A Research Companion
Edited by Olympia Kyriakidou and Mustafa F. Özbilgin
Chapter 10: Social Relational Contexts and Self-Organizing Inequality
10 Social relational contexts and self-organizing inequality Cecilia L. Ridgeway Introduction Everyday life is ﬁlled with social relational contexts in which people coordinate and shape their behavior in relation to others, be it in person, through the internet, on paper or with a cell phone. A great many of these contexts occur within organizations, although they occur almost everywhere else as well. In this chapter, I argue that the fundamental problem of these ubiquitous social relational contexts, which is to coordinate one’s behavior with another, is in fact a driving source of self-organizing inequality in everyday life. Self-organizing inequalities are bottom-up processes of contingent, mutually reinforcing events that result in systematic structures of inequality between actors and/or social groups. Social relational contexts act, I will argue, as a taken-for-granted micro-engine of inequality that is missed by purely macro approaches to social inequality that focus entirely on processes at the institutional or socio-economic level. Missing this micro engine, I argue, limits the ability of such macro approaches to explain how some forms of inequality, such as gender or racial inequality, sustain themselves over major transformations in the macro-level socio-economic processes that sustain them. The problem of coordinating behavior in social relational contexts gives rise to two processes that are key to the way such behavior leads to selforganizing inequality. First, as I shall describe, the problem of coordinating behavior fosters the development of what I call ‘social diﬀerence codes’ (Ridgeway, 2000b). Social diﬀerence codes are widely shared cultural beliefs...
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