Sociology Index


Meritocracy is rule by those chosen on the principle of merit. The principle of merit is consistent with liberal theory and assumes equality of opportunity and occupational advancement based on achievement rather than ascription.

Emile Durkheim's notion of the ‘spontaneous division of labour’ and the argument of Kingsley Davis and Wilbert Moore (1945) on the function of inequality both depend on the belief that in a liberal society meritocracy will prevail.

In meritocracy, people will be rewarded on the basis of talent or merit and that the more talented and thus meritorious will come to occupy the more important positions in society.

Putting Meritocracy in its Place: The Logic of Performance in the United States, Brazil and Japan - Livia Martins Pinheiro Neves, Universidad Federal Fluminense, Brazil 
Critique of Anthropology, Vol. 20, No. 4, 333-358 (2000) 2000 SAGE Publications
The aim of this article is to explore two of the basic attributes of modernity - equality and meritocracy - in a cross-cultural perspective. Based on empirical research in the USA, Brazil and Japan this article explores the cultural content of those categories and their links with the different ways these societies build their notion of the individual - as proposed by Dumont (1992).

New racism, meritocracy and individualism: constraining affirmative action in education 
Martha Augoustinos, University of Adelaide, Keith Tuffin, Massey University, Danielle Every, University of Adelaide, Discourse & Society, Vol. 16, No. 3, (2005) 2005 SAGE Publications
This article presents a discursive analysis of student talk on disadvantage and affirmative action from two focus group discussions on ‘race’ relations in Australia. This argument was also associated with a closely related one that ‘everyone should be treated equally or the same’, regardless of social background. Although our analysis emphasizes the deployment of discursive resources that function primarily to uphold the ideals of meritocracy, individualism and equality, participants did produce talk that on occasion challenged the ideology of individual achievement and acknowledged the existence of Aboriginal disadvantage.

Post-industrial Solidarity or Meritocracy? 
John Andersen, Department of Social Sciences, Roskilde University, Denmark 
Acta Sociologica, Vol. 42, No. 4, 375-385 (1999) 1999 Scandinavian Sociological Association
The article deals with present forms of social and system integration and discusses what institutional reforms and new formations of actors and coalitions could counteract social exclusion in a way that takes post-industrial conditions into account. The term 'social exclusion' is primarily used in the European discourse, while the concept of an 'underclass' is normally used in the Anglo-Saxon discourse. These two discourses take very different approaches to what can be seen as the forces undermining societal harmony and social coherence.

The Effects of Meritocracy Beliefs on Women's Well-Being After First-Time Gender Discrimination - Mindi D. Foster, E. Micha Tsarfati, Wilfrid Laurier University - Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Vol. 31, No. 12, 1730-1738 (2005)
This study examined how meritocracy beliefs may buffer women from the negative psychological effects of an acute situation of gender discrimination. Although some research indirectly suggests that believing that meritocracy exists may increase wellbeing, group consciousness theories suggest that disbelieving that meritocracy exists will enhance psychological adjustment to gender discrimination. Women who reported little past experience with discrimination, and either believed or disbelieved that meritocracy exists, were exposed to either a laboratory situation of discrimination or a nondiscrimination failure (control) condition. Consistent with group consciousness theories, women experiencing discrimination reported greater well-being if they disbelieved that meritocracy exists than if they were believers. In contrast, women in the control condition reported greater wellbeing if they believed that meritocracy exists than if they were disbelievers.

Is Northern Ireland an Educational Meritocracy? 
Richard Breen, Nuffield College, Sociology, Vol. 37, No.4, (2003) 2003 BSA Publications Ltd.
In all developed societies the class position that individuals come to occupy depends,inter alia, on their class origins, gender and ethnic group membership. It might be argued that these inequalities had ‘meritocratic legitimation’ if it transpired that they were largely the result of the differential distribution of merit across sexes, classes or ethnic groups. In this paper I address the question of how far Northern Ireland can be considered to be an educational meritocracy. In seeking to explain the results of the analyses I draw on recent work that discusses and illustrates some of the difficulties with the concept of ‘merit’ and with the attempt to equate meritocracy with a diminishing role for ascription.

Responding to Discrimination as a Function of Meritocracy Beliefs and Personal Experiences: Testing the Model of Shattered Assumptions - Mindi D. Foster, Wilfrid Laurier University 
Lisa Sloto, Richard Ruby, West Chester University - Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, Vol. 9, No. 3, (2006)
Disadvantaged group (both gender and ethnicity) members' responses to discrimination (self-esteem, collective action, intergroup anxiety) were predicted from their meritocracy beliefs and personal experiences of discrimination. Regression analyses showed a significant interaction between meritocracy beliefs and personal discrimination such that among those who reported personal discrimination, stronger beliefs that the meritocracy exists predicted decreased self-esteem and collective action as well as increased intergroup anxiety. Among those who reported little personal discrimination, stronger beliefs that the meritocracy exists predicted increased self-esteem. Implications for promoting a critical view of the social system is discussed.