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Fabien Accominotti
How the Reification of Merit Breeds Inequality: Theory and Experimental Evidence

 

 
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In a variety of social contexts, measuring merit or performance is a crucial step toward enforcing meritocratic ideals. At the same time, workable measures are bound to obfuscate the fuzziness and ambiguity of merit, i.e., to reify performance into an artificially crisp and clear-cut thing, for example a rating. The talk explores how the reification of employee performance in organizations contributes to inequality in employee compensation. It reports the findings of a large-scale experiment asking participants to divide a year-end bonus between a set of employees, based on their annual performance reviews. In the experiment’s non-reified condition, reviews are narrative evaluations. In the reified condition, the same narrative evaluations are accompanied by a crisp rating of the employees’ performance. Accominotti shows that participants are willing to reward employees more unequally when performance is reified, even though their levels of performance do not vary across the two conditions. Further analyses suggest that reification acts by making participants more accepting of the idea that individuals are indeed more or less talented and valuable, thereby increasing their willingness to reward them unequally. This has direct implications for understanding the legitimacy of inequality in contemporary societies – and ultimately for working toward curbing this inequality.
 
Fabien Accominotti is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics. His work explores the construction of hierarchies of worth and how they sustain social and economic inequality.

 

 
Selected Publications
  • Accominotti, Fabien. 2018. "Consecration as a Population-Level Phenomenon." American Behavioral Scientist, published online September 20, 2018, doi: 10.1177/0002764218800144.
  • Accominotti, Fabien, Shamus Khan, and Adam Storer. 2018. "How Cultural Capital Emerged in Gilded Age America: Musical Purification and Cross-Class Inclusion at the New York Philharmonic." American Journal of Sociology 123: 1743-1783.
  • Accominotti, Fabien. 2009. "Creativity from Interaction: Artistic Movements and the Creativity Careers of Modern Painters." Poetics 37: 267-294.

 
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