Billig has evaluated Tajfel and Turner’s theorising of intergroup conflict as limited because of the emphasis placed on cognitive processes. Discuss Billig’s evaluation and assess his arguments for a discursive psychological approach. In order to discuss Billig’s evaluation of Tajfels and Turners theory of intergroup conflict we shall firstly consider what is understood about the social identity theory. This will lead to the work conducted by Tajfel and Turner on intergroup conflict concentrating and the main variables of this research.
We shall then consider Billig’s evaluation of Tajfels and Turners theory discussing why he feels this approach is limited because of the emphasis placed on the cognitive process. Assessment of his evaluation will be discussed for the use of a discursive psychological approach. Social Identity Theory defines group cognitively- in terms of peoples self conception as group members. A group exists psychologically if three or more people construe and evaluate themselves in terms of shared attributes that distinguishes them from others (Hogg cited in Burk 2006).
In the social identity theory the individual has several identities that correspond to different categories of group membership. Depending on these group structures determines the way an individual will act and feel. Social identity is the individuals self concept derived from the perceived membership of social groups (Hogg and Vaughn 2000). The group is viewed as influencing the individual and this can often distort the individuals thinking and result in the production of conflict (Brown 2007). The work of Henri Tajfel concentrated more on the study of intergroup relations.
It was Tajfels personal experience as a survivor of the Holocaust that fuelled his passion to understand prejudice, discrimination and intergroup conflict. Tajfel believed that the personality approach was inadequate in explaining prejudice and he used a social psychological approach. This approach was concerned with the relationship between large groups and the social judgements they make in society. His early work concentrated on social perceptions where his research focused on the phenomenon of judgement and categorisation (Brown 2007).
This was evident from the research conducted by Tajfel and colleagues in 1973 the participants show how even when there is no objective basis to the existence of the group or any reason or point to them that they still show favouritism to what they class as the ingroup. During the minimal group paradigm (MPG) experiments conducted by Tajfel and his colleagues in the 1970s the participants were randomly divided into two groups. The participants were then asked to distribute monetary rewards to pairs of other participants. The only relevant information they had about the other participants was which group they belonged too. Brown 2007) Tajifel and Turner believed that it was this behaviour from individuals belonging to groups that demonstrated the unique way in which the social identity theory combines the cognitive with the social. They believed that there was significant distinction between personal and social identity, which underpinned the difference between interpersonal situations and group situations (Brown 2000). Tajfel and Turner (1979) identified three variables whose contribution to the emergence of ingroup favouritism was particularly important.
Firstly, the extent to which individuals identify with an ingroup to internalize that group membership as an aspect of their self-concept. Secondly, the extent to which the prevailing context provides ground for comparison between groups. Lastly, the perceived relevance of the comparison group, which itself will be shaped by the relative and absolute status of the ingroup. Individuals are likely to display favouritism when an ingroup is central to their self-definition and a given comparison is meaningful or the outcome is contestable.
However Tajfel and Turner argue that competition is not a sufficient condition for intergroup conflict and hostility. Tajfel does not deny the importance of competition between groups, personality types as explanation for origins of prejudice but argues that mere perception of the existence of another group can itself produce discrimination. Tajfel and Turner argue that, before any discrimination can occur, people must be categorised as members of an ingroup or an outgroup, but more significantly the very act of categorisation by itself produces conflict and discrimination (Tajfel and Turner 1979).
Billig was closely involved with Tajfel in his early research into the social identity theory. His critique of Tajfels work is based on an outcome of set intellectual choices made by researchers. Billigs own choices led him to follow the study of discourse and rhetoric (Brown 2007). Billig (2002) is critical of Tajfels approach to intergroup conflict as he feels his intention is to follow a political and moral position against the “blood and guts” model of human nature rather than admitting that social psychology could ever be entirely experimental or purely value free (Brown 2007).
