Activists are time and resource poor. They create social change by making quick decisions in stressful conditions, and often suffer disproportionately for their efforts.
Given the urgency of our social and environmental challenges, linking activists with the latest research on topics ranging from how to engage in effective communication, to tactical decision making, to activist self-care, is more important than ever. Yet this research is mostly hidden behind paywalls or it is time consuming to acquire and apply. Thankfully, digital technologies offer a new opportunity to bridge the activist-researcher. Throughout my time here in the Social Change Lab, I’ve experimented with piloting effective research dissemination. This has lead me to the development of my website, www.earthactivists.com.au. This website began as a communication vehicle for various projects created during my time as a fellow in the University of Queensland Digital Research Fellowship program.
The website is based on an initial dataset of 497 Australian environmental groups and 901 environmental campaigns. Mapped through the Esri ArcGIS online platform, the data and associated map will allow activists to easily view campaigns across all environmental issues, compare the data available on them, and track the campaign outcomes over time. Combined with archives collected on past environmental campaigns, one goal of the project is to create an open and accessible ‘treasure chest’ of information on Australia’s rich and diverse environmental movement.
Open data can inform what type of activism is more likely to succeed; for example, data collected on over 100 years of protests demonstrates the surprising success rate of non-violent civil resistance as opposed to violence insurgencies. But it can also help enable stronger and more connected activists, reducing the ‘activist fatigue’ experienced through isolation and burnout. To this end, the website hosts stories of women fighting climate change. It also provides insights from experienced environmental campaigners on the highs and lows of activism, how they define success, and how they prioritise and acquire resources for their work.
This website, still in its nascent stage, has been informed by international examples of accessible and open data on social change movements. One of the most influential of these examples is the Nonviolent and Violent Campaigns and Outcomes Data Project (NAVCO). This publically available dataset, initiated by Erica Chenoweth, has generated findings of international significance about the importance of non-violence civil resistance, and initiated a new research direction in civil resistance.
Another successful open data initiative is that of the Environmental Justice Atlas (ejatlas.com). Centred on a global map of large scale environmental civil resistance campaigns, the project aims to both serve as a tool for informing activism and advocacy, and to foster increased academic research on the topic. Containing information on 2,100 environmental justice case studies, this project has international collaborators both contributing to new case studies and utilising existing studies for their activism and research.
These examples demonstrate the new ways digital technology can be used as a bridge between activists and researchers. We have such a rich history of activists and activism around the globe. Collecting and sharing detailed empirical data about social and environmental collective action can help celebrate the work of those who fought for social and environmental justice in the past. But equally importantly, it can help inform how we can generate the urgent action we need to secure our future. In this time of crisis, bringing activists and researchers together is one more important than ever.
- Robyn Gulliver
Who run the world? Girls! (At least according to Beyoncé). The reality, however, is that men still run most of the world, and the fight for gender equality could move a lot faster if they joined in as allies. So how do we get men to become allies?
From what we know from the research on allies), advantaged group members are more likely to fight for the disadvantaged group when they identify more strongly with the disadvantaged group. It is also important that they view fighting discrimination as morally important, are angry about the inequality that persists, and feel a sense of efficacy in their ability to bring about change. But something else might be at work too in the case of gender discrimination.
As we’ve seen in the reactions, such as the hashtag NotAllMen and the backlash to this Gilette ad, men can feel threatened by the push for equality. These reactions tends to be more strong when men are more strongly attached to their group membership as men. In other words, stronger identification with men might make them less likely to act towards achieving equality.
Putting this all together, we investigated how we can can mobilise men to reduce discrimination against women. Men’s allyship in gender inequality has mostly been investigated in Western countries, and so we looked at whether these factors would work in Japan and the Philippines, where the degrees of gender inequality differ.
What did we find out? In both countries, men are more willing to advocate for women when they (1) think gender inequality is an important moral issue and (2) feel like their actions can drive change. We found some interesting differences between Japan and the Philippines: For Filipino men, feeling more connected with women and their struggles was mobilizing (but not for Japanese men). For Japanese men, a stronger connection with men was demobilizing (but not for Filipino men). We suspect this may be a function of the broader context of gender (in)equality. In contexts like the Philippines where women are more visible in the public realm and in leadership roles, the push for equality may be less threatening to men. In contexts like Japan, where inequality is more visible and policies are being enacted to address this, men may feel more threatened, especially when they identify more strongly with their gender.
, So what does this mean for getting men on board the gender equality train? Here are four tips:
Guest post by Danielle Ochoa (The University of Philippines), Eric Manalastas (The University of Sheffield), and Makiko Deguchi (Sophia University, Tokio).
Read the full article: Ochoa, D., Manalastas, E., Deguchi, M., & Louis, W. (2019). Mobilising Men: Ally Identities and Collective Action in Japan and the Philippines. Journal of Pacific Rim Psychology, 13, (14).
You may have heard that a PhD is hard work. It is hard. But it’s also great fun.
PhD students may have a more flexible and rewarding working life than almost anyone else on the planet. Not many jobs pay you to think about big ideas, research what you’re passionate about, and write and talk about your favourite things.
Doing a PhD should be a joy. Yet often it feels like a burden.
