Social evaluation—the way that people learn about themselves by comparing themselves with others—is a prosaic, age-old process. Periodic efforts have been made to integrate theories and empirical studies of reference groups, social comparison, equity and justice, and relative deprivation (e.g. Pettigrew 1967). Despite these efforts, research has remained fragmented and continues to be dominated by psychologists. Network imagery, models, and findings run through this literature as far back as the last century and play a central role in contemporary applications of social evaluation to research on social support, class consciousness, and the diffusion of innovations. I argue that the network approach will help to resolve fundamental, unanswered questions about social evaluation first raised in 1950 by Merton and Rossi—specifically, the of comparative frameworks and the relation between individual and categorical or group reference points. Such an approach provides an integrative focus for sociological research in this area.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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