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Somebodies and Nobodies: Overcoming the Abuse of Rank Paperback – April 1, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Fuller, former president of Oberlin College, believes there is an insidious force in America that has heretofore gone unrecognized. This "disorder without a name," which he terms "rankism," is discrimination beyond race, gender or educational background. While Fuller observed rankism in action both at Oberlin and as a physics professor at Columbia University, he was only able to fully identify it when he was no longer affiliated with a university. "Lacking the protection of title and status in the years after Oberlin, I experienced what it's like to be taken for a nobody." Fuller goes on to describe the various forms of rankism: scientists taking credit for the work of assistants, nursing home staff treating elderly patients poorly, priests sexually abusing churchgoers, etc. Rankism is an assault on personal dignity and should not be tolerated, says Fuller. According to the author, the condition exists because "rank is linked to power and power protects those who hold it" and "high rank inhibits protests and shields perpetrators." Fuller provides numerous examples, from family dynamics to corporate settings. Although some may argue rankism is just another form of racism, Fuller makes a persuasive case for recognizing this behavior as an abuse of power that transcends race-or gender. But the book falls short of providing enough concrete steps on how to fight this abuse, including only two brief chapters.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.



Studs Terkel
"I've been disturbed, especially during the past several years, by my restaurant encounters. The servers invariably wear an ID: Barbara or James. I, as patron, am always addressed with the prefix "Mr." I've always made a point to ask "What's your last name?" I'm not out to make trouble, just curious. The server often mumbles, as though embarrassed, his or her surname.

"Consider this a metaphor for the theme of Robert Fuller's wonderful and tremendously important book on the "ism" that is far more encompassing than racism, sexism or ageism. Rankism must be our prime target from now on in. Viva Fuller!"
-- Studs Terkel, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Working.

Anthony Lewis
"Somebodies & Nobodies is a shrewd and compelling look at the crucial but usually unperceived role of rank in all our lives. How easily we put down those we see as subordinate in title or wealth or origin; how silently we cringe at another's assumption of superiority. I saw myself in some of the examples, and I shuddered. But it is not just a personal analysis. The abuse of rank-the denial of equal dignity to others-corrupts relations between nations, and between the governors and the governed in a democracy. Robert Fuller is a realist, not an advocate of political correctness. He makes us understand that equal dignity, whatever one's place in society or the world, is a key to peace and social order."
- Anthony Lewis, former columnist for The New York Times.

Jerry Greenfield
"Somebodies & Nobodies will precipitate a national conversation about a pervasive but, until now, unnamed social dysfunction-rankism. Watch for a dignitarian movement against rankism that, like the civil rights and wo4men's movements, will transform American life-in the board room, the school room, the bedroom, and, a lot sooner than we might think, at the ballot box."
- Jerry Greenfield, Co-Founder of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream.

Denise Caruso
"Bob Fuller's courageous study of rankism attacks the core 'ism' at the base of them all: how humans wield authority and status as weapons. It is impossible to read this book without a shock of recognition, a shriek of outrage-and a radical shift in worldview. I imagine (hope!) that many practicing rankists will receive it as an anonymous 'gift.' Then maybe they'll read it, and change."
- Denise Caruso, founder of the Hybrid Vigor Institute, former technology columnist for The New York Times.

Tommie Smith
"Somebody, nobody-in my time, I've been both. Most of us have. Robert Fuller breaks the taboo on speaking of rank as others have on race and gender. The message is simple; the message is vital: protect the dignity of others as you do your own."
- Tommie Smith, Gold Medallist in the 200 meters at the Mexico City Olympics who gave the Black Power salute, holder of eleven world records in track, currently track coach at Santa Monica Community College.

Jeremy Rifkin
"Occasionally, an author comes along that makes us see the world around us in a totally new way. Robert W. Fuller takes us on a journey through the world of "Ranks." He explores how rank has been used throughout history to divide, separate and control people. Equally important, he tells us what we can do to overcome this outmoded and destructive social mechanism and establish social relationships based on the restoration and extension of the notion of dignity. This book is an eye opener that we can all learn and benefit from in our daily lives."
- Jeremy Rifkin, President of the Foundation on Economic Trends in Washington, D.C.; author of The Age of Access.

Roger Fisher
"A wonderful call to action against the spill-over of status. Wealth, job title and social positions are too often allowed to outweigh the respect to which each human being is entitled."
- Roger Fisher, Director, Harvard Negotiation Project, and author of Getting to Yes.

Art Kleiner
"Rankism has power over us primarily because it is invisible. This book makes it visible. And thus gives us the means to express our own innate legitimacy, instead of depending on the legitimacy granted to us from others."
- Art Kleiner, author of The Core Group and The Age of Heretics.