Too many students burn out and drop out before they discover their joy. Through my own PhD journey—now coming to an end—I’ve noticed 3 ways students can make their PhD harder than it needs to be.
1. Expect to know it all
The greatest shock when I started my PhD was just how little I knew. I wasn’t on top of all the theories in my field, best practice of research design, the latest statistical techniques, or how to write engaging research papers and persuasive presentations. My mediocrity felt overwhelming.
I still haven’t perfected those things, but I have learnt to think of my PhD as a training program. Not knowing is an opportunity, not a weakness. Students who expect to know it all may feel overwhelmed and find it hard to stick their PhD out.
2. Work all the time
Precisely because there is so much to learn, it can feel as if you’re constantly on the back foot, fighting to keep up. This can lead to some mad, workaholic hours. And to sickness, sadness, and general breakdown.
Nothing is fun all the time, especially not your research. There’s always more to do but if you don’t take the time to destress, recharge, and socialise you risk losing sight of the reason you do your work. Students who don’t take time off regularly may find themselves taking time off permanently.
3. Avoid feedback
Many students avoid chances to present their work and receive critical feedback. Whether it’s a research talk to the lab or a draft manuscript, some of us actively avoid hearing how we’re doing. Sadly, by avoiding early feedback we actually increase the odds of receiving crushing reviews.
If you present your ideas when they are still being formed, then critical engagement is a boon. It helps to shape your thinking and minimises flaws and oversights. If, on the other hand, you wait until your ideas have crystallised, your studies are conducted, and your manuscript is drafted, the very same critiques can be crushing. Students who fear negative feedback may avoid exposing their work to critique. When they do finally receive it, such feedback may damage them more.
Though certainly challenging, a PhD is an amazing opportunity to have a fulfilling and flexible work life, for a period of years. That said, research life is rife with challenges. By avoiding these three common ways students make their PhD harder than necessary, you can lift the odds of having a positive experience at graduate school.
- Cassandra Chapman
Note: This article was previously published in the SPSSI Forward newsletter
As for many other nations, gender equality in Australia has increased significantly over the last century. By 1923, all women in Australia had the right to vote and stand for parliament. In 1966, women earned the right to continue employment in the public sector after marriage through the removal of the marriage bar (a ruling that barred women from working in many careers after marriage). Female workers in Australia were granted the right to equal pay in 1969, and the 1996 Workplace Relations Act required men and women to receive equal pay for equal work.
Whilst inequalities do persist, (e.g., the average Australian woman is earning 85c for every dollar earned by men) there is considerable support for gender equality in the public sphere. However, there is less support for gender equality in private life. An Australian attitudes survey found that 16% of Australians believe men should take control in relationships and be the head of the household, 25% of Australians believe that women prefer men to be in charge of the relationship, and 34% believe it’s natural for a man to want to appear to be in control of his partner in front of his male friends.
This issue of gender inequality in the public versus the private sphere has come to the forefront of public discussion recently. The debate around the equal distribution of household chores and caregiving responsibilities is occurring both here and abroad. Heterosexual Australian women average seven hours more housework per week than their male partners. This inequality often starts in childhood, with female children often expected to take on more chores than their male siblings. In adult relationships, habits started in the early stages of the relationship can further increase unequal responsibilities. In this stage, women are more likely to be at home looking after children and cleaning up the house. This dynamic continues even after the female partner returns to work.
Early exposure to unequal gender roles and failure to establish equitable dynamics in the early stages of the relationship, can lead to unequal expectations of men and women in romantic relationships. There is light being shed on the double standard regarding expectations of men and women. For example, men are praised for completing chores and looking after their children, when women are simply expected to do these things. As one father noted, the disproportionate praise heaped on men for simply interacting with or looking after their children is not only unfair for women, but condescending to men.
Not only do these disparities reinforce unequal gender roles, limiting both men and women, but they may play a role in domestic abuse. When the onus of responsibility for domestic tasks is put onto women, this expectation may be used to justify abusive responses to a failure to maintain standards. For example, if a house is untidy, or a child gets sick or injured, instead of simply acknowledging it as something that happens, it can be viewed as the female partner’s fault, and the female partner’s failure to fulfil their role. Obviously, this is not the case for most relationships, but inequality in the home may be seen as legitimising abuse.
Unequal home dynamics may also alter the perceptions of work. For example, even if both partners in a heterosexual relationship engage in paid work, emphasis on the female partner’s domestic responsibilities reinforces the idea that the man should be the primary income earner. This also highlights that his career is more important than hers. If the woman’s income or career success exceeds her partner’s, this may result in her partner reinforcing greater inequality in the home in an attempt to retain a feeling of power and control.
The recent public discussion of gender equitable distribution of domestic responsibilities raises the question: Why did it take so much longer for equality in the home to become a priority in a nation that prides itself on progressive attitudes regarding gender equality? Perhaps the persistence of gender inequality in the home reflects residual hidden sexism in a culture where the beliefs may not have held pace with changing public norms.
- Kiara Minto
People often categorise themselves as either politically conservative or liberal. From a social psychological perspective, we often categorise ourselves and compare ourselves with other people. We like to identify who we are, and we do this by distinguishing ourselves from people who belong to other groups.