Billig talks about how Tajfel came so close to explaining the Holocaust according to his theory, but in the end he avoided making those implications. He essentially kept his cognitive theory within its bounds, always erring on the side of theory conservation rather than over-generalization (Billig 2000) Billig (and Tajfel) both bring up Nazism and genocide during world war II.
They point out that ‘dehumanization’ of the out-group was a huge factor here, which is definitely true, but the influence of the group on individual behaviour seems to be just as, if not more important in terms of the transition from ‘prejudice’ to ‘extreme hatred’. Billig makes the argument that to identify a person as a bigot, you don’t necessarily have to study their ‘internal causes’ but simply recognize their observable, external behaviour. If a person holds an extreme prejudice toward a certain group, their hatred will be displayed.
Billig believes that the discursive approach is better equipped to deal with categorisation as a linguistic rather than a cognitive activity and argues that the social identity theory misses the subtle and dynamic quality of categorisation as an interactional process (see Billig, 1985, 1996; Edwards, 1997; Wetherell and Potter, 1992) However, both perspectives appear limited by their epistemic reduction to individual or social paradigms, which hinder exploration of further contributing factors within prejudice and conflict such as psychosocial unconscious motivations.
Conceptual similarities exist between discursive and socio-cognitive perspectives, although differences are illustrated by articulation of terminologies. For example, both approaches similarly view prejudice and intergroup conflict as emerging from collective ideologies and beliefs, which are operationalised through categorisation. However, these ‘socially shared cognitions’ become discursive ‘interpretative repertoires’ (Dixon 2007). Differences in terminology are thus illustrative of further, fundamental epistemological and ontological differences.
Socio-cognitive research employs experimental methods to discover knowledge of prejudice within individual minds. Although expressive of two theoretical paths, one adhering to the dominant scientific paradigm, the other to a critical tradition, both nonetheless reduce into individualistic terms. Prejudice is therefore interior explained as faulty cognitions, leading to theories of ‘authoritarian’ and ‘dogmatic’ personalities as being the cause of prejudice (Rokeach 1960).
Tajfel sought to normalize prejudice eschewing ‘aberrationist’ theories, focusing instead on inter-group prejudice as a rational part of social identity. However, his exploration of group prejudice and understanding of social categories were still tested experimentally, again reducing to an internal individualistic paradigm (Dixon 2007) Discursive psychology views prejudice as a societal creation. Categories are formed between people, existing as external discourses, available as socio-cultural tools with which to negotiate the world (Dixon 2007).
These social representations are maintained through language, belief and cultural practice. Research and analysis focuses upon the linguistic structures apparent within rhetoric and narrative to identify the discourses utilised and the maintenance of subject positions. Thus, discursive psychology conflicts with a socio-cognitive perspective on many levels. For example, discursive methodology, viewing prejudice as an external creation, does not recognise the efficacy of the cognitive method, which seeks to uncover prejudice within the mind.
Our two perspectives may thus be seen to exist at either end of a continuum between individual and social epistemologies, which in turn, inform their methods of knowledge production. In contrast to the above discursive understanding, the socio-cognitive perspective was struggling to explore large intergroup issues due to individual reductionism. Therefore, researchers such as Tajfel sought to address the problem by studying group membership rather than individual cognitive styles. He aimed to discover the minimal characteristics necessary within a group for prejudice to manifest.
However, prejudice occurred, not in relation to etiological concepts of resource acquisition (Dixon 2007) but instead, prejudice was motivated by group status and power. Each group sought to achieve a higher status than the other by accentuating the ‘us’ and ‘them’ dynamic regardless of the monetary gain accompanying cooperation. The determining goal of conflict thus appeared to be one of positive identity achievement through affiliation to a high status group with positive social representations (Tajfel and Turner 1979, Brown, 2007).
This was achieved my maximizing intergroup difference with social identity being defined in comparison to the excluded ‘other’ (Douzinas 2004), maintaining power positions, (Phoenix 2002) Criticisms of Tajfels minimal group experiment focus upon the continuing use of experimental reductionist methods. Despite his aim to study group behaviour, the experiment measured individual’s reactions to other individuals, assuming such reactions were indicative of group memberships.
