International Society of Political Psychology

Conference Abstracts

Towards a rhetorical conception of social comparison: Working-class Protestants discuss economic dep

Samuel Pehrson, Queen's University Belfast

Conference: ISPP 2011
Affiliation: Queen's University Belfast
Research Area: Social inequality and social change

Social comparisons have long been at the heart of psychological theorising about self, identity and politics. In particular, relative deprivation and social identity theories both regard intergroup social comparisons as fundamental to the way we appraise our social position, and thus how we act collectively to change it (or not). However, social reality affords a practically infinite array of possible upward, downward, intragroup, intergroup and interpersonal social comparisons, across numerous forms of social categorisation and countless possible dimensions. The question of when and why certain social comparisons are made while others are not, if asked at all, is usually approached in cognitive and/or motivational terms, as if perceivers privately evaluate their social position before deciding how to act, collectively or otherwise. We rarely understand the drawing of particular comparisons between social categories, and the discounting or rejection of other possible comparisons, to be a collaborative process in itself. In this study, I consider the rhetorical aspects of making social comparisons by analysing Protestants’ talk about economic deprivation in Northern Ireland. I will illustrate how social comparisons are inherently both argumentative and ideological, and consider the implications for theories of social change that have typically relied on a cognitive-motivational conception of the comparison process.