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Sunday, October 06, 2013

Multiple Identities and Tolerance

"All generalizations are dangerous, even this one." - Alexandre Dumas


Social Identity Complexity and Outgroup Tolerance

"As one step toward understanding the structure of multiple social identities, Roccas and Brewer (2002) introduced the concept of social identity complexity. The idea behind the complexity construct is that it is not only how many social groups an individual identifies with that matters but, more important, how those different identities are subjectively combined to determine the overall inclusiveness of the individual’s ingroup memberships. More specifically, Roccas and Brewer proposed that multiple social identities can be represented along a continuum of complexity and inclusiveness, reflecting the degree to which different identities are both differentiated and integrated in the individual’s cognitive representation of his or her group memberships. At the low end of the complexity dimension, the individual defines the ingroup as the intersection of all of his or her group identities, creating a single, highly exclusive identity category (e.g., female Republican college professors) whereby others who do not share all of the same memberships are effectively outgroup members. At the high end of the social identity complexity dimension, the individual recognizes that each of his or her group memberships incorporates a different set of people as ingroup members and the combined representation is the sum of all of these group identities—more inclusive than any one ingroup identity considered alone...

Roccas and Brewer (2002) also speculated that social identity complexity (as represented by perceived overlap among ingroup memberships) would be associated with tolerance for outgroups in general. Social identity complexity is based on chronic awareness of crosscategorization in one’s own social group memberships and those of others. A simple social identity is likely to be accompanied by the perception that any individual who is an outgroup member on one dimension is also an outgroup member on all others. In contrast, if an individual is aware that one of his ingroups only partly overlaps with any other of his ingroups, then we assume that he is also aware that some of his ingroup members have crossed group memberships: They are ingroup members on one dimension but are simultaneously outgroup members on others. Making salient that an outgroup member on one category dimension is an ingroup member on another decreases bias by comparison with instances where the latter information is not available (Gaertner, Dovidio, Anastasio, Bachman,&Rust, 1993).

There are a number of theoretical reasons why a complex representation of ingroup categorization should influence intergroup attitudes and behavior in ways that reduce bias and discrimination. First, cross-cutting distinctions make social categorization more complex and reduce the magnitude of ingroup-outgroup distinctions. According to social categorization theory (Deschamps& Doise, 1978; Vanbeselaere, 1991), processes of intracategory assimilation and intercategory contrast counteract each other when categories are cross-cutting. Thus, the effects of intercategory accentuation are reduced or eliminated and differences between groups are minimized (or no greater than perceived differences within groups). This undermines the cognitive basis of ingroup bias. Second, partially overlapping group memberships reduce the evaluative significance for the self of intergroup comparisons, thereby undermining the motivational base for intergroup discrimination (Vanbeselaere, 1991). Third, multiple group memberships reduce the importance of any one social identity for satisfying an individual’s need for belonging and selfdefinition (Brewer, 1991), again reducing the motivational base for ingroup bias.

Finally, principles of cognitive balance (Heider, 1958; Newcomb, 1963) are also brought into play when ingroups and outgroups have overlapping membership. When another person is an ingroup member on one category dimension but belongs to an outgroup in another categorization, cognitive inconsistency is introduced if that individual is evaluated positively as an ingroup member but is also associated with others who are evaluated negatively as outgroup members...

Overall, the findings from the present study provide considerable support for our thesis that a cross-cutting category structure and multiple social identities with awareness of ingroup diversity provide an effective formula for reducing intergroup prejudice...

Exclusive definitions of the ingroup would be promoted when individuals have a high need for certainty or cognitive simplification. If multiple, overlapping ingroupoutgroup distinctions increase uncertainty about whether to classify others as ingroup members, a simplifying strategy that limits ingroup membership to those who clearly meet all criteria for shared identity reduces that uncertainty... when individuals, or social systems, are threatened by psychological, economic, or political loss, social identities will be defined more exclusively (less complexly) than under low threat conditions"

In other words, identity politics and the obsession of third-wave feminism with segmenting people into ever-smaller (and mutually exclusive) interest groups (under the guise of "kyriarchy") leads to intolerance.

Strong (and exclusive) identities also lead to intolerance.
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