The complexities of group conflict are thus trivialised (Phoenix 2002) with minimal differences being assumed as representative of major inequalities of power. Experimental cognitive approaches therefore appear limited in their efficacy for explaining more extreme manifestations conflict which do not easily reduce or conform to the ‘ideal average’ (Jung 1958). Furthermore, Tajfel himself appeared aware of the limitations of his research indicating that other factors such as ‘emotional investments’ (Tajfel, 1981 cited Brown, 2007).
Emotional investment implies that factors beyond observable cognitions may be acting within prejudice. Billig (Brown 2007) posits a persuasive discursive argument to this effect when identifying the ‘waxing and waning’ of prejudice and conflict illustrative of further subjective values. He further examples bigotry as an ‘emotion-laden’ discourse (Brown 2007) which can only be effectively explored using qualitative methods of discursive analysis to observe the linguistic operationalisation of complex socially situated materials.
Tajfels exclusion of the Nazi holocaust as a research topic within SIT is viewed by Billig as more than a desire to avoid justification or empathy through understanding, but that SIT simply cannot explain the extremes of depersonalization produced by purely group identification (Brown, 2000) may maintain power differentials between groups. In conclusion, both discursive and cognitive paradigms are partially successful in their explorations into prejudice and intergroup conflict.
Cognitive approaches are victims of their reductionist methodologies and conflict with discursive methods in their failure to truly expand on macro-group issues by their continued pursuit of empirical ‘truths’ and facts, which are superfluous to the understanding of contextually created social representations (Cooper and Kaye 2002). Thus, discursive, qualitative methods are far more productive in their ability to face the exteriority of conflict as a social creation. However, within a post-modern world of mass ocieties and globalization, which increase existential anxiety and ethnic insecurity (Douzinas 2004), theories which maintain either individual or social extremes of duality fail in their ability to offer the psychosocial understandings necessary for such complexity. Word Count 1805. References Billig, M. (1996) in Langdridge, D. and Taylor, S. (2007) Critical Readings in Social Psychology, Milton Keynes: Open University, 158-9. Billig, M. (2002) in Langdridge, D. and Taylor, S. 2007) Critical Readings in Social Psychology, Milton Keynes: Open University, 148-155. Brown, R. (2000) Social identity theory: past achievements, current problems and future challenges, European Journal of Social Psychology, 30, 745-778. Brown, S. (2007) in Langdridge, D. and Taylor, S. (2007) Critical Readings in Social Psychology, Milton Keynes: Open University, 133-159. Cooper, T. and Keye, H. (2002) in Cooper, T. and Roth, I. (2002) Challenging Psychological Issues, Milton Keynes, The Open University. Dixon, J. 2007) in Holloway, W. Lucey, L and Phoenix, A. (2007) Social Psychology Matters. Milton Keynes: Open University, 146-172 Douzinas, C. (2004) in Strawson, J (2002). Law after Ground Zero. ’Glasshouse Press, Cavendish, London. Edwards, D. (1997) in Langdridge, D. and Taylor, S. (2007) Critical Readings in Social Psychology, Milton Keynes: Open University, 158-9. Hogg, M. A. (2006) in Burk, P. J (2006). Contemporary Social Psychological Theories. Stanford University Press, Stanford California. Hogg, M. A. & Vaughan, G. M. 2002). Social Psychology (3rd ed. ) London: Prentice Hall. Jung, C. (1958) ‘The Undiscovered self’, Routledge Classics (2006), Abington, Oxon. Kelly, C. (2007) in DD307 Course Guide, Milton Keynes, The Open University, 34-44 Phoenix, A. (2007) in Langdridge, D. and Taylor, S. (2007) Critical Readings in Social Psychology, Milton Keynes: Open University, 103-117. Phoenix, A. (2002) in Miell, D. , Phoenix, A. and Thomas, K. (2002) Mapping Psychology 1, Milton Keynes, The Open University. Rokeach, M (1960) in Holloway, W.
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