Meeting with the Founder of the “Dignitarian” Movement

Last week I had the pleasure of having lunch with Robert Fuller, a physicist by training, former Oberlin College President, and founder of an emerging movement to affirm human dignity throughout society.  I recently featured Fuller’s “Breaking Ranks” website ( on this blog, but my conversation with him prompted me to ponder more extensively the possibilities for a “dignitarian” movement.

Because our lunch was not intended to lead to a public blog posting, I won’t go into the details of our very enjoyable discussion, but suffice it to say that I was able to imagine, with greater clarity and even optimism, a broader, more significant social movement in support of human dignity, one that crosses many social, political, economic, geographic, and ideological lines.

Fuller’s own experience led him to this place.  In his writings, he explains how as a college president, he was treated as a “somebody.”   But once he stepped down and no longer had the exalted title, people treated him differently, and he experienced life as a “nobody.”  This helped him to identify with others who may be marginalized in our society for any reason.  He began to see the common threads between many of these forms of mistreatment, and he coined the phrase “rankism” to capture these abuses of rank, authority, and power, whether grounded in institutional status, social and economic conditions, or “isms” such as racism and sexism.

Too many workplaces are rife with rankism, run and controlled by individuals, cliques, and core groups who find ways to exclude others and maintain power.  Fuller’s great success is his understanding that human dignity must be valued in all settings in which people conduct their lives, including the workplace.

Fuller has authored or co-authored three books on dignity and rankism, all of which are easy reads:

Robert W. Fuller, Somebodies and Nobodies: Overcoming the Abuse of Rank (2003 pb avail) — Fuller’s first book to introduce the terms “dignitarian” and “rankism.”

Robert W. Fuller, All Rise: Somebodies, Nobodies, and the Politics of Dignity (2006 hc only) — A more prescriptive examination of how to respond to rankism and how to create a more dignitarian society.

Robert W. Fuller and Pamela A. Gerloff, Dignity for All: How to Create a World Without Rankism (2008 pb avail) — A short, handbook-length work, distilling Fuller’s key ideas, bolstered by Gerloff’s perspectives as a change consultant.

2 responses

  1. Pingback: George Lakoff, Frameworks, and Dignity at Work « Minding the Workplace

  2. I appreciate that this article is available to look at, even though it is from several years ago. I did a search with the word ‘rankism’ and that is how I found it. I could not remember
    Robert Fuller’s name and thought it could be found here. Thank you.

    It no longer amazes me, but still saddens me when faced with yet another example of how much ‘titles’ mean in our workplaces. ‘Titles’ will protect ‘titles’ from other agencies when they have done wrong. Front-line people get nailed to the wall; people with titles are stepped around, ignored or their actions are ‘spun’ in such a way that nothing happens. It’s difficult, at times, to have any trust in ‘titles.’

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