Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association Annual Meeting
Hilton San Francisco
San Francisco, California
Nikki Khanna Sherwin, Assistant Professor of Sociology
University of Vermont
Cathryn Johnson, Professor of Sociology and Director of Graduate Studies
A growing body of work examining biracial identity points to the importance of social networks in shaping racial identity, yet few studies explore how social networks shape identity. Adding to previous work, we discover a key process mediating between social networks and racial identity – social comparisons (Festinger 1954). Drawing on interview data with 40 black-white biracial Americans, we find that they compare themselves to others on several dimensions to shape their racial identities, and that they invoke both “realistic” comparisons (comparisons with real others) and “constructive” comparisons (comparisons with imagined others). We argue that the types of comparisons they use (whether “realistic” or “constructive”) are largely influenced by the racial composition of their networks and have implications for their racial identities. We conclude with a discussion of the theoretical implications of these findings and offer two propositions regarding the relationships between social networks, social comparisons, and identity more generally.
Read the entire paper here.Tags: Cathryn Johnson, Nikki Khanna, Nikki Khanna Sherwin