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How nice to see Gordon Allport's work discussed. Allport's work was ground-breaking, but it was intended at showing how one group (e.g. Germans) would commit acts of terrible violence that other peoples would not do. Allport's work did not, of course, produce the intended result. His research showed that American subjects were capable of acting in profounding hostile ways toward other people, so the findings were not widely publicised.

However, Allport's work doesn't explain the major way prejudice works in most work situations, I think.

More recent social psych research and theory on prejudice has focused on actions that are not aggressive in tone. These are often the processes of obtaining advantages for and among the group that a person belongs to, not particularly or initially at the expense of another group. This often doesn't come down to a "people like us" vs. "people not like us", as much as just gaining advantages for the group you belong to.  

The differences between the advantages that one group has and  what other groups have isn't even on the radar for some of the people belonging to "people like us".  So, small things, that together accrue to the advantage of people that we see as like us, end up disadvantaging people who are not like us. That disadvantage can be real, and yet absolutely unrecognized.

A familiar example:  You go to lunch at work. Who are you most likely to invite to join you, Person A who is about the same age as you, of the same ethnicity and same gender? Or do you invite someone who is different on these characteristics? After work, you stop for a drink along with several co-workers. Are the people who go along mostly like you, or are they quite varied? Does this matter?

Well, yes, I'd say. The people that you have these casual relationships with, are those that you will know best if you have some benefit to pass out, some insider information to pass along, some favour to ask.  A network of relationships build, that leave out the people that are different. There is not an intention to deliberately overlook people who are different, but it happens, through the process. And you may be entirely unaware that this subtle kind of prejudice, in the form of simple comfort in the familiar, has led to more serious prejudice.

Over time, the persons in the other groups, those left out of the network of close relationships, may form their own groups in partial reaction to being repeated overlooked. They may develop animosity at being overlooked. And as time passes, suspicion can develop. Suspicion becomes resentment, misunderstanding, hostility, and so on.

If you add to this, overt prejudicial attitudes learned at home or from prior friendships, the process is faster, with worse results.

by Kspeak (thorfinn at skip this ameritech dot net as usual) on Fri Feb 9th, 2007 at 11:18:39 PM EST
Thanks for the comment. I completely agree that there are other ways in which prejudice can develop and manifest itself. Research has shown that there is an inbuilt mechanism by which we are automatically more comfortable with people like us and less comfortable with people not like us.  I think that is why ignorance and lack of experience/contact with others is such a large part of how prejudice develops and is expressed.

I was impressed with the use of Allport's work because it was such an effective tool for quite quickly getting people to see the damaging effects of what they mostly all considered to be entirely reasonable office banter.

We did also discuss prejudice and how prejudices and biases can form.  The trainer again referred to Allport's work in terms of the different stages at which you are influenced by a range of external inputs such as family, education and peers. I felt that this was part of it but by no means all.

It didn't explain how some people (such as myself) who grew up with family who held and frequently expressed strong prejudices such as racism and homophobia, somehow didn't absorb this. I've also never been strongly influenced by my peers but this could well be because I was always one of those on the outside of the group.

It also begged the question of those people who are entirely aware that they hold prejudices but think they are justified to do so because it is based on 'facts' such as all black males are thugs and gang members, all gay men are paedophiles and so on.  Maybe this comes back to ignorance again but there are plenty of people who have absolutely no intention of trying to remove the biases they hold and are happy to deliberately discriminate against others.  The BNP and other far right political parties are examples of this.

So, I find all of this extremely topical right now with the threat of the far right continuing to rise.  It's hard enough to tackle discrimination within a small office of less than 15 people, but expand this to entire countries and governments... It's a tough one to tackle.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sat Feb 10th, 2007 at 03:55:41 AM EST
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The weaknesses within any structured group of workers are rarely revealed, because the abilities of the members of a group to function as a real group are rarely challenged in extremis.

I've worked quite a lot with movie crews - up to about 30 people. And the dynamics are very interesting to observe. Firstly (we are talking film, not television), everyone is usually a freelancer and though many have worked together before, the group as a whole is unique. Secondly, external social life tends to disappear during the production due to location, timetables etc. So social behaviour focuses on the group. Thirdly, working conditions are often physically extreme - long hours, weather, physical effort, concentration etc.

The short term bonding that takes place is often very powerful. It is often based on compassion and humour. You have to rely on others so much not only to do their jobs, but also to help you do yours.

Perhaps one other motivation exists too - the fact that the group is working toward a concrete end. There is a vision, you can see that vision being realised further each day, and there is a satisfying sense of completion when shooting is completed.

Then another group (the post production team) takes over to bring that vision into a self-contained little reality. There is often little overlap between the two groups, but strangely, when the movie is completed and the two groups share the occasion, there is always the feeling of one big group.

