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In the book, Fuller identifies and attempts to combat an injustice that affects nearly everyone:

 "rankism." A term coined by Fuller, rankism refers to the indignity experienced by anyone

at the hands of a higher-ranking person who abuses his or her power.



Somebodies and Nobodies: Overcoming the Abuse of Rank

By Robert W. Fuller



IN THIS GROUNDBREAKING BOOK, Robert Fuller takes the analysis of discrimination beyond racism and sexism to reveal a form of injustice that everyone knows, but no one sees: discrimination based on rank, or “rankism.” Low rank — signifying weakness, vulnerability, and the absence of power — marks people for abuse in much the same way that race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation have long done.

Somebodies and Nobodies explains our reluctance to confront this phenomenon, and argues that abuse based on power differences is no more defensible than that based on differences in color or gender. It unmasks rankism, demonstrating its pervasiveness and corrosiveness in our personal lives, social institutions, and international relations. Illuminating the subtle, often dysfunctional workings of power in all our interactions —- whether on the individual, societal, or global level — it presents rankism as the last obstacle to equal opportunity, brings into focus a “dignitarian” revolution that is already taking shape, and offers a preview of a post-rankist world.

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In the book, Fuller identifies and attempts to combat an injustice that affects nearly everyone: "rankism." A term coined by Fuller, rankism refers to the indignity experienced by anyone at the hands of a higher-ranking person who abuses his or her power.

The problem Fuller describes is not with rank itself - power and status differences are a legitimate fact of life. Rather, rankism comes into play when rank is exploited and abused - when someone is made to feel like a "nobody."

Somebodies and Nobodies  is about the universal human desire for respect. Its premise is that when we fail to treat others with dignity, the consequences are dire, ranging from educational failure to sexual abuse to corporate corruption to terrorism. Rankism is rampant in nearly every area of our lives and in every institution - in the workplace, schools, HMOs, personal relationships, and even in international relations.

Fuller describes rankism as the "mother of all isms" - ageism, sexism, racism, anti-Semitism. All of these problems are rooted in rankism, and exist because individuals or groups have used their power in ways that insult the dignity of others.

Early readers of Somebodies and Nobodies , from Studs Terkel and Betty Friedan to Francis Fukuyama and Anthony Lewis, have praised Robert Fuller's insight and originality. O: The Oprah Magazine has chosen to profile Robert Fuller's book in their April issue.

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I've been disturbed, especially during the past several years, by my restaurant encounters. the servers invariably wear and 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 then 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 Filler!Studs Terkel, Pulitzer prize-winning author of Working and The Good War

Robert Fuller's book is a must-read for progressives and conservatives alike. it enables us to resolve a confusing core issue central to both society and our personal lives -- hierarchy vs. equality. For decades, our value of equality in relationships and desire for "flatter" organizational structures has been challenged by our daily experience of rank and hierarchy, such as the natural hierarchy of parent-child, the organizational ladder of boss-underling at work, or that of director, staff, and volunteers in nonprofit groups. Robert Fuller dhows us how to distinguish between appropriate ranking and the abuse of rank -- "rankism" -- and set aside the latter in our personal relationships, our organizations, and our international relations.Bill Moyers, author of Doing Democracy


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.Publishers Weekly


Robert Fuller 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.

Somebodies and 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 sub-ordinate in title or wealth or origin; how silently we cringe at another’s assumption of superiority… The abuse of rank [also] corrupts relations between nations, and between the governors and the governed in a democracy. Robert Fuller … 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, Pulitzer prize-winning former columnist for The New York Times

Whether it’s because of race, religion, gender, class, title, or age, abuses of rank have impeded our attempt to create social justice. Robert Fuller’s exploration of how we use and abuse rank, both personally and politically, could help change that.— Betty Friedan,  Founder of National Organization For Women

A wonderful call to action against the spillover 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, Author of Getting to Yes

Somebody, nobody — in my time, I’ve been both. Most of us have. Robert Fuller breaks the taboo on speaking about 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. To be somebody, the nobody within you has only to take a stand.
— Tommie Smith, Gold Medalist in the 200-Meter Dash at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, where he gave the Black power salute on the victory stand.