Conservatism and liberalism are opposite ends of the political spectrum; in our perception nowadays, they are worlds apart. However, conservatism and liberalism are relative, and sometimes even cultural. For example, people in new generations often refer to themselves as less conservative and more liberal than older generations. Westerners may refer to themselves as less conservative and more liberal than Easterners. Being conservative in the American context might be considered liberal in the Chinese context.
What does it actually mean to be more or less conservative (or liberal)? Is this a difference in cognitive processing? Or a social difference that we have picked up from the society around us?
Protecting vs. Providing Motivation
Liberals and conservatives differ in what motivates them. Studies with Western samples show that political lefties (liberals or progressives) tend to support policies that provide welfare for societies, whereas political conservatives tend to support policies that aim to protect their country from external harm. Such differences are rooted in the psychological distinction between approach and avoidance motivations.
Approach motivation focuses on how we can gain benefits. In general, this motivation seeks to provide well-being by doing good things for ourselves and for others (prosocial behaviours). People with approach motivation are likely to support individual autonomy and social justice.
In contrast, avoidance motivation focuses on avoiding harms, and what we should not do. Generally, this motivation seeks to prevent harm and to stop bad behaviours. People with avoidance motivation are likely to be responsive to threat and support social regulations.
However, this does not mean that people have only one type of these motivations and not the other. We all have some degree of both motives, and all react to changing situations by adjusting our current motives, but may lean towards one side more overall.
More vs. Less Negative Sensitivity
Neurologists and psychologists have found a link between people’s political orientation and sensitivity to negative environments. This is known as the negativity bias. A negativity bias means that humans generally tend to pay more attention to negative things. For example, we are generally quicker at recognising angry faces than happy faces. Even though we all have a negativity bias, the degree of negativity bias may be different from person to person.
Researchers found that people with more conservative thoughts are more responsive to negative environments than their counterparts. These people are more likely to support policies that minimise harmful incidents (e.g., anti-refugees) or promote their country’s stability (e.g., support military enforcement, support local businesses).
In contrast, people with more liberal thoughts are more willing to support policies that provide social welfare (e.g., free access to medical care) or challenge conventional use of power and authority (e.g., rehabilitation of criminals).
It is important to note that the negative bias is evolutionarily beneficial, and everyone has it to a certain degree. People who live in more conflict-ridden and more dangerous environments may show more negative biases compared to people who live in a safer environment.
In summary, conservatism and liberalism are relative; they represent tendencies of thinking and behaviours, rather than absolute, unchanging characteristics. Those tendencies are rooted in individual psychological and physiological differences. However, they are also shaped by the cultural context and responsive to situational forces as well as group norms and leadership. In diverse environments, both conservatism and liberalism can be beneficial to a country.
- Gi Chonu
Rioting occurring after a football match is not an uncommon phenomenon. Longstanding hostility amongst football fan groups is a tradition worldwide. Hooliganism is a term that describes violent behaviour perpetrated by football spectators, and we find the phenomenon occurring across the globe. In extreme circumstances, death can be an outcome of such riots. For example, during Honduras’ 1969 World Cup qualification, 2,100 people died. In Indonesia, the country where I lived previously, hostility between two fan groups occurs between groups from two cities that are close together.
The most contemporary case of violent football riots in Indonesia resulted in the death of Haringga Sirila (23 years old) on 23 September 2018. The young man was a big fan of Persija, a football team of Jakarta. The violent hostility between the two fan groups remains a deep tradition, with seven people from the two groups having died since 2012. This hostility is not an isolated case and similar cases also occur in other cities around the country. However, the question arises: Why do they strike?
One line of work examines violent behaviour perpetrated by a group or a mass as “Amok” (or ‘running amok’): an analysis with historical roots in the Malay tradition.
A study conducted by Manuel L. Saint Martin of the University of Southern California, attributed this kind of mass violence in South East Asia to mental and personality disorders and extreme psychological distress.
Interpreting mass violence as ‘running amok’ is an explanation that points to feelings of frustration and violence as the effect of social or psychological pressure. But this explanation seems inappropriate to explain football fans’ rioting.
So what drives physical violence amongst football fans?
Another type of explanation draws on the psychology of groups. Social psychological research has shown that we have two kinds of identity: personal identity, representing our uniqueness and what distinguishes us from others (I am different from other people), and social identity, usually called a group identity. A social identity allows us to associate and bond with other people (e.g., ‘I am Australian’, or ‘I am a fan of this club’).
How are these personal and social identities related to the violence occurring amongst football fans? A great deal of research is exploring this question. One answer points to the relationship between personal and social identity, a concept called Identity fusion. It is a very deep sense of oneness with a group and its individual members that motivate pro-group behaviours - even personally costly ones.
The feelings of identity fusion are not just being strongly bonded with a group, but it is having deep emotional ties with other group members. These bonds are similar to familial bonds. Familial bonding usually occurs in a narrow context (e.g., with members of our nuclear family), but the concept of fusion can be extended to a larger group such as national group, religious group and of course, a football fan group.
But how can the feeling of oneness lead to intergroup violence?
