in separate cellblocks—one in the general population and the other in protective custody—illustrates how the ability to monitor and sanction promotes civility.  Inmates in protective custody are beyond the scope of normative control that inmates in the general population experience.  One gang dropout describes life in a protective custody environment as “sort of an anarchy society, [because] everybody is doing their own thing.”  Below, white inmates housed in the protective custody building were verbally abusive to the black inmates in the adjacent general population:

“Hey you nigger motherfuckers, fuck you nigger pieces of shit, fuck your mothers.” But nobody from North Hall says a single thing back to them.  That would violate policy.  We are not supposed to talk to them or else whoever does will get in trouble from other mainlines [general population inmates].
Why?  Why not respond to people that are yelling such stuff?
Because that’s the building policy.  It would violate the code of the building, we aren’t supposed to talk racially, it’s disrespectful. . .  But it’s hard and once this guy yelled back, “Fuck you cracker” and the shotcaller from our building yelled out, “Who said that from North Hall!!”

Since prevailing respect norms prohibit openly racist talk on the mainline, when one inmate responded in kind to the virulent insults he exposed himself to group sanctions.  The protective custody inmate is not the intended beneficiary of the respect norm promoting civility.  Rather the norms prevent the inmate’s disrespectful behavior from contaminating the social environment of the general population with open expressions of aversive sentiment.  Allowing unfettered disrespectful treatment among the mainline population could undermine civility and foster unrestricted antagonism across nominal group divides.  

Discussion

    Respect behaviors act as a currency for establishing and maintaining social distinctions among prison inmates.  The use of respect in the prison context is distinct from its established role in the formation and maintenance of hierarchical rank in power and prestige orders (i.e., ‘deference’).  
Both the horizontal/hierarchical structure of intergroup relations and degree of group closure systematically influence the situated definitions actors adopt during social interaction.  The available standard actors use when evaluating others is the mechanism that links these more macro structures with situated perceptions of self and other.  Variation in these situated perceptions shifts the prevailing subjective interpretation of status behavior between either ordinal deference or nominal respect.

Macrosocial Organization and Status Evaluations
In California’s prison system, the horizontal organization of inmate groups and the emphasis placed on group closure alters the ecology of situations, reducing opportunities for instrumental collaboration.  Instrumental relations direct social action toward the achievement of goals—and the definition of both self and other as a means to these ends rather than as ends in themselves.  The specific goals that characterize an instrumental situation provide an objective, depersonalized standard for the interpersonal evaluation of constituent actors.  This contributes to the definition of status behaviors within such situations as deferential and marking ordinal rank.
In less instrumental situations where objective goal standards are either ambiguous or absent, actors are more likely to fall back on subjective self-referential standards informed by their own readily available self-definitions.  In this case, actors’ evaluation of both self and other is more personalized, with greater nominal meaning attributed to observable status behaviors.

Situational Variation and Implied Status Meaning
Interpersonal evaluations grounded in subjective self-standards will promote status behaviors infused with sentiments of affinity/aversion arising from perceptions of nominal similarity and dissimilarity.  Interpersonal evaluations grounded in objective goal-standards will promote status behavior infused with sentiments of superiority/inferiority arising from perceptions of relative competence.  As such, status behavior understood as communicating “inferiority” in instrumental contexts will appear more “affinitive” in non-instrumental contexts.  Likewise, status behavior communicating “superiority” in more instrumental contexts will appear “aversive” in non-instrumental contexts.  It is the definition of the situation as more or less instrumental that supports the symbolic meaning actors attribute to their own and others’ status behaviors.
Variation in the definition of situations as more or less instrumental will provide differential opportunities to convey ordinal or nominal dimensions of a given social relationship.  As the same set of actors transitions from one situation defined as having a high instrumental focus (e.g., committee meeting) to another with a less instrumental focus (e.g., post-meeting reception), the prevailing definition of status behaviors will also shift from signifying ordinal rank (deference), to signifying nominal inclusiveness (respect).  Therefore the less instrumentally defined the situation is, the more it enables a set of actors with divergent ordinal status ranks to demonstrate their nominal respect without reinforcing or challenging the legitimacy of their relative rank.  

