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relative deprivationthe feelings felt and the judgements reached when an individual or members of a group compare themselves – and especially their social situation -adversely with some other individual within their group or with another group, e.g. the less well-off members of an occupational group with the more well-off. The notion is that it is not absolute standards which are important in making such judgements but the relative standards, or frame of reference, in terms of which people make judgements.
As indicated by Stouffer et al. (1949), relative deprivation, somewhat paradoxically is more often felt when people compare their lot adversely with actual or imaginary others in situations with some similarity but not identical to their own, rather than those who occupy markedly different positions. Feelings of relative deprivation may be strongest in relation to others seen to be in a potentially competitive situation. As suggested by MERTON (1949), the bench mark group or groups with which comparisons are made constitute the REFERENCE GROUP(s) of the individuals or groups experiencing feelings and making judgements of relative deprivation. Thus, Runciman, in Relative Deprivation and Social Justice (1966), was able to demonstrate that political opinions and the meanings attached to class membership – (see SUBJECTIVE AND OBJECTIVE CLASS) were a function of reference groups and the associated feelings, possibly of relative deprivation. The pronounced attitudinal changes that can be brought about by change in the relative positions of social groups have been shown to be a potent source of political upheaval and revolutionary change (see Urry, 1973).