Work on identity fusion suggests a number of factors facilitate the connection between the sense of oneness and violence.
For example, arousal has been established as a catalyst for those who have strong feelings of oneness with the group to engage in extreme behaviour. An experiment involving 245 students in Spain, showed that in a dodgeball game, stimulating arousal within the group resulted in more extreme behaviour on behalf of his/her group.
A second factor is called the personal agency principle, whereby an individual feels that he/she represents the group and is compelled to act on behalf of the group. Of course, not all pro-group actions are violent! But when people who feel fused with a group feel frustrated or threatened, the sense of being compelled to act even if extreme actions are needed means violence is more of a risk.
The death of a football fan in a riot, as in the case of Haringga, can be explained in this way. In a pre-match situation, the crowds in a stadium can create arousal, increasing the risk of violent behaviour for those whose personal identity is fused to the group, and who experience a sense of personal agency alongside collective threat or frustration.
In addition, previous studies show that shared painful past experience amongst group members may also play a role. Along with our colleagues (Martha Newson, Harvey Whitehouse, and Vici Sofiana Putera), we collected the data from 100 people of two conflicting fan groups in Indonesia (Bandung team and Jakarta team). Our focus was on the extent to which the shared painful experiences with fellow members can be a catalyst for the tendency to engage in violent behaviour on behalf of the group.
We found that the tendency to act extremely is more likely when a person had experienced feelings of oneness with the group, and especially when the members shared a painful past experience. In football rivalries, we know that, the fans of the two teams competing with each other, have shared the painful experience of violence from the other group. When one group’s violence promotes the second group’s fusion, which in turn is linked to their extremism or violence, a vicious cycle is initiated.
What can be done to stop violence among highly fused fans?
Identity fusion seems to rely on very strong ties, that are almost impossible to defuse. So, an “extreme’ approach to preventing violent associated with identity fusion is to dissolve the group itself. But, in most cases, this approach cannot be implemented. A more feasible approach may be changing the norm of the fan groups – i.e., their standards or rules for pro-group action.
Some football fans have norms of supporting hostility and violence. The key may be to change these norms, with the help of the football team itself and the football regulation boards, to promote positive norms. One example would be using the match as a way to raise funds for natural disaster victims around the country, or for children impacted by cancer, is a potential way to slowly and sustainably change the hostile norm associated with the match with a caring norm. The view of the competition is shifted so it is not only about the number of goals scored by the players, but also about the funds collected by the fans. This would strengthen the injunctive norm that football fans contribute positively to society. Similarly, many positive values such as fairness, peace and justice can be clearly seen in good sportsmanship, and if we promote these values, we can help fans groups to also extend these values to their rival teams.
- Susilo Wibisono & Whinda Yustisia
*The article is a version of an article written for and published by The Conversation Indonesia, on Sept 28, 2018.
This blog post is the third summarising a special issue of PAC:JPP on the role of social movements in bringing about (or failing to bring about!) political and social transformation. I co-edited the special issue with Cristina Montiel, and it is available online to those with access (or by contacting the papers’ authors or via ResearchGate). Our intro summarising all articles is also online ‘open access’ here, along with the first two blog posts, dealing with tipping points or breakthroughs in conflict and the non-linear nature of social transformation and the wildly varying timescales. Some of these themes are also dealt with in a 2018 chapter by our group *.
The overall aim of the special issue was to explore how social movements engage in, respond to, or challenge violence, both in terms of direct or physical violence and structural violence, injustice, and inequality. As well as the six papers summarised previously, there were four fascinating additional pieces by Montiel, Christie, Bretherton, and van Zomeren. Together the authors take up important questions about who acts, what changes, and how social transformation is achieved and researched, which I review below.
Who can participate in the scholarship of transformation?
Montiel’s (2018) piece “Peace Psychologists and Social Transformation: A Global South Perspective,” identifies barriers to full participation in the scholarship of peace. These barriers often include a relative lack of resources, and exposure to military, police, and non-state violence and trauma. In publishing, scholars and universities in the Global South face a difficult political environment in which both their silence and their speech may affect their careers and even their lives. More routinely, selection bias by journals to privilege the theoretical and methodological choices and agendas of the Global North marginalises the research questions that are most pressing, or most unfamiliar to WEIRD readers (Western, educated, industrialised, rich, democratic; Heinrich et al., 2010). In the short term, Montiel calls for professional bodies to open schemes for developing academics from the Global South; and for peace psychologists to co-design projects and conduct analyses and writing with southern scholars to allow a wider range of voices and ownership of the project.
What is it that changes in social transformation?
Van Zomeren’s (2018) piece “In search of a bigger picture: A cultural-relational perspective on social transformation and violence”, takes up his selvations theory as a springboard for understanding social transformation. He conceives the self as akin to a subjective vibration within a web of relationships (a selvation), which would both influence and be influenced by changing societies. Drawing on his earlier work on culture and collective action (e.g., van Zomeren & Louis, 2017), he suggests that the central challenge of the social psychology of social transformation is keeping the micro, meso, and macro-level variables in the same frame, and allowing emergent relationships within theoretical models.
