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Rankism is "abusive, discriminatory, or exploitative behavior towards people because of their rank in a particular hierarchy". Rank-based abuse underlies many other phenomena such as bullying, racism, hazing, ageism, sexism, and homophobia. The term "rankism" was coined by physicist, educator, and citizen diplomat Robert W. Fuller.
Rankism can take many forms, including
- exploiting one's position within a hierarchy to secure unwarranted advantages and benefits (e.g. massive corporate bonuses);
- abusing a position of power (e.g., abusive parent or priest, corrupt CEO, bully boss, prisoner abuse);
- using rank as a shield to get away with insulting or humiliating others with impunity;
- using rank to maintain a position of power long after it can be justified;
- exporting the rank achieved in one sphere of activity to claim superior value as a person;
- exploiting rank that is illegitimately acquired or held (as in situations resting on specious distinctions of social rank, such as racism, sexism, or classism).
Use of term
The term rankism first appeared in print in the Oberlin Alumni Magazine for fall of 1997. It later appeared in a book called Somebodies and Nobodies: Overcoming the Abuse of Rank, written by Fuller and published in 2003.
The first use of the term in a management journal occurred in 2001 in a Leader to Leader Institute article. The piece questioned the abuse of rank in work hierarchies. The idea of rankism 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.
Other notable references of rankism include Fuller's second book on the subject, All Rise: Somebodies, Nobodies, and the Politics of Dignity, and an action-oriented guide titled Dignity for All: How to Create a World Without Rankism.
The Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies (HumanDHS) network has also accepted the concept of rankism as core to its mission. It asserts, "...the mission we have undertaken at Human DHS is the confrontation of abuse, rankism and the humiliation endemic to it, on the historical scale." 
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.
Rankism and dignity
According to Fuller, the abuse of rank is experienced by victims as an affront to their dignity. Fuller and his supporters have launched a new social movement to promote the creation of a dignitarian society. The Dignity Movement's goal is to overcome rankism in the same way that the civil rights and women's movements target racism and sexism.
- Fuller, Robert. "Rankism: A Social Disorder". Retrieved 2008-09-16.
- Fuller, Robert. "Democracy's Next Step: Building a Dignitarian Society". Retrieved 2008-09-19.
- Fuller, Robert (Fall 1997). "Campus Activities (sidebar)". Oberlin Alumni Magazine.
- Fuller, Robert W. (2003). Somebodies and Nobodies: Overcoming the Abuse of Rank. Gabriola Island, Canada: New Society Publishers. ISBN 0-86571-486-X.
- Fuller, Robert W (Summer 2001). "A New Look at Hierarchy: How do we make sure that rank is exercised appropriately?". Leader to Leader 21.
- Fuller, Robert W. (2006). All Rise: Somebodies, Nobodies, and the Politics of Dignity. Berrett-Koehler Publishers. ISBN 978-1-57675-385-9.
- Fuller, Robert W.; Pamela A. Gerloff (2008). Dignity for All: How to Create a World Without Rankism. Berrett-Koehler Publishers. back cover. ISBN 978-1-57675-789-5.
- The Human DHS Team. "Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies: Who We Are - A Brief Overview". Retrieved 2008-09-24.
- 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
- Fuller, Robert. "Dignity: A Universal Right". Retrieved 2008-09-16.
- Berger, Daniel (August 2005). "Book review: Somebodies and Nobodies: Overcoming the Abuse of Rank" (– Scholar search). Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 198 (8): 571. doi:10.1097/01.nmd.0000172656.22250.24.[dead link]
- Ehrenreich, Barbara (2008). This Land is Their Land: Reports from a Divided Nation. New York, NY: Metropolitan Books. ISBN 0-8050-8840-7.
- Kleiner, Art (2004). "Diversity and its discontents". Strategy + Business (Spring 2004).
- Knisely, Robert (April 2003). "Rank prejudice". Washington Monthly 35 (4).
- Richardson, Elaina; Richards, David; Cale, Timothy (April 2003). "Respect". O Magazine 83 (31–34): 3549. doi:10.1080/14786430310001599405.
- Scheff, Thomas (2009-12-10). "Chapter 7: A New Goffman: Robert W. Fuller's Politics of Dignity". In Jacobsen, Michael. The Contemporary Goffman. Routledge. pp. 185–198. ISBN 978-0-415-99681-5.
- Schultz, Connie (January 14, 2006). "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.
- 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)
- Dignity – SpiritualWiki article
- Right-Rank.com – Right-rank is the use of communication skills by anyone within a hierarchy to promote respect for the dignity of everyone regardless of position.
- 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)