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Template:Discrimination sidebar Rankism is a term coined by physicist, educator, and citizen diplomat Robert W. Fuller. Fuller has defined rankism as: "abusive, discriminatory, or exploitative behavior towards people because of their rank in a particular hierarchy"[1]. 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 theorized that:

  • victims of rankists may find themselves publicly humiliated or ignored and treated as invisible;
  • rankism can occur in any social hierarchy, such as governments, corporations, families, non-profit organizations, and universities;[2].
  • 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.[3] 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.[4] Somebodies and Nobodies has since been translated into Korean. Also in 2000, Fuller used the term in a series of op-ed pieces for the California newspaper The Berkeley Daily Planet.[5]

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.[6] The idea has since been widely covered in the media, including The New York Times, NPR, C-SPAN, The Boston Globe, the BBC, Voice of America, and O, The Oprah Magazine.

Fuller's second book on the subject, All Rise: Somebodies, Nobodies, and the Politics of Dignity, was published in 2006.[7] All Rise has been translated into Chinese and Bangla, and has been published independently in India by the Viveka Foundation. In 2008, Fuller and co-author Pamela A. Gerloff released an eighty-six page "action-oriented guide" titled Dignity for All: How to Create a World Without Rankism[8] on the issue of rankism and the steps individuals can take to address it. Dignity for All has been translated into Bangla.

The term has also been extended to incorporate the idea of bullying, such as in this quote from Canadian Living: "Basically, rankism is bullying someone of a lower rank."[9]

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." [10]

Professional mediator Julia Ann Wambach uses Fuller's definition of rankism to explore the abuse of position within a hierarchy from both up and down the lines of power, including how rankism feeds on itself in group contexts.[11]

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." [12] 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


  1. Fuller, Robert. "Rankism: A Social Disorder". Retrieved 2008-09-16.
  2. Fuller, Robert. "Democracy's Next Step: Building a Dignitarian Society". Retrieved 2008-09-19.
  3. Fuller, Robert (Fall 1997). "Campus Activities (sidebar)". Oberlin Alumni Magazine.
  4. Fuller, Robert W. (2003). Somebodies and Nobodies: Overcoming the Abuse of Rank. Gabriola Island, Canada: New Society Publishers. ISBN 0-86571-486-X.
  5. Fuller, Robert (2000). "Front Page News: Rank-based discrimination is just as alive as other ‘isms’".
  6. Fuller, Robert W (Summer 2001). "A New Look at Hierarchy: How do we make sure that rank is exercised appropriately?". Leader to Leader 21.
  7. Fuller, Robert W. (2006). All Rise: Somebodies, Nobodies, and the Politics of Dignity. Berrett-Koehler Publishers. ISBN 978-1576753859.
  8. Fuller, Robert W.; Pamela A. Gerloff (2008). Dignity for All: How to Create a World Without Rankism. Berrett-Koehler Publishers. back cover. ISBN 978-1-57675-7895.
  9. Fisher, Diana. "Rankism: Bullying someone of a lower rank at work". Retrieved 2008-09-24.
  10. The Human DHS Team. "Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies: Who We Are - A Brief Overview". Retrieved 2008-09-24.
  11. 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
  12. Fuller, Robert. "Dignity: A Universal Right". Retrieved 2008-09-16.

Further reading

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"
  • - 'The Dignitarian Dialogues' (website that seeks to start a public discussion of rankism)
  • - '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 is the use of communication skills by anyone within a hierarchy to promote respect for the dignity of everyone regardless of position.
  • - I Feel Like Nobody When... I Feel Like a Somebody When... (children's book that introduces issues related to rankism), Stephanie Heuer (2005)
  • - '"Executive" monkeys influenced by other executives, not subordinates', Duke University Medical Center (March 22, 2006)


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