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Placing people into categories helps us do that. In other words, social categorization is important to the reproduction of inequality primarily through these additional processes. Status processes Status processes are those through which individuals, groups, or objects are ranked as superior or inferior according to a shared standard of social value Ridgeway and Nakagawa and through which those evaluations are expressed.

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Status processes reflect and create status beliefs, defined as shared cultural beliefs about the relative superiority or inferiority of different social categories. Status beliefs may arise from initial resource differences but they are reinforced and reproduced through social interaction Gusfield ; Ridgeway ; Sauder ; these differences have profound implications for the self.

Status processes are an appropriate elaboration of the SSP framework because they connect macro-social conditions to the daily lives of persons and because a full understanding of their relevance requires engagement with diverse social psychological traditions. High status actors set the agenda, talk more, and are more influential than low status actors; they thereby derive greater power in the interaction and reaffirm their superiority.

Beliefs about competence, commitment, and the like shape the distribution of material rewards in small experimental task-oriented groups but also in real-world settings, thereby influencing the distribution of consequential outcomes such as employment and wages e. The construction and expression of status are more general processes that have been studied extensively by symbolic interactionists Sauder Deference rituals are a common feature of interaction Anderson ; Goffman We often express relative status without even thinking about it; for example, we know that we are expected to use honorific forms of address to greet a superior.

Behaving in this way signals respect; not behaving in this way signals disrespect and places us at risk of a range of formal and informal sanctions Anderson ; Schwalbe and Shay Because most of us choose to avoid sanctions, we tend to present ourselves in ways that are consistent with our social value and to treat others accordingly, a conservative bias that reinforces status hierarchies. These self-evaluations impede efforts to move up in the status hierarchy by making people feel that their low social status is justified and by depriving them of essential personal skills of resistance Callero Through these processes, status beliefs connect social interactions to individual outcomes.

In addition to integrating across social psychological traditions, the concept of status offers a language that can be used to integrate distinct areas of sociological research on inequality. Employers judge mothers as less competent and committed than other female workers and, consequently, offer them lower wages Correll et al. Status processes are also relevant to socioeconomic health inequalities through their implications for quality of physician care Fiscella et al.

Lutfey and Freese find that physicians more often interpret the noncompliance of diabetes patients from lower socioeconomic groups to lower motivation, lower cognitive ability, and lower ability to maintain a more complex and also more effective diabetes regimen. In essence, physicians view those patients as less competent and less committed. Acknowledging the common origins of wages and health care in status processes directs researchers to important questions about how the processes differ depending on the actors, context, and outcome. Moreover, by incorporating status processes into the SSP framework, we develop a common heuristic for examining micro-macro relations that sociologists from different ilk can use without doing violence to their own theoretical and methodological proclivities.


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What components of the macrosociological context are those status beliefs linked to and supported by? How are they deployed, reproduced, and modified in social interactions? How do those beliefs shape the nature and content of interpersonal interactions in those contexts and vice-versa? Because identities are grounded in social structure they hold a central position in macro-micro analyses as one can see in the embracement of various identity concepts, if not the relevant social psychological research, by cultural sociologists, e.

The study of identity and identity processes also draws from many different social psychological traditions. Some lines of research, primarily based in surveys and experiments, take identities as the starting point and analyze how identities influence behavior and attitudes. In general, people seek consistency between their self-conceptions, their behaviors, and situated meanings. Experimental research in psychological social psychology shows that people seek out and recall feedback that is consistent with their self-conceptions; for example, people who are depressed prefer to interact with people who give them negative feedback Swann, Wenzlaff, and Tafarodi People also make behavioral choices— e.

For example, people who hold identities e. Role-based identities reproduce inequalities in at least two ways: because many social roles are associated with specific ages, races, classes, and genders Thoits and Virshup and through the construction of marked identities. With respect to the latter, Lively and Heise argue that individual attributes and social roles combine to create marked identities, such as female attorney or Black physician also see Averett and Heise Identities that are marked with a marginalized attribute — such as female or Black — are viewed as less potent than their unmarked counterparts and are experientially and behaviorally distinct.

