The Power of Being Divisive
Understanding Negative Social Evaluations
Thomas J. Roulet


Contents and Abstracts
Introduction: A Framework to Understand Negative Social Evaluations
chapter abstract

This Introduction reviews the historical development of the broad social evaluation literature and more specifically of the growing body of work on negative social evaluations. It disentangles the various concepts in this literature, including legitimacy, reputation, status, image, and their negative counterparts, illegitimacy, adverse image, and bad reputation. It also examines the roots of the concepts of stigma and how the negative social evaluations literature built up on this theoretical pillar and expanded from there. An important point is also explained in this Introduction: How can actors have both a positive and a negative evaluation? The last part of the Introduction focuses on the structure of the book and presents a framework connecting the different arguments exposed in the other chapters.

1 Where It All Begins: Understanding the Antecedents of Negative Social Evaluations
chapter abstract

This chapter will examine the raison d'etre and antecedents of negative social evaluations. Why does stigma exist? What are the motivations and rationale for stigmatizing others and generating negative social evaluations? It will discuss both individual and societal rationales, and covers modern phenomena generating negative evaluations such as conspiracy theories. It also offers to differentiate between genuine and voluntary deviance as sources of negative evaluations. Finally, it explores scandals and the processes of publicization and diffusion of negative evaluations.

2 Resisting Hostility: Resilience to Negative Social Evaluations
chapter abstract

This second chapter will focus on those mechanisms through which individuals, groups, and organizations can build resilience to negative social evaluations. Parts of those mechanisms rely on identity and its link with self-perception. Consequently, the chapter will discuss how groups invent an enemy for themselves and how they construct positive group identity despite facing broad hostility. The chapter will then cover the phenomenon of cognitive dissonance as a way to build resilience, and the related concept of industry mindset. It finally explores how actors can manage negative evaluations through crisis management. The chapter concludes with a theoretical model summarizing resilience to negative evaluations.

3 Going Beyond Resilience and Capitalizing on Negative Social Evaluations
chapter abstract

This chapter explores the core argument of the book: negative social evaluations can be beneficial for their target. The chapter starts with individual-level benefits by looking at how frustrated entrepreneurs or academics overperform after having been poorly evaluated. It then examines the adage "there is no such thing as bad publicity" by examining the visibility advantage provided by negative evaluations and how actors use impression management to differentiate themselves. In particular, the example of divisive politicians is used to illustrate this argument. Finally, the chapter explores signaling and network mechanisms explaining the benefits of negative evaluations. The model offered in this chapter acknowledges the boundary conditions of the arguments offered in the book.

4 Practical Implications for Individuals, Organizations, and Society
chapter abstract

This chapter focuses on the practical implications of the framework developed in the book. It covers the ramifications for optimizing one's own performance feedback in organizations, or for leadership styles. For organizations, the model has implications for outward-facing strategies including those targeting potential and actual consumers through finely tuned social media strategies, but also inward approaches to communicate to employees in the wake of a controversy. Finally, this chapter discusses the dangerous societal implications of the power of being divisive.

chapter abstract

The Conclusion of the book summarizes the main arguments around the benefits of negative evaluations before it covers exciting prospects for the emerging literature on this topic. First, it explores the ethical consideration behind the framework and behind the manipulation of evaluations, more broadly. Then it covers the methodological advances that can help researchers approach and empirically capture negative evaluations. The burgeoning of evaluation—in particular because of the rise of platform business and digital evaluations—and its societal consequences is discussed in the following section. Finally, a number of future areas for research in the area of social evaluations are opened up.