deference

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deference

  1. an attitude assumed to be based on the belief that there is a natural order of inferiority and superiority in which the inferior recognize the right of the superior to rule.
  2. the outcome of a power relationship requiring a submissive response from a subordinated actor or group.
Most early work carried out within the framework of definition i was inspired by POLITICAL SCIENCE studies in the tradition of Bagehot (a 19th-century social commentator who, in The English Constitution, ascribed the relative stability of British society to its essentially deferential and, hence, élitist character). A number of voting and attitude studies used the notion of deference, in explanations of working-class VOTING BEHAVIOUR in the 1950s when manual workers’ votes had clearly served to maintain Conservative governments in power. These studies were criticized on both operational and theoretical grounds. Operationally the studies employed crude indicators of ‘deference’ (e.g. McKenzie and Silver, 1968, labelled as ‘deferential’ all respondents who indicated a preference in general terms for a public-school-educated rather than a grammar-school-educated candidate for political office). Theoretically, the studies failed to explore with any precision the social structural and ‘relational’ dimensions of deference.

These dimensions are uppermost in sense 2 of deference, e.g. as formulated by H. Newby (1977). Drawing on a variety of earlier anthropological and historical studies, which indicated that deference did not always involve ‘feelings of inferiority’ but arose simply from a relationship of subordination and POWER, Newby was able to demonstrate the existence of deference in this sense in his study of agricultural workers. Thus for Newby deference is a ‘form of social interaction which occurs in situations involving the exercise of traditional authority.’ Deference, then, is better seen as conformity to a set of social expectations, to a ROLE, within a power structure, than merely as an attitude (see also G. Lenski, 1966). See also CLASS IMAGERY.