Conclusion

Whereas status behavior as deference signifies ordinal position in a given power and prestige order, status behavior as respect signifies symbolic attachments among the available constellation of social relations.  The horizontal structure of relations in the inmate community and the extreme emphasis on group closure increases the profile of respect in the daily practices of community members.  The scope of the theoretical argument presented in this paper presupposes applicability to a wider range of social settings.
The theoretical approach I present treats the instrumentality of situations as a variable in itself that shapes the symbolic meaning actors impart to status behaviors.  Future research into how variation in the properties of social situations impacts interpersonal and intergroup status relations will further increase our understanding of the central role of status processes in the organization of social life.

References

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Clark, Candace. 1990. "Emotions and Micropolitics in Everyday Life: Some Patterns and Paradoxes of 'Place'." Pp. 305-333 in Research Agendas in the Sociology of Emotions, edited by T. D. Kemper. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.

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Hechter, Michael. 1987. Principles of Group Solidarity. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Heise, David R. 1979. Understanding Events: Affect and the Construction of Social Action. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Hochschild, Arlie. 1983. The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Hogg, Michael A. 1993. "Group Cohesiveness: A Critical Review and Some New Directions." European Journal of Social Psychology 4:85-111.

Horne, Christine. 2001a. "The Enforcement of Norms: Group Cohesion and Meta-Norms." Social Psychology Quarterly 64:253-66.
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Lawrence-Lightfoot, Sarah. 2000. Respect. Cambridge, MA: Perseus.

McWilliams, Susan and Philip Blumstein. 1991. "Evaluative Hierarchy In Personal Relationships." Pp. 67-88 in Advances in Group Processes, vol. 1991, edited by E. J. Lawler: JAI.

Ridgeway, Cecilia, Joseph Berger, and Le Roy F. Smith. 1985. "Nonverbal Cues and Status: An Expectation States Approach." American Journal of Sociology:955-78.

Schwartz, Barry. 1974. "Waiting, Exchange, and Power: The Distribution of Time in Social Systems." American Journal of Sociology 79:841-70.
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Tönnies, Ferdinand. [1887] 1957. Community & society (Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft). East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press.<  

The data come from 131 in-depth interviews with 31 first-term (83 interviews) and 43 long-time inmates (48 interviews) and are one part of a larger project exploring social relations in high-risk social environments.  The interview data on status relations analyzed here represent one dimension of a broader inquiry into social relations and social order in California prison communities.  The interviews were semi-structured, covering various dimensions of inmate social life with each interview lasting approximately one an a half hours.6     

6 In accord with Human Subjects guidelines regarding vulnerable populations, no inmate was offered a monetary incentive for their participation.  Such compensation was believed to have the potential to produce undue influence on some inmates’ decision to participate in the study

Subjective Respect as a Nominal Signification

Within the context of group norms, individual inmates harbor their own subjective beliefs regarding the respectability of other inmates.  Appraisals of similarity that inform respect beliefs are unlike appraisals leading to deferential beliefs of status rank.  An example of a behavior that highlights the distinction between respect and deference is the practice of “churchgoing”.  One inmate expresses the widespread opinion of the mainline population regarding church-going inmates in his belief that “It’s usually because they got some rape or child sex beef.”  
Unsurprisingly, “churchgoing” symbolically evokes Christian values, with which many inmates personally identify.  Unlike most inmates however, churchgoing inmates organize their lives around religious activity and the Bible.  By overtly associating themselves with Christianity, they undermine their status rank within the population in exchange for a measure of subjective respect from other inmates.  An older inmate in prison for the first time observes how “churchgoing” conjures affinitive sentiments in others without promoting ordinal status rank.  From his perspective, the behavior of churchgoers is a conscious strategy for eliciting the subjective respect of other inmates.

I don’t know what it is but they don’t bother church going people.  So I think mainly it’s a way of escaping a lot of assaults and confrontations.  People probably leave them alone depending on how they believe and they see them doing something that they should be doing themselves,  that’s how they were brought up themselves, to respect faith and the churchgoing folks.  

By making claims to mutually endorsed values, low-status inmates evoke a sense of affinity that translates into a measure of subjective respect from higher-ranking inmates.  Unlike deference, respectful behavior towards churchgoing inmates is not a zero-sum acknowledgement of social rank, but the recognition of mutually endorsed self-definitions.