Tim Field
"Bullies and abusers seek power, control, domination and subjugation, and the pursuit of superior rank is their means to this end. When rankism is removed, deference no longer stifles dignity, fear gives way to mutual respect, and individuality and creativity flourish. Sombodies and Nobodies reveals the wisdom behind the saying that there's no such thing as an important person, only an important title."
- Tim Field, author of Bully in Sight and webmaster of Bully OnLine at www.bullyonline.org

Barbara Seaman
"I recognize the origins of "Somebodies and Nobodies" in the experience Robert Fuller and I shared as students at Oberlin College during the conformist '50s. Inspired by Oberlin's historic role in multi-racial and co-education, our generation protested segregation and celebrated the translation of Simone de Beauvoir's pioneering work--"The Second Sex"--into English. Oberlin's faculty and trustees defied McCarthyite assaults on civil liberties. Robert Fuller extends Oberlin's dignitarian tradition by identifying the common cause of these and other abuses of power and giving it a name-rankism."
- Barbara Seaman, co-founder of National Women's Health Network, contributing editor at Ms., and author of Free and Female.

Stewart Brand
"Bob Fuller's ideas about rankism changed my personal behavior. I think they will change the world, in time. It is one of those 'click' realizations that you can't unclick-everything human looks different afterward, and you have to do something about it."
- Stewart Brand, Global Business Network; The Long Now Foundation; Founder of The Whole Earth Catalog.

Michael Murphy
"Somebodies and Nobodies deserves a place among American wisdom classics alongside Eric Hoffer's The True Believer. Robert Fuller approaches the fundamental problems of rank and human status-seeking from a new perspective, with new insights, and with wonderful originality. This book will promote liberating debate about social norms, organizational structures, and governance."
- Michael Murphy, Co-Founder of Esalen; author of Golf in the Kingdom.

Michael Toms

"Cultural point rider Robert Fuller again plows new ground. Somebodies and Nobodies lays bare the hidden rankist and elitist tendencies that permeate our lives and institutions. By shining a light into this darkness, Fuller allows us to envision a world in which dignity is sacrosanct and inviolate. A breakthrough of the highest order."
- Michael Toms, Co-founder of New Dimensions World Broadcasting Network and author of A Time for Choices: Deep Dialogues for Deep Democracy and True Work.

Nelson Polsby
"Robert Fuller's is a clear, reasonable, unorthodox voice advocating a more equitable world. In this analysis, he describes why that will be hard to achieve, and why achieving it starts nearer to home than we might think."
- Nelson W. Polsby, Heller Professor of Political Science, University of California at Berkeley; author of Presidential Elections.

In the on-going attempts to overcome racism and sexism in North America today, we are overlooking another kind of discrimination that is no less damaging and equally unjustifiable. It is a form of injustice that everyone knows, but no one sees: discrimination based on rank. Low rank-signifying weakness, vulnerability, and the absence of power-marks you for abuse in much the same way that race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation have long done.

When discrimination is race-based, we call it racism; when it's gender-based, we call it sexism. By analogy, rank-based discrimination might be called "rankism." Somebodies and Nobodies explains our reluctance to confront rankism, and argues that abuse based on power differences is no more justified than abuse based on color or gender differences. It shows where analyses based on identity fall short and, using dozens of examples to illustrate the argument, traces many forms of injustice and unfairness to rankism.

Somebodies and Nobodies unmasks rankism as The Feminine Mystique unmasked sexism. It demythologizes the prevailing social consensus-the "Somebody Mystique"-to demonstrate the pervasiveness and corrosiveness of rankism in our personal lives and social institutions. The book introduces new language and concepts that illuminate the subtle, often dysfunctional workings of power in our social interactions. It presents rankism as the last hurdle on the long road from aristocracy to a true meritocracy, brings into focus a dignitarian revolution that is already taking shape, and offers a preview of post-rankist society.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 209 pages
  • Publisher: New Society Publishers; 1st edition (April 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0865714878
  • ISBN-13: 978-0865714878
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.6 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #831,768 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

ROBERT W. Fuller earned his Ph.D. in physics at Princeton University and taught at Columbia, where he co-authored Mathematics of Classical and Quantum Physics. After serving as president of Oberlin College, he became a "citizen diplomat," working toward improving international relations during the Cold War. During the 1990s, he served as board chair of the non-profit global corporation Internews and promoted democracy via free and independent media.

