Skip navigation
Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item:
Title: The Politics of Envy and Esteem in Two Democracies
Authors: McClendon, Gwyneth H.
Advisors: Lieberman, Evan S
Contributors: Politics Department
Keywords: envy
political behavior
South Africa
United States
Subjects: Political Science
Issue Date: 2012
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Implicitly or explicitly, research on democratic politics often assumes that citizens seek primarily to maximize their material wealth or power. By contrast, drawing on insights from social psychology and behavioral economics, this dissertation argues that individuals also care deeply about their relative positions within groups, particularly vis-a-vis neighbors and co-ethnics. High within-group status is pleasurable in itself, and under certain circumstance citizens pursue it at the expense of their material interests. The innovation of the dissertation is to highlight the importance of within-group status concerns (envy, spite, the desire for esteem) for understanding real-world political behavior. The core of the dissertation uses within-group status concerns to address three important puzzles. First, I ask why democracies sometimes fail to meet the needs of their citizens. Specifically, I look at instances of Pareto-improving policies that, despite promising to make no one materially worse off, often go unimplemented. I show that citizens' concerns for within-group status give rise to public opposition to such policies when, though Pareto-improving, the policies make some citizens better off than others. Second, I consider puzzles about preferences over government redistribution. Why, despite conventional wisdom, do citizens sometimes vote for redistribution schemes that would make them materially worse off? I show that citizens do so when policies promise them status benefits instead. Finally, I explore the classic collective action dilemma. When and why do ordinary citizens choose to participate in protests and other forms of political collective action given that they could reap the benefits and bear none of the costs if they abstain? I show that the promise of higher within-group status can act as a powerful selective incentive for citizens to participate. In testing these arguments, I employ methods ranging from interviews and archival document review to large-n statistical analyses to field experiments. I concentrate the empirical analyses in two democracies: South Africa and the United States. I do so because these two countries provide tough places for the theory to hold while also demonstrating that the theory can hold in different contexts. The final chapter considers the scope of the findings and offers suggestions for extensions.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Politics

Files in This Item:
This content is embargoed until 2016-11-15. For more information contact the Mudd Manuscript Library.

Items in Dataspace are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved, unless otherwise indicated.