Subjective Respect and Social Integration
Acceptance as a member of an inmate group denotes that group’s normative endorsement of an inmate’s symbolic value and right to respectful treatment by fellow group members.  Securing the subjective respect of other inmates helps integrate unknown inmates into protective social networks.  However, for inmates lacking cultural capital symbolizing values and identities useful for earning the respect of other inmates, reconciling the need for social integration with their own self-identity can be difficult.  A first-time inmate expresses a sense that projecting a demeanor he believes will earn him the respect of others inmates contradicts his own self-identity.

Some people in here say, “You’re too meek, too timid.”  Is it a bad thing to be too timid?  It is to a certain point.  At some point you got to do something but I’m a stoner, I think everybody should get along and not fight. . .One guy said that he didn’t respect me, or he said, “You have to earn my respect.”  I thought this is the last place where I want to get anybody’s respect.  There ain’t nothing respectful about this place.  Living in a 6 by 8 foot cell.  Locked up with a bunch of men.  No women.  I like girls man!

The above inmate believes that earning the respect of other inmates has undesirable consequences.  He has an understanding that earning their respect will facilitate his social integration and perhaps his unwanted attachment to the social milieu of prison itself.  Rather than embracing prison culture, his identity-work reflects distancing strategies (Snow and Anderson 1987).  Although this inmate limits his self-identification and integration with other inmates, the proximate concerns of other inmates produce a greater desire for social integration.
Acquiring initial recognition as a group member requires earning the subjective respect of established group members is and based on the inmates displaying their nominal “prototypicality” (Hogg 1993) or communion with the group habitus (Bourdieu 1990), rather than asserting a given status position within the group’s power and prestige order.

Subjective Disrespect and Social Distance
Child sex predators and rapists symbolize values that are antithetical to the self-image most people have of themselves.  Prison inmates are no exception, and this class of offender evokes widespread aversion in others.  The following inmate points out that when evaluating another inmate, one criterion is whether or not he can identify with the person behind the crime.  If he cannot, then he will demonstrate his aversion by not talking or eating with him.  Any respectful treatment would instantiate an affinitive bond with the inmate, deeming the pariah respectable by “firing him up” (i.e., making him feel good through acknowledgement).

I’ll give respect to a point.  I don’t associate with certain categories.  Like a dude with 10 counts of rape.  I’ll have nothing to do with him.  Or other crimes I can’t justify.  Same on the streets.  How can you stick with a guy that’s a child molester?!  How can you sit there and talk to a guy?!  I can’t sit there, eat with a guy.  Like I’m firing him up.

Because “firing up” the inmate is antithetical to his own identity, doing so would be an uncomfortable denial of his own self-identity.  An inmate’s aversion signifies the target as the symbolic antithesis to his own sense of self, making disrespectful treatment of the target a means of identity affirmation.  At the same time, aversive sentiments protect the source from empathizing with whatever trauma disrespectful behavior may produce in the target.  The same objective, neglectful behavior could also signal ordinal rank, but in this case the standard for evaluation—rooted in the identities of both source and target—implies a more fundamental, nominal disassociation between actors.
    In addition to a widespread aversion to sex predators, another widespread impetus for disrespectful behavior emanates from the aversion some inmates have for members of other racial and ethnic groups.  Aversion is rooted in the belief that membership in an opposing group is indicative of a fundamentally incompatible set of values and self-definitions.
Whatever the basis for subjective disrespect, one interpersonal act of disrespectful behavior ranging in severity from nonverbal slights to physical assaults, can have collective repercussions.  Normative sanctions can either encourage or discourage individual initiatives to express either respect or disrespect.  In this abbreviated article, only the impact of respect norms on suppressing subjective respect sentiments is illustrated.  

Perfunctory Distance and Civility

Normative control is least necessary for motivating respectful or disrespectful behavior in those with coinciding subjective sentiments.  For these inmates, behavior corresponding to group norms is self-affirming and requires only a suitable opportunity rather than additional incentives to evoke its expression.  Respectful behavior is thus intrinsically rewarding.  Likewise, for those with aversive sentiment, expressing disrespect to a person or thing we abhor is also self-affirming and delivers its own intrinsic rewards.  However, a disjunction in subjective respect and respect norms can force an inmate to disguise his subjective sentiment, putting them in a state of either perfunctory distance or civility.

Perfunctory Distance
Respect norms prohibiting or curtailing the expression of respect behavior put inmates with a subjective respect for an out-group member in a state of perfunctory distance.  The following inmate, aware of the disjunction between his subjective respect for an outgroup inmate and the respect norms governing the relationship, exhibits perfunctory distance.  