In the van Zomeren model, the decision-making self is embedded within relationships, with the regulation of those relationships a central goal of the actor. Thus relational norms for violence (or peace) become proximal predictors of change – which in turn rest on wider social norms and expectations of opponents’ actions (see also Blackwood & Louis, 2017). Violence may affirm or contradict the relationship models of the actors creating social change, which manifests as changing relationships with others: movement co-actors, targets, and the broader community. Christie and Bretherton, below, also echo the contention that it would be useful for scholars and practitioners to consider more deeply how social change involves changing relationships and the self.
Five Components of Social Transformation
Christie (2018) presents an analysis of effective social transformation movements, arguing that there are five components that campaigners and scholars must engage. A systemic approach is the foundation of social transformation, he proposes: transformation entails the creative construction and destruction of existing relationships and the development of more or less just and violent new ones.
Sustainability is a second component: both the outcomes of a movement and its processes will last longer over time or less so. Momentary failures (and successes) are common; it is also the case that in the face of countervailing forces and counter-mobilisation, to sustain a positive status quo may require constant renewal and refreshment of social movement support.
Third, a movement must also have the capacity to scale up, which often requires new skills, leadership, and institutional support – or more broadly, the ideological and organisational foundation to build new alliances and engage new topics and opportunities without compromising its values and direction.
The fourth component of socially transformative movements is the inclusive involvement of those who are more powerless and marginalised: without active outreach and proactive inclusion, many movements re-invent old hierarchies and affirm old power structures.
Finally, Christie closes with an interesting reflection on the metrics of social transformation, and the different conclusions that one might draw in mobilising to achieve greater lifespan, wealth, well-being, and/or cultural peace.
Social Transformation: A How-To For Activists
Bretherton (2018) elaborates the implications for practitioners and activists, with practical tips on how to deal with power and (de)humanization within social movements. Two central messages are that social movements need to articulate their positive vision as well as what they are opposed to, and that they need to understand and articulate the structural or cultural violence that legitimises particular incidents or relationships.
In articulating their positive vision, the group develops the foundation for resilience and change as their movement grows in power and support. As new opportunities open up, a positive vision helps steer the direction of the movement towards its ultimate goals. In addition, social movements’ clear communication of the structural conditions which underpin violence or inequality has two further functions. A system-level analysis allows actors to avoid fixating on symptoms of structural inequality that cannot be effectively targeted in isolation. Also, such an analysis allows people who are disadvantaged by structural inequality to make external attributions for the harm and disadvantage they undergo, rather than lacerating self-blame, that can paralyse progress and make it harder to form coalitions and alliances. Symbolic affirmations of connectedness and equality can play a powerful role in de-legitimising violence and hierarchy.
Finally, beyond these core messages, Bretherton closes with tips on the ‘action research’ cycle of designing campaigns. Drawing on the special issue articles as well as a long career, Bretherton clearly lays out a series of wise insights. The four steps of the action cycle are preliminary observation and analysis of the social context, planning for campaign action (including developing the leadership team, building coalitions, and choice of tactics), implementation (including responding to unplanned problems), and review (e.g., proactively creating a culture of celebration and reflexivity). Managing expectations for a cycle of organisation, success, counter-mobilisation, and a longer term, ongoing struggle is also important, as Bretherton concludes.
I really enjoy the richness of the special issue, and it is exciting to see new scholarship in this emerging field (e.g., the recent special section of BJSP). The topic is vital from an applied perspective, but it is also incredible generative theoretically – the gaps are clearly evident when the literature is reviewed, and the potential for interdisciplinary synergy is high. I look forward to many more papers and journal issues in this vein.
- Winnifred Louis
* Louis, W. R., Chonu, G. K., Achia, T., Chapman, C. M., Rhee, J. (in press). Building group norms and group identities into the study of transitions from democracy to dictatorship and back again. In B. Wagoner, I. Bresco, & V. Glaveanu (Eds.), The Road To Actualized Democracy. Accepted for publication 12 December 2016.
The Social Change Yearly Lab Photo (Front row - left to right: Gi Chonu, Winnifred Louis, Susilo Wibisono, & Ella Cotterell. Back row – left to right: Vlad Bjorskich (visitor), Carly Roberts, Frederik Wermser (visitor), Cassandra Chapman, Kiara Minto, & Robyn Gulliver. Missing: Robin Banks, Zahra Mirnajafi, Tulsi Achia.
I want to start by acknowledging our group’s successes:
For 2018, I have to salute a brilliant group of finishing students - Lucy Mercer-Mapstone, Wei-jie (Kathy) Lin, Tracy Schultz, and Cassandra Chapman, who all submitted their PhD theses (whoohoo!). Lucy’s thesis has already been passed (Will Rifkin was the lead advisor), and she was off to the University of Edinburgh on a postdoc from mid-year: well done Lucy! Everyone else is grinding on through the bureaucracy, but this has not stopped them re career launch. Kathy is back with her job as an academic in China (with fresh glory; Shuang Liu was the lead advisor). Tracy Schultz was snapped up by the Queensland Department of the Environment and is making change on the ground (Kelly Fielding was Tracy’s lead advisor). Cassandra Chapman (co-supervised by Barbara Masser) is taking up a postdoc on trust and charities in UQ’s Business school. It’s a pleasure to see everyone doing so well, and we look forward to keeping in touch!