Robert 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,  Founder of The Whole Earth Catalog, Author of How Buildings Learn

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Somebodies and Nobodies: Overcoming the Abuse of Rank


By Robert W. Fuller



Note to the Reader


Chapter 1: A Disorder without a Name


        The Personal is Political
        Rankism-Mother of "Isms"
        Equal in Dignity
        The Myth of Meritocracy
        Democracy's Next Step: Overcoming Rankism
Chapter 2: Uses and Abuses of Rank


        Why Rank Matters
        Legitimate Uses of Rank
        Pulling Rank
        Three Vignettes
        Kicking the Dog
        Is Pulling Rank Human Nature?
Chapter 3: The Toll of Rank Abuse


        On Personal Relationships
        On Productivity
        The Intel Example
        On Learning
        On Leadership
        On Spirit
Chapter 4: The Hunger for Recognition


        "And you are...?"
        Recognition as Identity Food
        Recognition Disorders
        Somebodies and Nobodies-A Closer Look
        Up and Down the Status Ladder
        The Ins and Outs of Nobodyland
        The Parade of Invisibles
Chapter 5: The Somebody Mystique


        The Bricks and Mortar of Consensus
        Why We Put Up With Abuses of Power
        Nobody, Too
        The Genesis of the Somebody Mystique
Chapter 6: Deconstructing the Somebody Mystique


        The Function of Heroes
        The Inside Story
        About Genius
        About Celebrity
        About Fame
        About Success
        The Young Are Disenthralled

Chapter 7: The Quest for Dignity


        The DNA of Democracy
        Race, Gender, Age, ... Rank
        On Naming Rank-Based Discrimination
        Beyond Political Correctness
        A Dignitarian Movement
        King for a Day
Chapter 8: The Anatomy of Disrespect


        The Democratization of Authority
        Family: Kid to Person
        Health: Patient to Client
        Work: Employee to Partner
        The Enron Example
        Learning: Student to Learner
        A Better Game than War: Ciphers to Citizens
        National Security in the 21st Century
        How to Win Respect and Safeguard Dignity
Chapter 9: The Nobody Revolution: Overcoming Rankism


        Nobodies' Liberation: A Joke or a Movement?
        The Nobody Manifesto
        The Invisibles Become Visible
        Humor, Etiquette, and Golden Rules
        Political Realignment
        Liberté, Dignité, Égalité, Fraternité


Elegy for Nobodies


Epitaph for Nobodies


Related Readings






About the Author


New Society Publishers, Easthampton MA 01027 / / (800) 527-6772

Robert W. Fuller has had three distinct careers in as many decades. After attending Oberlin College and getting a Ph.D. in physics from Princeton University, he taught physics at Columbia University in New York, where he co-authored the classic text Mathematics for Classical and Quantum Physics. Fuller also started a course for dropouts in a localhigh school and began writing about education. This led him back later  to serve as president of Oberlin College, which he led through a series of educational reforms, many of which drew national attention.

After this, Fuller traveled extensively, coming to rest in California, where a third career took shape in the movement which came to be known during the Cold war as "citizen diplomacy." This involves indidviduals or small groups taking personal initiative in establishing relationships with people in other countries to bridge the gaps in understanding that often breed hostility. As Fuller says, "International diplomacy is too important to be left exclusively to professionals."

Fuller also served for many years as Board Chair of the nonprofit global corporation Internews, which promotes democracy and international understanding via free and independent media. In 1999 Internews helped launch Worldlink TV, the first international public affairs channel for Americans.

Fuller is a contributor in a range of disciplines to magazines including Harvard Magazine, the Utne Reader, Whole Earth Review, and the Peter Drucker Foundation's Leader to Leader. Robert Fuller has four children and lives in Berkeley, California with his wife, Claire Sheridan.


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Sex at the Margins

Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry

By Laura María Agustín

This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. "Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."—Lisa Adkins, University of London

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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama's political success and Oprah Winfrey's financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today... than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don't know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

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