On the tier I’m on I know almost everybody.  Different races, it doesn’t matter to me.  Some guys I’ve known for years and I have a lot of respect for them.  When I pass we always have good things to say to each other.  Genuine feelings.  I’ll talk to a guy for 5-10 minutes, but then we both know it’s time to move on.  But those conversations are rewarding because it breaks the barrier.
But you don’t take it any further?
No.  The racial barrier that makes up a prison.  It’s just something that everybody knows and it’s always gone on.

The intensity of subjective respect harbored by many inmates typically overrides that of those, such as the above inmate, with more moderate orientations.  For white and southern Hispanic inmates, the norms prohibiting the sharing of food, a cigarette, or other exchange that could lead to the receiver’s “contamination” by black inmates are actively enforced by the more racist inmates with an antagonistic orientation.  One admittedly racist inmate explains his subjective endorsement of sanctioning those inmates who openly violate respect norms and in doing so undermine group closure:

If you don’t stick to your own then you’re an outsider and you’ll get the shit beat out of you.  We’ve had a white Crip and white Muslim and they had to go.  It’s a disrespect to the white race, so they had to go.
 So where would a white Crip or Muslim belong?
Not with the Whites.  The Whites told the Muslims that he had to go.  He couldn’t stay on this yard.  The Whites went to the Muslims and said, “Either you get him off the yard or we will.”  It would just cause a race riot, so he left.  It wasn’t worth it to them so they told him he had to leave.

A sufficient number of inmates have a greater proclivity, based on their aversive sentiment, to monitor and sanction the conduct of others.  This willingness to support respect norms strengthens their influence over inmates with either opposing or ambivalent subjective sentiments.  As one white inmate says, “On the streets I’d eat after a black guy, in here, shit, it’d get you killed!”  
In the close confines of prison there are many opportunities for inmates to identify with one another, whether through a shared appreciation of music genre, faith, or some other perceived similarities.  Outside of prison eleven of the inmates who participated in this study had close, and in some cases familial relationships, with persons belonging to opposing racial, ethnic, or gang affiliations.  All of these inmates adopted an orientation of perfunctory distance by curtailing the public expression of affinity toward inmates belonging to the same categories as their loved ones.  

Civility
Civility is normatively promoted respectful behavior enacted in spite of an inmate’s subjective disrespect for another inmate.  One inmate’s extension of civility is therefore an inauthentic acknowledgment of a target actor’s measure of value to the source and a normatively supported restraint on self-affirming gestures of disrespect.  A northern Hispanic inmate explains:

Pretty much we respect other groups.  You aren’t supposed to be disrespectful or do anything, like, you’re white, like disrespecting you to just get everybody in a wreck.  If I was just to say, “Fuck you” just because, that is not tolerated.

Promoting civility on the part of inmates with aversive sentiment for others is in the group’s interest because, as previously mentioned, the conflict that arises through disrespectful behavior may be borne by the entire group.  
The influence of respect norms enables an inmate to attribute the motives for his own behavior to external constraint rather than subjective endorsement of the target’s similarity to them.  The following inmate describes his own treatment by inmates affiliated with outgroups as a consequence of respect norms rather than their subjective respect for him.

A lot of guys I would see for years and never talk to but they see me out reffing games, so they know me from that.  But other than that I don’t talk to them.  We keep our space.  Not out of respect.  It just comes down to the do’s and the don’ts.  You can do some things and you don’t do other things.  You just don’t.  Everybody knows that and everybody follows that.

So if a guy is following the do’s and the don’ts but it’s not because he respects you, then why does he do it?

The consequences.  Every group takes care of its own.  If you violate the do’s or don’ts then you drag in your whole group.  Nobody is out by themselves.  

When normative control weakens, inmates with subjective disrespect are less inclined to disguise their aversive sentiments for a target through civility.  The following interaction between inmates held in separate cellblocks—one in the general population and the other in protective custody—illustrates how the ability to monitor and sanction promotes civility.  Inmates in protective custody are beyond the scope of normative control that inmates in the general population experience.  One gang dropout describes life in a protective custody environment as “sort of an anarchy society, [because] everybody is doing their own thing.”  Below, white inmates housed in the protective custody building were verbally abusive to the black inmates in the adjacent general population:

“Hey you nigger motherfuckers, fuck you nigger pieces of shit, fuck your mothers.” But nobody from North Hall says a single thing back to them.  That would violate policy.  We are not supposed to talk to them or else whoever does will get in trouble from other mainlines [general population inmates].
Why?  Why not respond to people that are yelling such stuff?
Because that’s the building policy.  It would violate the code of the building, we aren’t supposed to talk racially, it’s disrespectful. . .  But it’s hard and once this guy yelled back, “Fuck you cracker” and the shotcaller from our building yelled out, “Who said that from North Hall!!”

