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Social Categorization, Entitlement and Justice in Organizations: Contextual Determinants and Cognitive Underpinnings, Human Relations


This paper builds on previous behavioral science research and theorizing as well as on classicalphilosophical examinations of entitlement andjustice, andproposes a newframeworkfor understanding these issues in the context of work organizations. This paperfocuses on how individuals in organizations develop perceptions of what they are entitled to receive in exchange for their membership and contributions. It proposes that there are two fundamental conditions that must be simultaneously satisfied for an individual to perceive his or her overall relationship to an organization as just: (1) that the individualperceive that he or she is being treated equally vis-a-vis others in the group category (e.g., seniorfaculty, juniorfaculty, student, or clerical) to which the individual belongs in the organization (referent similar) and (2) that the person perceive that he or she is being treated in accordance with legitimate criteria (such as seniority, education, and performance record) vis-a-vis those in groups to which the person does not belong (referent dissimilars). The paper examines how contextualfactors (such as the organization's structure and its size) influence the social comparisons and contrasts leading to perceptions of entitlement. A three step model depicting the cognitive process underlying the development ofperceptions of entitlement and justice is proposed. The paper also puts forth a number of testable hypotheses and explores the implications of this framework for understanding distributional conflicts in organizations.




Ivan Lansberg

Date Published



Lansberg, Ivan. 1989. Social Categorization, Entitlement and Justice in Organizations: Contextual Determinants and Cognitive Underpinnings. Human Relations. 42(X)


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