This is really interesting and helpful, thank you.
My original introduction to status was in Impro, which describes it in the context of an improv scene. This means (as I recall) that it mostly focuses on things that are directly observable in body language, like eye contact and taking up space.
Since you suggest we think of most of those things as being about “size” rather than “status”, I’m curious whether you think there are body language indicators of high/low status, or whether that’s inherently contextual and based on actual power.
(One hypothesis: signs of nervousness like talking too quickly or fidgeting might be markers of low status?)
Yes, I do think there are body-language indicators that are more about status than size, though I definitely agree with alkjash below that the two things are entangled. I agree that Keith Johnstone in Impro is often talking about size, though I think he’s conflating it with status, so often talks about both in one breath.
At a first pass, I think the clearest body-language-related thing that’s about status rather than size is basically just how comfortable you seem, vs. intimidated/discomfited. So I agree with your suggestions—talking too quickly and fidgeting both seem like they signal discomfort.
Some examples where I think Impro gets this right, from skimming through my copy quickly:
In contrast to one teacher who was strict and terrifying, and one teacher who was weak and ridiculed, Johnstone talks about a teacher of his who was “upright, but relaxed”—I like that as a description of high/small. (he then goes on to describe him as “a status expert, raising and lowering his status with great skill”, which I think should be “a size expert, making himself bigger and smaller with great skill.”)
Johnstone describes a game he plays with his students where, without telling them, he starts inserting “er” (British for “um”) at the start of all his sentences, and asks them if they notice any change. I think this is an example of something that makes you come across as less comfortable with the situation and therefore lower status. (Though there are lots of ways to say “um”, so this probably isn’t true as a blanket statement.)
Facial expression and apparent relaxed-ness are probably the most concrete I can get at a first pass. Does that help / thoughts?
I’ve been thinking about this since I posted it, and I came to similar conclusions. There are a cluster of behaviors that seem to mean discomfort and therefore low status: fidgeting, jumpiness, talking too fast, certain eye contact patterns (staring at the person and then looking away fast when they turn to look at you), ums and ers.
Some of them feel hard to disentangle. Whether you hold your head high seems mostly about status, but also a little about size. This seems like it might be inherent in the territory: There’s a fine line between credibly signaling that you’re powerful and implicitly threatening to use that power. (Schelling’s The Strategy of Conflict comes to mind here.)