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Ethnographic research shows that identity work can be used both to resist and reinforce privilege. For example, upper-level managers strive to cultivate an image as dedicated, trustworthy, and loyal, among other qualities; presenting themselves as having these characteristics expresses a valued identity and legitimates their claim to that identity Schwalbe and Shay Yet even when intended to challenge inequality, identity work can inadvertently confirm stereotypes and reinforce disadvantage.

For example, working class men may emphasize masculine traits such as aggression and emotional invulnerability to legitimate their claim to an identity as men Schwalbe and Mason-Schrock Exaggerated masculinity compensates for their exclusion from socially-valued ways of expressing masculinity, such as economic success, but also highlights how they are different from middle or upper class men. Categorical identities are also implicated in inequality through processes of boundary maintenance, i.

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Experimental social psychological research finds that, when people meet, they place each other almost instantly into a small number of categories Fiske and Taylor In- group preferences follow quickly from these distinctions Tajfel and Turner Group identities support the construction of competing interests and the intergroup conflict, opportunity hoarding, and exploitation that follow Bobo and Hutchings Identity processes connect distinct lines of research on inequality.

Research on class variation in health behaviors finds that socioeconomically disadvantaged college students viewed health promotion as a characteristic of the white, middle class and not as part of their in-group identity Oyserman et al ; as a consequence, they are less likely to engage in healthy behaviors. Identity processes also contribute to racial disparities in labor market success.

Some African American men who hold professional positions struggle to establish authority because other workers resist their attempts to claim professional identities Harvey , as do male and female African American professors on predominately white campuses Harlow Although distinct in substance, these lines of research show both how identities support inequality and suggest new questions about how different types of identities operate across contexts.

As with our discussion of status processes, the studies we cite come from different substantive areas in sociology, use different methodologies, and draw from different faces of social psychology. How are those identities used to reproduce and resist macro- imperatives? What components of the macrosociological context do they reflect, and how they buttressed by those components?

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How are they shaped by proximal environments? How do those expectations influence behavior and how do they become manifest in and evolve through social interaction? What identity conflicts arise and how are they reconciled? Justice processes The final set of generic processes we discuss are justice processes.

By these, we refer to processes through which people develop evaluations of whether inequalities are fair or unfair, and their emotional and behavioral responses to those evaluations. Justice scholars examine three types of injustice: distributional, procedural, and interactional. Respectively, these refer to the distribution of societal benefits and costs, the decision- making practices that produce the distribution, and the interpersonal treatment of persons within groups. They connect macro- to micro- by influencing personal well-being and by motivating personal and collective resistance.

As such, they are central considerations in the production and maintenance of inequality Hegtvedt and Isom ; Snow and Owens A key insight of social psychological research is that objective inequalities do not automatically produce perceptions of injustice. Perceptions of injustice are a function of the rules that apply to a given situation i.

These interpretations depend, in turn, on ideologies, social comparisons, and cognitive justifications. Justice research considers all of these contingencies, as well as the implications of injustice for individual and collective responses using a range of theoretical and methodological approaches. Survey research provides basic descriptive evidence about dominant justice principles and related societal ideologies. According to this research, people in western societies generally apply the principle of equity when evaluating distributive justice.

According to the principle of equity, a fair distribution is one in which rewards are proportionate to contributions. The evaluation of whether or not proportionality holds depends not only on objective circumstances but also on how those circumstances are explained with reference to accepted ideologies. Army, scholars have established that people judge their situations as unfair and judge themselves as unfairly disadvantaged if they believe that they have received fewer rewards than those in their comparison groups Stouffer et al.

For example, using the National Survey of Families and Households, Greenstein observed that the association of inequality in the household division of labor was not related to perceived inequity for women who held traditional gender role ideologies, presumably because they compared themselves to other women who were in similar circumstances. Yet social comparisons are neither simple nor automatic. Symbolic interactionist research on justice demonstrates that comparators, the meanings of contributions and rewards, and ideologies can be negotiated and reframed cognitively to bring them into accord.

