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Keywords:

  • Social comparison;
  • social position;
  • family history;
  • subjective inequality;
  • social hierarchy;
  • social class;
  • social classification

Abstract

How do social comparisons over time shape perceptions of inequality? In thinking about subjective inequality, it is important to ask which social comparisons matter in establishing people's sense of relative social position and wider inequalities. These issues are discussed by drawing on a qualitative study of popular genealogy, which examines how people make sense of social position in the past, and explores how social change affects people's sense of social hierarchies. The gaze of family history promotes certain sorts of social comparisons, between ‘then and now’, and between immediate kin, which can flatten the sense of social hierarchies. However, the ability to determine social position also depends on the quality of information available, and how different practical engagements facilitate ‘sideways’ comparisons between contemporaries, affording different fields of vision on relative inequalities. On this evidence, when exploring subjective inequality it is necessary to examine when and how people engage in social comparison as part of everyday practical activities.