Symbolic Boundaries: Occupational Community, Culture, and Status Dynamics

May 22nd, 6 pm
P106, Philosophicum, Jakob-Welder-Weg 18, Mainz

Diane Vaughans lecture shows the intersection of social and symbolic boundaries in air traffic control. Based on ethnography and interviews in four air traffic control facilities in the US National Airspace System, Diane Vaughan shows the interpretive processes and symbolic meanings by which controllers self-define as members of an occupational community, distinguishing themselves from other occupations. However, they also construct distinctions that separate members of the community, one from the other, based on the criteria of competence and technical skill, thus creating identity, legitimacy and status from their work. In these forms of boundary work, they deploy cultural, social, cognitive, and discursive mechanisms that impose, activate, transform, and suppress social boundaries, creating difference and similarity, cultural membership and group classification, in order to give legitimacy and status to some and marginalize others. Examining the mechanisms by which members of an occupational community construct differences that distinguish themselves from others and among themselves shows status dynamics: stratification as the product of agency, continuing negotiation in social relations to resist inequalities rather than solely an external apparatus acting upon agents.

Diane Vaughan is Professor of Sociology and International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. She received her PhD in Sociology from Ohio State University, 1979, and taught at Boston College from 1984 to 2005. During this time, she was awarded fellowships at Yale, the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies at Oxford, the American Bar Foundation, the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial foundation, and the ASA award for Public Sociology. She came to Columbia in 2005.

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