The Stakes of Symbolic Boundaries

Penny A Edgell, Evan Stewart, Sarah Catherine Billups, Ryan Larson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Sociological theories of symbolic boundaries (understandings of who belongs to in-groups and out-groups) and social boundaries (material stratification) argue both are related, but empirical analyses often focus on one or the other. Using survey data from 2014, we replicate and validate earlier research describing patterns in how Americans draw symbolic boundaries against a range of minority groups. We then go beyond this work by demonstrating a new link between boundary-drawing and attitudes about inequality and civil liberties with material implications. Drawing symbolic boundaries is not a benign practice; rather, it is associated with willingness to draw social boundaries that support material and political inequality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)309-333
Number of pages25
JournalSociological Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Edelstein Family Foundation; National Science Foundation [1258926,1258933].

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, © 2019 Midwest Sociological Society.


  • Public opinion
  • culture
  • symbolic boundaries


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