The Ups and Downs of Hierarchy: The causes and consequences of hierarchy struggles and positional loss Defended on Thursday, 2 June 2016

A long-standing assumption among scholars is that social hierarchies, the rank ordering of team members on a valued social dimension, are stable over time. However, hierarchies change and the more changeable they are, the more likely they are to lead to conflicts and have other negative consequences. In this dissertation, I focus on the dynamics of social hierarchies examining both the ups and the downs of hierarchy.

To examine why team members climb the hierarchy, I conducted qualitative research to understand what drives people to engage in hierarchy struggles, or competitions for more influence within their teams. My research suggest that three hierarchy struggle types exist: power, status, and leadership struggles. Power struggles are about increasing control over valued resources, while status struggles are about increasing one’s respect and admiration in the eyes of others. Leadership struggles are about increasing one’s influence to better advance collective goals. I then develop scales to measure these constructs. Following-up on this, I leverage these studies to build a conceptual model focused on how, why, and when team members engage in hierarchy struggles and how other team members likely respond to these.

To examine the downs of hierarchy, I focus on the differential nature of losing power versus losing status. I argue and demonstrate that losing status is more painful than losing power. Together, the studies presented in this dissertation offer an in-depth exploration of the changeable nature of hierarchy and suggest that the dynamic nature of social hierarchies significantly impacts within-team dynamics.


Power, status, leadership, team, organizational politics, motivation, conflict, competition, affect, group

Preferred reference

Schouten, M.E. (2016, June 2). The Ups and Downs of Hierarchy: the causes and consequences of hierarchy struggles and positional loss (No. EPS-2016- 386 - ORG). ERIM Ph.D. Series Research in Management. Erasmus University Rotterdam. Retrieved from

  • Share on