Robert Fuller

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Robert W. Fuller, adversary of Rankism.


Excerpted from the introduction to the interview.


"Robert W. Fuller, Ph.D. argues in his newly published book, All Rise (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.), that simple dignity is an elusive need that cuts across demographics of race, gender, age, and class. Fuller attributes this void to a culture of “rankism" which he defines as “abuses of power associated with rank." In his writings Fuller advocates for a grassroots effort to establish a “dignitarian society."

Essentially, Fuller is labeling an ongoing human experience. He notes that we’ve all been victimized by the institutional structures of rankism in our lives as well as being abusers ourselves. This is true in our jobs as well as personal or family relationships.

For society at large there are broader implications because rankism breeds incompetence. Fuller cites deadly examples such as the Challenger space shuttle flight in 1986 and the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe as resulting from the direct result of a culture of rankism. Talented individuals were in each instance discouraged from criticizing the hierarchies they served. One can certainly identify rankism as a component of the culture of crony capitalism inside the Republican Party and the corporate world.

Fuller first wrote about the concept of rankism in his 2003 book, Somebodies and Nobodies: Overcoming the Abuse of Rank (New Society Publishers). The inspiration for Fuller’s book was his own life in which he experienced being both a “somebody" and a “nobody."

Fuller earned his Ph.D. in physics at Princeton University and taught at Columbia where he co-authored the renowned text Mathematics of Classical and Quantum Physics. During the social tumult of the 1960s, Fuller became interested in educational reform and at the age of 33 he was appointed president of Oberlin College, his Alma Mater.

In 1971 Fuller served as a consultant to Indira Gandhi and witnessed the famine resulting from India’s war with Pakistan over the fate of Bangladesh. When President Carter was elected, he initiated a campaign to persuade the president to end world hunger. Fuller’s meeting with President Carter in 1977 helped facilitate the establishment of the Presidential Commission on World Hunger.

During the 1980s Fuller often traveled to the Soviet Union working as a “citizen-scientist" to reduce cold war tensions. His work combined with other like-minded professionals led to the creation of the nonprofit global corporation venture Internews, which promotes democracy through free and independent media. He served as the Chairman of Internews for several years.

Fuller has certainly led an impressive and compelling life. Yet when the Soviet Union collapsed, Fuller found himself adrift and marginalized. As Fuller reflected upon his own life experience, he had an epiphany about how our society is ordered. It would be only human to ponder how he went from persuading an American President to questioning his own relevance. Fuller’s journey appears to have engendered both a personal commitment to empathy and the ambition to quantify the most subjective human perspective of all – dignity. He graciously agreed to respond to questions about his new book as well as his opinions regarding current events." (

More Information

Interview with Robert Fuller on Dignitarianism

Fuller's blog on rankism is at