In this article we have presented a theoretical outline and a body of empirical work relating to the processes of social differentiation and social originality.
If, in a competition, someone else seems to possess a decisive advantage or if mere comparison with this other person constitutes a threat to social identity, there are signs, in given conditions, of a tendency to differentiate oneself from the other, to be different or to do something else, to invent new criteria of being or doing with others or to combine accepted criteria in an original way. In other words, one tends to give proof of originality or, to use a Darwinian metaphor, to occupy ‘vacant places’. Doubtless the strategies described here only apply to certain social systems in which the visibility of the agent is an important social value and in which comparison may pose a threat to that identity. The restoring of identity by way of the search for otherness merits the attention of social psychology.
But originality is not necessarily accepted or not necessarily immediately. Innovation may take time, may necessitate the creation of schismatic groups and the waging of battles for recognition, etc.
We give a brief account of observations made with regard to groups of children in summer camps, laboratory experiments and the results of surveys in the scientific and artistic communities which fit into our theoretical framework. It will not be difficult for the reader to see that this article is a first step in a direction which, in our eyes, holds out a great deal of promise.