When the Cold War ended with the collapse of the USSR, Fuller reflected on his career and realized that he had been, at different times in his life, a somebody and a nobody. His periodic sojourns into "Nobodyland" led him to identify rankism--abuse of the power inherent in rank--and ultimately to write SOMEBODIES AND NOBODIES: OVERCOMING THE ABUSE OF RANK. Three years later, he published a sequel that focuses on building a "dignitarian society" titled ALL RISE: SOMEBODIES, NOBODIES, AND THE POLITICS OF DIGNITY. With co-author Pamela Gerloff, he has also published DIGNITY FOR ALL: HOW TO CREATE A WORLD WITHOUT RANKISM. His most recent books are RELIGION AND SCIENCE: A BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP?; GENOMES, MENOMES, WENOMES: NEUROSCIENCE AND HUMAN DIGNITY; THE WISDOM OF SCIENCE; BELONGING: A MEMOIR; THE THEORY OF EVERYBODY; and THE ROWAN TREE: A NOVEL.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is the book that I'm giving my friends for Christmas. I can't recommend it highly enough! It has sharpened my vision when I look at the everyday life around me, and how I cope with my family's attempts at manipulation and how I evaluate what I read in history, or in the newspaper or what I see on TV.
Even after all the work that we might have done in changing our attitudes about racism, sexism and any other ism we've known about, there's still been a lurking discomfort that we might not have been able to put our fingers on. This is what Robert Fuller calls "rankism."
Once you read this book, you'll see how rankism infects every aspect of our lives.
The signals can be very subtle, as in the old hooks that snare us when we turn into children in the presence of our parents. But now this author has articulated what we might not have been able to and given us ways to cope with things that we may have had only a felt sense about.
Until a few weeks ago, I enjoyed watching "The West Wing" on TV. The writing is so smart, so snappy, the actors were who I wish were running the country. Then last night C. J. Craig condescended to a new employee, telling him how little she thought of him as he was about 17 steps below her in rank. I felt a little stab of pain, as some of the pleasure was removed from the one show I looked forward to seeing.
Another interesting take on how rankism affects us all concerns the way certain U.S. Indian tribes are flipping the status they've had to endure for several centuries. With the advent of casinos and money, tribes are now standing up and saying, "We're still here. We count. We have clout. You can't ignore us or roll over us anymore.
Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
I bought Somebodies and Nobodies in addition to Collins' Good to Great and am deeply grateful that i found both these books at the same time. Collins showed how "great" companies eliminate rankism from the work environment, but Fuller's book gives even more context and breadth to this issue.
This book clearly and powerfully puts into words an underlying issue that takes great courage to expose--that discrimination based on rank is no more justified than descrimination based on race or gender.
Throughout this book Fuller shows that he aims to protect others' dignity as he would his own.
Many thanks to both these authors for their contributions to my personal and professional life!
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Format: Paperback
The underlying premise of this book, that all people deserve to be treated with equal dignity, is an old concept, often embodied in the Golden Rule ("Do unto others as you'd have done unto yourself"). However, the primary point here seems to be that creating a new terminology will enable a more productive discussion of the abuses of rank that rob people of their dignity. Whether such a discussion would inevitably lead to the societal changes suggest here is unclear, but the goals are certainly admirable.

However noble the author's intentions, this book is a bit of a chore to read. The arguments quickly become repetitive, and the text is quite dry. I wasn't full drawn into the book, and frequently found my attention wandering. The most interesting portions of the book are the anecdotes, which serve to illustrate the author's points quite clearly. Aside from these brief highlights, much of the rest of the book is heavy and cumbersome, required a great deal of focus to read.
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Format: Hardcover
It is interesting to see how overlooked this subject has been. We all have been on one side or the other of this issue, what is amazing is that the media and general public continue the "somebody" worship so rabidly. When we do that we only encourage the continuation of there being nobodies. Dignity should not be given out based on your income, addresss orany other temporary situation. It really is that simple. All you have to do is to look to 3rd world countries who are used as pawns by every other "somebody" nation. The US is not the only one guilty of this,but we get the lion's share of blame.
The topic of rankism in education is touched upon in Awakening Brilliance, but though a great premise, it has a bit too much Pollyanna in it to be as effective as Fuller's book. This book should be on every coffee table, no matter how expensive or simple, around the world.
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Format: Hardcover
Like a needle in a hay stack; that is how I always felt among people in the world; yes, I have been a victim of rankism and I have been very aware of it, but the social consensus is so strong that it is very hard to find somebody that will admit this is going on. Everyone seems to believe that rankism is a normal part of life. I see friends suffering because of it, and yet, they swallow the angst and sadness and go on about their lives making themselves believe that it is somehow their fault whatever is happening. Maybe someday they will get to be an authority and make someone else suffer right? PLEASE EVERYONE, READ THIS BOOK!!
Fuller did a great job in bringing an awareness of rankism, though I felt he did not let himself go completely in his writing. Though he argues that rank itself is not the problem, and that the abuse of rank is the culprit; I believe rank itself causes people to automatically abuse it--rankism. Yes, I agree that rank is important in a society but most people in our society have an ingrained belief that to have high rank automatically equals to have authority over someone, in that authority means that whoever is under you is obligated to do whatever you want. Buy this book,read it, and have your whole family, friends, and rankists in your life read it too.
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