The Idea of Social Structure: Papers in Honor of Robert K. Merton

By Lewis A. Coser | Go to book overview

Relative Deprivation

ROBIN M. WILLIAMS, JR.

Nature has made men so equal in the faculties of the body and mind as that, though there be found one man sometimes manifestly stronger in body or of quicker mind than another, yet, when all is reckoned together, the difference between man and man is not so considerable as that one man can thereupon claim to himself any benefit to which another may not pretend as well as he.... From thisequality of ability arises equality of hope in the attaining of our ends. And therefore if any two men desire the same thing, which nevertheless they cannot both enjoy, they become enemies; and in the way to their end, which is principally their own conservation, and sometimes their delectation only, endeavor to destroy or subdue one another.1


1 INTRODUCTION

T HE basic concept of relative deprivation is deceptively simple: persons may feel that they are deprived of some desired state or thing, in comparison with some standard, or with the real or imagined condition of other people. The implications of this innocent-appearing statement are far from simple.

Many diverse examples demonstrate the reality of social comparisons, of evaluative judgments derived from such comparisons, and of both individual and collective responses to evaluated differences. Thus, the analyses in The American Soldier2 showed that promotions in the air corps were rapid and widespread; in the military police, slow and scarce. But men in the air corps more often expressed dissatisfaction concerning promotions. In a second striking case, it was noted that racial discrimination was far more overt and pervasive in civilian life in the South than in the North, and Northern black soldiers stationed in the South were especially likely to express dissatisfaction

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