As well as from our fearless PhD completers, we saw Ella Cottrell and Carly Roberts both finish honours with flying colours; well done both! Many other students smoothly passed their other milestones (Gi, Zahra, Kiara, Susilo, Robyn), with Hannibal and Robin are coming up soon for their confirmations, and we wish them well. There were also those taking well-deserved leave this year (Gi, with maternity leave, and Tulsi, who is away for health reasons). We welcome these transitions and pauses and look forward to new accomplishments in 2019.
In other news: As planned, I revelled all year long in my professorship. It is such a luxury and privilege to be a full professor, and I hope I can continue to use my powers for good in 2019 and beyond.
I also have been revelling since the news broke that we succeeded in getting a new Discovery grant for our team, funded for 2019-2021. I’ll be working with Pascal Molenberghs, Emma Thomas, Monique Crane, Catherine Amiot, and Jean Decety, and we will be looking at the transition to Voluntary Assisted Dying in Victoria and more broadly at norms and well-being for practitioners and the community regarding euthanasia or palliative killing. It is a big beast of a grant and I am very excited to launch into it with our group.
Possibly the highlight of the year was when I ran an extraordinarily successful conference in 2018 on Trajectories of Radicalisation and De-radicalisation, with many others – many thanks especially to Susilo Wibisono, Sam Popple, Tarli Young, Jo Brown, and Hannibal Thai. We are moving slowly but inexorably towards having the talks online for speakers, and also slowly and more tentatively towards other publishing projects – We will keep you posted.
I also want to pass on a special thank you to our volunteers and visitors for the social change lab in 2018, including Frederik Wermser, Claudia Zuniga, Taciano Milfont, and Kai Sassenberg. I particularly acknowledge the contributions this year of Vladimir Bojarskich (visiting from Groningen to conduct environmental research) to multiple projects and to my own work. Thank you, and congratulations everyone!
Other news of 2018 engagement and impact
As well as the normal dissemination through keynotes and journal articles (see our publications page), I had great fun this year with engagement. The superb conference on Trajectories of Radicalisation and De-radicalisation was a highlight, but I also want to note the November 2018 Zoos Victoria conference on social science and conservation at which I was lucky enough to give a keynote. My own talk was on avoiding stalemates and polarization, but I feel deeply thrilled about the new work coming through from conservation initiatives that I saw presented there – the scale, the rigorous evaluation, the behavioural measures, the impact! One intervention that we learned about at the conference was delivered to 40,000 school children in Victoria, with 8 focal targets (e.g., around reducing marine plastic pollution), and featured pre, post, and 6-month follow-ups that included counting plastics on beaches and in the bellies of shearwater birds – astonishing! But perhaps most impressive of all to me was the open disclosure of failures and willingness as a community of practice to learn from them. What a great research culture!
More broadly I am excited about how the new open science initiatives in 2018 are transforming scholarship, and pleased to report that our lab is now working towards consistency in pre-registration, online data sharing, transparency re analyses, and new commitment to open access. Those of you that follow me from way back know that I tried to create something similar in the 2000s but with little traction. The new wave of #openscience is clearly breaking through to change practices with more success. Paywalls by for-profit journals for tax-payer subsidised research are also ongoing and objectionable, and so it is great to see online repositories like Researchgate make connections to readers more feasible. But I also think that academic publishing is still clearly dominated by pressures for selective reporting and that significant results are much more likely to succeed in running the gauntlet through reviewers and editors. In that context, even more impressive is the leadership by practitioners and scholars who allow others to learn openly from trial and error. This will propel us forward as a field. Well done, Zoos Victoria!
Socialchangelab.net in 2018
Within the lab, Zahra Mirnajafi has been carrying the baton passed on by Cassandra Chapman, who started the blog and website last year – thank you to Zahra for all your great work with our in-house writers, our guest bloggers, and the site!
I continue to be surprised by the generosity of guest writers, and the take-up of our posts by the community. We are now seeing about 600 readers for each blog post within a week - last year it was 200 within a month! Part of the story has certainly been our lab’s activity on Twitter (and other social media) to promote research, and I hope you will follow @WlouisUQ and @socialchangelab if you are on Twitter yourself. In the meantime, we welcome each fresh bot, family member, academic, or community reader with enthusiasm, and hope to see the trend continue in 2019.
What the new year holds:
In 2019, for face to face networking, if all goes well, I’ll be at SASP in April in Sydney; the post-conference on contact in Newcastle in April/May; at SPSSI in June; at the APA conference in August; a peace conference in Bogota in July; and ICEP in September. Please email me if you’d like to meet up. I’ll also be travelling extensively from July 2019 to June 2020 due to a sabbatical – I plan visits to Europe (probably in September) and Canada/the US (probably in June and again in November-ish). I’ll be around Australia in Melbourne and Sydney as well as Adelaide for the new grant and for my last one, which is grinding on towards awesome publications – stay tuned. I hope people will contact me if interested in meetings and talks.
I also welcome one new student as an associate advisor in 2019 – Mukhamat Surya, who will be working with Adrian Cherney at UQ for a project on de-radicalisation and radicalisation. We also have Claudia Zuniga from the University of Chile as a visitor with us until June, woot!