Since prevailing respect norms prohibit openly racist talk on the mainline, when one inmate responded in kind to the virulent insults he exposed himself to group sanctions.  The protective custody inmate is not the intended beneficiary of the respect norm promoting civility.  Rather the norms prevent the inmate’s disrespectful behavior from contaminating the social environment of the general population with open expressions of aversive sentiment.  Allowing unfettered disrespectful treatment among the mainline population could undermine civility and foster unrestricted antagonism across nominal group divides.  

Discussion

    Respect behaviors act as a currency for establishing and maintaining social distinctions among prison inmates.  The use of respect in the prison context is distinct from its established role in the formation and maintenance of hierarchical rank in power and prestige orders (i.e., ‘deference’).  
Both the horizontal/hierarchical structure of intergroup relations and degree of group closure systematically influence the situated definitions actors adopt during social interaction.  The available standard actors use when evaluating others is the mechanism that links these more macro structures with situated perceptions of self and other.  Variation in these situated perceptions shifts the prevailing subjective interpretation of status behavior between either ordinal deference or nominal respect.

Macrosocial Organization and Status Evaluations
In California’s prison system, the horizontal organization of inmate groups and the emphasis placed on group closure alters the ecology of situations, reducing opportunities for instrumental collaboration.  Instrumental relations direct social action toward the achievement of goals—and the definition of both self and other as a means to these ends rather than as ends in themselves.  The specific goals that characterize an instrumental situation provide an objective, depersonalized standard for the interpersonal evaluation of constituent actors.  This contributes to the definition of status behaviors within such situations as deferential and marking ordinal rank.
In less instrumental situations where objective goal standards are either ambiguous or absent, actors are more likely to fall back on subjective self-referential standards informed by their own readily available self-definitions.  In this case, actors’ evaluation of both self and other is more personalized, with greater nominal meaning attributed to observable status behaviors.

Situational Variation and Implied Status Meaning
Interpersonal evaluations grounded in subjective self-standards will promote status behaviors infused with sentiments of affinity/aversion arising from perceptions of nominal similarity and dissimilarity.  Interpersonal evaluations grounded in objective goal-standards will promote status behavior infused with sentiments of superiority/inferiority arising from perceptions of relative competence.  As such, status behavior understood as communicating “inferiority” in instrumental contexts will appear more “affinitive” in non-instrumental contexts.  Likewise, status behavior communicating “superiority” in more instrumental contexts will appear “aversive” in non-instrumental contexts.  It is the definition of the situation as more or less instrumental that supports the symbolic meaning actors attribute to their own and others’ status behaviors.
Variation in the definition of situations as more or less instrumental will provide differential opportunities to convey ordinal or nominal dimensions of a given social relationship.  As the same set of actors transitions from one situation defined as having a high instrumental focus (e.g., committee meeting) to another with a less instrumental focus (e.g., post-meeting reception), the prevailing definition of status behaviors will also shift from signifying ordinal rank (deference), to signifying nominal inclusiveness (respect).  Therefore the less instrumentally defined the situation is, the more it enables a set of actors with divergent ordinal status ranks to demonstrate their nominal respect without reinforcing or challenging the legitimacy of their relative rank.  

Conclusion

Whereas status behavior as deference signifies ordinal position in a given power and prestige order, status behavior as respect signifies symbolic attachments among the available constellation of social relations.  The horizontal structure of relations in the inmate community and the extreme emphasis on group closure increases the profile of respect in the daily practices of community members.  The scope of the theoretical argument presented in this paper presupposes applicability to a wider range of social settings.
The theoretical approach I present treats the instrumentality of situations as a variable in itself that shapes the symbolic meaning actors impart to status behaviors.  Future research into how variation in the properties of social situations impacts interpersonal and intergroup status relations will further increase our understanding of the central role of status processes in the organization of social life.

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