Movie production is always hierarchical, but it is tempered by a massive horizontal organic structure. The future of organizations is in how to balance or fuse these two - the vertical and the horizontal.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sat Feb 10th, 2007 at 04:56:10 AM EST
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And of course the extreme case of self organisation and necessary combination of vertical and horizontal occurs when carrying out aggression ie the military.

A different form of shooting....

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Sat Feb 10th, 2007 at 05:57:15 AM EST
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Yes, I was going to make that comparison - but decided to keep it simple ;-)

There are always two main elements: the strategic and the tactical. In one sense these are different magnifications of the same thing. In military campaigns the mediating factor between the two is intelligence (Game Theory, broadly).

In business, intelligence should play the same role. But it doesn't. In military structures, the intelligence (or rather the raw data) is bottom up. In business organizations it is often top down, and that explains why business needs new types of organizations.

Iraq is a good example of the misguided application of corporate methods to the military. Where you have strategic vision uninformed by bottom up intelligence or, worse still, strategic vision that ignores such intelligence, then the tactics that aim to implement such visions are always going to fail.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sat Feb 10th, 2007 at 06:31:47 AM EST
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I should add, (though you, Chris, are very aware of this) that the cellular structure of 'terrorist' groups and the hierarchical structure of what they are fighting against is a classic SOS v linear dynamic. Herds v packs, or flocks v predators.

IMO 'terrorism' can never be defeated by linear methods. The War on Terrorism is doomed to failure. As long as the injustices and conditions that led to people adopting such extreme attitudes continue, terrorism will not be stopped.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sat Feb 10th, 2007 at 06:47:19 AM EST
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I think those are the conditions that are close to ideal in breaking down prejudicial beliefs. Having a common goal, and having to absolutely depend on collaboration with persons who would otherwise be avoided, can force people to confront their mistaken ideas about "different" people. True social acceptance doesn't automatically proceed from this, of course, but it is still an excellent first step.

I will not soon forget the post-doc in our lab who was astonished to find that it was not "well known" that Irish persons were of lesser intelligence. When he had to team up with two Irish lab staff he began to realise he might be wrong.

by Kspeak (thorfinn at skip this ameritech dot net as usual) on Sat Feb 10th, 2007 at 06:45:55 AM EST
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My understanding is these types of organization (temporary/goal directed) have a lateral-in-time consistency through the personnel while any particular legal/physical organization are only one-off's.  In a one-off organization, a film project, the focus-puller is very likely to have been a focus-puller for the DoP before so that's where the 'organization' exists.

 

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sat Feb 10th, 2007 at 11:22:16 AM EST
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It is true that the structure can be cellular, the DP group, the sound group, gaffers etc, in Hollywood. The European, and in particular the Finnish system, have adapted to low budgets - usually Film Foundation money and/or TV sourced finance. That leads to a different 'feel' on set - though my comparative experience with American practice is limited to some small projects, and the anecdotal evidence of colleagues.

There are no stars in Finland, no divas. Everyone eats together. I doubt if you could recognize the producer on set purely from the age or clothing. In fact, this morning, an actor who has a lead role in an upcoming TV series dropped round to see me because he was in the area. He had just been helping the key grip on that production move some bluescreen carpet to a studio nearby belonging to the State TV company, Yle. I think that illustrates the differences.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sat Feb 10th, 2007 at 03:49:05 PM EST
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A wonderful study by Ashutosh Varshney, speaks to this issue. The question was why some cities in India had terrible outbreaks of inter-ethnic violence, whereas very similar Indian cities, with equally divided ethnic populations, did not have such violence. The research team examined a multitude of expected predictors: Education, poverty, etc.

What emerged as a key difference were interethnic networks of civic engagement, e.g. professional organisations and informal social networks.  When these were organised across ethnic lines, there was a lack of violence. When they were organised within ethnic groups, violence was much more likely.

Of particular interest was the finding that it was the formal, professional organisations, rather than informal social networks, which were the more important factor. Varshney suggests that these formal organisations are more robust against the attempts of politicians and others who attempt to stir up ethnic conflicts. The very formality of professional associations helps insure that civil discourse and common goals are emphasised over narrow ethnic interests.

[This article is not directly available on the internet, but can be accessed through many university libraries: Varshney, A. (April, 2001). Ethnic conflict and civil society: India and beyond. World Politics, 53(3), 362-398.]

by Kspeak (thorfinn at skip this ameritech dot net as usual) on Sat Feb 10th, 2007 at 07:28:18 AM EST
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When these [professional organisations and informal social networks] were organised across ethnic lines, there was a lack of violence. When they were organised within ethnic groups, violence was much more likely.

This is a very good argument against communitarianism.


"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Sun Feb 11th, 2007 at 11:26:57 AM EST
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This is a very good argument against communitarianism.

And a good argument for multiculturalism/affirmative action/discrimination positive.

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Sun Feb 25th, 2007 at 06:39:57 PM EST
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