Due to the sabbatical from July, I won’t be taking on new PhD students or honours students this year, but welcome expressions of interest for volunteer RAs and visitors.
And of course there are lots of other projects on the go throughout the lab with the bigger team – I can’t wait to see what 2019 brings for us all!
- Winnifred Louis
‘Who am I? Who are you?’ Kids’ understanding of social categories has implications for conflict resolution. How and when children recognize names, symbols and social cues influences how they understand and identify with relevant social groups. How they identify with one group also affects their attitudes and behaviours toward ‘others.’ This effect can be even stronger in settings with a long history of conflict.
Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Macedonia, for example are rooted in a history of conflict. The two dominant social groups in each setting have remained notably segregated across neighbourhoods and schools. Although the overt conflict has ended, it has left a lasting effect on post-accord generations. Understanding these effects can help research-based reconciliation and peace-building projects. In the long-term, this can build a healthy and cohesive society.
The Helping Kids! project explored how children from five to eleven years old in Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Macedonia perceive prevalent social cues – such as names or icons – associated with conflict-related groups. Across all three settings, children readily recognized cues belonging to conflict-related categories. This recognition increased with age. For example, in Northern Ireland, children identified the poppy as belonging to the Protestant/British community, while the shamrock represented the Catholic/Irish community; in Macedonia, children distinguished between celebratory foods as Macedonian or Albanian; and in Kosovo, children recognized various murals and pop artists as either Albanian or Serbian.
The more aware children were of conflict-related group markers, the more they preferred their own groups’ symbols; those who preferring in-group symbols also shared fewer resources (e.g., stickers) with the outgroup. Thus, the way children thought about conflict-related groups had behavioural implications even at early ages. The bright side is that children’s previous experience seems to counteract this pattern. If a child reported more positive experiences with outgroup children, he/she was more likely to share resources with the outgroup.
Previous work in Northern Ireland has identified similar patterns. Children from segregated neighbourhoods in Belfast distributed more resources to ingroup members, especially when they held a strong group identity. Moreover, youth in Belfast who had higher quality and quantity contact with outgroup members had higher peacebuilding attitudes and civic engagement.
From this we know that children know about and have preferences for social cues related to conflict-related groups. This knowledge and preference has influences how resources are shared with others, an important first step in peacebuilding. Fostering more positive outgroup attitudes and opportunities for outgroup helping may have promising, long-term implications for more constructive intergroup relations.
The Helping Kids! lab is working to apply these findings in other contexts. As such, these findings may have implications for the 350 million children living in conflict-affected areas.
- Guest post by Dr. Laura K. Taylor, Dr. Jocelyn Dautel, Risa Rylander MSc, Dr. Ana Tomovska Misoska, and Edona Maloku Berdyna MSc.
*This phase of the Helping Kids! project was funded by the School of Psychology Research Incentivisation Scheme (RIS) and the Department for the Economy (DfE) - Global Challenge Research Fund (GCRF) Award [DFEGCRF17-18/Taylor].
(Don't) Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free: Understanding hostile attitudes towards immigration
In the past week, we have seen horrifying pictures from the U.S.-Mexico border where U.S. Border patrol has fired tear gas on asylum seekers from Central America. This is part of a new stance on immigration by the American White House, which includes deploying 5,000 US troops to the southern border, and giving the green light to use lethal force. While many are outraged at the use of such force by the government, others have been quick to defend the “America First” strategy. More broadly, anti-immigration sentiments have been expressed more frequently in a range of countries around the world, from France introducing stricter guidelines for asylum to Australia, where a sharp rise in anti-immigrant sentiment has been reported.
How can we explain antagonistic views towards immigrants and asylum seekers? While understanding perspectives on both sides is complex, recent research sheds light on the challenges associated with the reception of immigrants and refugees in Western countries.
“America First” ... the role of national identities
What we believe about who we are has a strong role in shaping our views of the world. In the U.S., proponents of using excessive force on asylum seekers justify this approach as putting America’s national interests first. What we know from the science is that those who believe being an American is an extremely important part of who they are, in other words, those who have a strong American identity, also are likely to have more negative attitudes towards immigrants.
Is connecting pro-America feelings with hostility to foreigners inevitable though? No.
First, it turns out that the link between stronger American identity and welcoming foreigners can also be positive for some! Americans who define the nation inclusively are more welcoming to newcomers, whereas those who have a narrower view of the country are more hostile.
When we are tough on immigration, are we tough on all immigrants in the same way?
Being tough on immigration is not applied the same way to White immigrants as it is to people of color. In one study, White Americans reported that the use of harsh punishment for a suspected undocumented immigrant was more fair when the suspect was Mexican, than when the suspect was Canadian.
Earlier we spoke about the content of identities, and that discussion is also relevant here. The more people understand being American as being Anglo, the more lenient they are with those who look Anglo. Around the world, the broader and more inclusive our understanding of what it means to be a citizen of a country, the more diverse people we would be willing to welcome as new immigrants and refugees.
