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Social change in South Africa: A historical approach to relative deprivation



Dramatic social change involves profound transformations that impact an entire group moving forward. Such is the reality for race relations in South Africa. Research has found that most people report a trajectory of group-based relative deprivation that appears to parallel actual historical events. However, a significant subset of respondents reported a trajectory in which the perceived status of their group remained stable despite dramatic social change. The first goal of our research was to assess whether both the historically ‘assumed’ and ‘stable’ group trajectories arise consistently among South Africans (= 2,989). The second and more important goal was to identify the factors that might account for this dichotomy in perceived trajectory building on both traditional and recent advances in relative deprivation theory as well as on social identity theory. We hypothesized that higher levels of in-group identification would be associated with the historically assumed group trajectory. Results supported this hypothesis. The third goal was to link the different group trajectories with important psychological outcomes such as personal well-being, group self-esteem, and interracial attitudes.