Badge of Legitimacy

Diploma scanned by Lawrence G. Miller (via Wikipedia)

In the academic study of sociology we often hear the phrase “badge of legitimacy.” It also crops up in news analysis, general education and marketing.

In sociology a badge of legitimacy usually refers to credentials (such as medical, academic or legal degrees) that connote some kind of socially legitimate expertise. As such, a badge of legitimacy conveys social power, privilege or status upon individuals who possesses one. The term can also apply to some official social body or organization (such as the UK’s FSA).

Sociologists sometimes use the term dryly, and maybe with a touch of cynicism, as if to imply that the particular “badge” they are referring to is somewhat questionable or in need of critical  examination.

Critics of sociology could argue that this cynical use of the phrase badge of legitimacy is hypocritical. After all, some sociologists portray themselves as societal gurus who “decode” or “deconstruct” culture, all the while fully benefiting from their own academic badges of legitimacy in the form of salaries, pensions, insurance benefits and a respected social standing.

Modern Type & Sociology Books
Modern Type & Sociology Books (Photo credit: liikennevalo)

To this charge, the sociologist would likely reply that they apply whatever academic power they have to “unpack” or “rethink” aspects of culture desperately in need of reassessment—such as racism, sexism, ageism and scientism.

So, in a positive light, one could say that the sociologist tries to raise awareness and, by implication, improve social conditions. However, the same kind of defense could be made by any group in possession of a badge of legitimacy. That is, they use their power and authority to provide some kind of vital service to society.


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