Social comparisons and social order: issues relating to a possible re-study of ‘W.G. Runciman’s relative deprivation and social justice’

Publication type

ISER Working Paper Series

Series Number



ISER Working Paper Series


Publication date

September 27, 2006


This paper discusses some of the issues relating to a possible re-study based on W G Runciman's seminal book Relative Deprivation and Social Justice first published in 1966. Runciman asked 'How does social order persist in the face of widespread social inequalities?' This is a question that has been at the heart of sociology from its beginnings. Moreover, it is the issue that gives the study of social stratification its central position within the discipline, given that stratification is concerned with the analysis of the unequal distribution of power in society and its potential for social conflict. On the basis of both historical and survey research, Runciman concluded that, in terms of levels of income satisfaction, individuals use only a narrow range of social comparisons. That is, they tend to compare themselves with others in similar situations. Because of this, they do not appreciate the full extent of the income range or of inequality more generally. Hence, income inequality is tolerated (and by extension so are other forms of inequality) and so does not become a source of social conflict or schism. The question is whether people still tend to make narrow social comparisons forty years on from Runciman's study and therefore whether this continues to be of importance in terms of social order.



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