Justice evaluations motivate emotional, cognitive, and behavioral responses that have consequences for people as individuals and within groups Hegtvedt and Isom Experimental research confirms that persons who perceive that they have been rewarded equitably report positive emotions and persons who are disadvantaged inequitably report negative emotions e.

Research on relative deprivation, specifically, reveals that feeling disadvantaged relative to similar others is associated with anger and hostility Singer Yet, perceptions of inequity can also be motivating. Research on social movements show that perceived injustices mobilize collective action and support organized forms of resistance Snow and Owens As Hunt notes, the questioning of ideologies that legitimate inequality by certain groups can support calls for change.

As with status and identity processes, our focus on justice processes connects disparate lines of sociological research on inequality. Studies of health disparities find that unfair treatment is strongly associated with poor health for a review, see Williams, Neighbors, and Jackson Interestingly, whites report rates of unfair treatment as high as or higher than those of racial and ethnic minorities Kessler, Mickelson, and Williams However, studies that ask whether the unfair treatment is attributable to race i. What ideologies influence the interpretation of objective circumstances?

What justice evaluations are likely to arise from those comparisons, and how do they unfold and develop in social interaction? How do those strategies shape their responses to inequality? In sum, as was true for status and identity, focusing on justice processes allows us to erase unproductive divisions and link existing lines of research to social psychological theories and concepts that suggest interesting research questions e. In mainstream sociological parlance, status, identity, and justice processes link macro, meso, and micro levels of analysis.

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This is true in a strict SSP sense—they come between macro structure and micro experiences. This is also true in the sense that each process can be represented and analyzed at each of those levels.


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For example, statuses and identities can be studied as sociohistorical phenomena, as interactive accomplishments, and as personal experiences; justice evaluations draw on ideologies, interactions, and personal cognitions. And this is true in that these processes are built into the practices of institutions. In this way, they connect structural and cultural systems, local contexts, and the lives of individual persons.

Second, they are often implicit. While inequality often arises and is reproduced through deliberate, conscious oppressive action, it is also supported by unconscious, implicit processes. The production and reproduction of inequality depend, in part, on processes that exist outside of conscious awareness. Third, they make meaning central. Meaning is not inherent in objects, persons, or situations; rather, meanings are constructed by social actors engaged in interaction Blumer , Strauss Because meanings are socially constructed, they are subject to change, as political and economic conditions change, and as groups and individuals negotiate for relative advantage.

follow site This implies that status, identities, and justice evaluations must be reaffirmed continually through the construction of difference and supporting ideologies. These differences are also signified and made meaningful in interaction. Importantly, inequality operates through self-meanings as well as the meanings ascribed by others.

Through processes of interaction-based meaning construction, identities and selves are constituted in ways that reproduce social structures Mackinnon and Heise Fourth, they allow for structure and agency, freedom and constraint. People actively participate in the creation and reproduction of inequality, but they do not do it under conditions of their own choosing. Structural conditions shape the values, attitudes, beliefs, self-conceptions, and feelings that form the basis for how people create, experience, and reproduce inequalities.

At the same time, social structures provide the tools—language, practices, and resources—that make effective social action possible. The study of status, identity, and justice draws our attention to how people make sense of their worlds and act efficaciously in the face of constraint. These characteristics are consistent with work in others areas of sociology that have grown since the time that House first wrote about social structure and personality research, such as cultural sociology, microsociology, and the sociology of emotions.

Scholars who work in these fields e. Despite clear affinities, most of these scholars do not identify themselves as SSP scholars, or even, in some cases, as social psychologists. While some might argue that affiliations and identities do not matter as long as the analytic goals of macro-micro analysis are fulfilled see, for example, Fine [] , we take seriously the basic social psychological insight that identities have important behavioral and attitudinal consequences.

This change also has symbolic importance.