The Importance of Context for Assessing Deservingness
Deborah A. Prentice· Yale University Faye Crosby · Smith College
A critical issue for theories of social justice and of relative deprivation concerns the ways in which people calculate what they deserve (and hence whether their outcomes are just, or justified) as opposed to what they want. This issue has central importance in the contributions by Deutsch, by Folger, and by Reis, to this volume. Although by now it has become widely recognized that there are situational variations in the nature of the justice or deservingness rules that people use, demonstrations of the relevant situational variables are rare even in the laboratory, and virtually nonexistent outside of it. In this chapter Prentice and Crosby present interview data from a field study that suggests that very different principles may be used by the same individual to calculate deservingness at the workplace and at home. Perhaps more surprising, and significant, is the suggestion that the concept of deservingness not only varies in character between different social contexts, but may also vary in its accessibility across settings. The sample of corporate managers collected by Prentice and Crosby showed pervasive use of equity principles in the workplace, but seemed to have difficulty articulating any principle of deservingness in the home context. To the extent that any principle was articulated in the home setting, it tended to be need rather than equity. Prentice and Crosby argue persuasively that the infrequent expression of deservingness principles in the home context is not a methodological fluke, but a reflection of an important reality.
In their discussion of conditions that could encourage or discourage the use of deservingness principles in various contexts, the authors