The language we use has serious consequences
Finally, it is striking how the language used to describe asylum seekers and immigrants by politicians or news media can conjure up images of hordes of animals, scurrying towards us. This type of language is dehumanizing, and research shows it has serious consequences. Endorsing harsher immigration policies is one outcome of dehumanizing language and using dehumanizing language can increase anger and disgust towards immigrants. The use of vermin metaphors to describe Jews during the Holocaust comes to mind when we think of how dehumanizing language has been used to justify atrocities. Indeed, the use of such language is one of the precursors of genocide. Therefore, while news reports describing immigrants in animalistic language may go unnoticed, the reality is that this language has the potential to lead to dire consequences for the world we live in.
The topic of immigration is complicated and the challenges and opportunities of migration are important for both immigrants and the host societies that receive them. An evidence-based approach to understanding the issues and the sentiments on both sides are needed for our societies to move forward to a more socially cohesive and peaceful world.
- Zahra Mirnajafi
Who is most likely to give to charity?
If you ask a professional fundraiser, they will probably tell you their best prospects are women, older people, and the religious.
There is plenty of evidence to support such ideas. Generally speaking, women are more likely to donate money to charity than men are. People are more likely to give as they age. And people who identify as religious are more likely to be donors and also give more on average than secular people do.
But are such donors universally generous?
Much of the research on charity looks at overall patterns of giving. In other words, research typically asks who gives to any charity and how much donors give to all supported charities.
I’m more interested in which charities people support. And why.
In a recent series of studies on charitable giving, my colleagues and I collected data from 675 donors to evaluate whether demographics not only explain if someone gives, but also which charities they support.
Our results suggest (as we expected) that people do not give indiscriminately. Instead, they show preferences toward charities that align with the priorities of their social groups.
Older donors are more likely to likely to support religious charities. This may be because older people are more likely to attend religious services, and therefore have higher exposure to asks for religious causes and also spend time with people who also give.
Older people give more to health charities as well. Given the increasing health problems associated with age, older donors and their social groups are more likely to benefit from health-related giving.
Religious donors are more likely to support religious, welfare, and international charities but are less likely to support animal causes. These targets align with priorities of religious groups. In particular, most of our respondents were Christian. The Christian faith (similarly to many religions) promotes giving to help the vulnerable and needy and also prioritises humans over animals.
Politically conservative donors are less likely than progressive donors to support international causes. Such patterns of giving may reflect the higher rates of nationalism commonly found among conservatives.
Though only a first step towards understanding how donors select the charities they support, these findings suggest that different identities may motivate support for different kinds of charities. Donors are therefore not universally generous, but support causes that align with their priorities and the priorities of the important social groups they belong to.
- Cassandra Chapman
Read the full article:
Chapman, C. M., Louis, W. R. & Masser, B. M. (2018). Identifying (our) donors: Towards a social psychological understanding of charity selection in Australia. Psychology and Marketing.
* This post is part of a series based on talks given at the Trajectories of Radicalisation and De-radicalisation Conference held at the University of Queensland in 2018.
With 1.8 billion adherents worldwide, Islam is the world’s second top religion after Christianity, which has 2.4 billion followers. Yet the inaccurate and problematic ways some mainstream news media in non-Muslim majority countries (including in Australia) portray Islam and Muslims is pervasive. It includes falling back on Orientalist tropes, racism and negative stereotypes to depict Muslims as unwanted and even terroristic “others”, a threat to the very fabric of Western society and “backward” people at odds with so-called “Western values”.
Such reporting fuels anger and at times violence directed at Muslims, and people who “look” Muslim such as Arabs and Sikhs. This is dangerous for national well being as it acts to undermine social harmony and increase social division.
Professor Kevin Dunn from Western Sydney University describes the portrayal of Islam and Muslims in Australia as ‘calamitous’ and as something that ‘gives rise to moral panics, fear, and degraded community relations’. Such reporting is largely (although far from wholly) influenced by ignorance of Islam and the cultural diversity of its adherents. In fact, Australians generally know little about Islam and its followers, yet at the same time hold strong opinions about both.
How can we promote responsible reporting?
The focus of the multi-year Reporting Islam Project has been on changing the ways the Australian mainstream news media report stories about Muslims and their faith. We have sought to pivot journalists away from the status quo towards reporting underpinned by the norms of good journalism – informed and analytical coverage that reflects truthfulness, objectivity, accuracy, balance, and fairness.
In our book Reporting Islam: International best practice for journalists, we argue that journalists can and must do better. We offer tips, tools and practical advice about effecting this much-needed change. Words matter when reporting stories about Islam and Muslims. So too does the prevailing newsroom culture. A newsroom culture that rewards reporting through the lens of conflict and tension can perpetuate the problem and prevent journalists from challenging emotive and fear-based reporting.
Our book is the culmination of a four-year research project that was funded by the Australian Government. Based at Griffith University, the key focus of the Reporting Islam Project was to develop a suite of multi-media resources for journalists to use to improve their reporting and effect the type of changes needed.
The Reporting Islam Project has been a team effort and while was led by academics, it would not have been possible without great partnerships and buy-in from news media organisations, journalists, Muslim people and organisations, policymakers, and police. This is critical at a time when some politicians continue to use the presence of Muslims in Australia to drive wedge politics. The commitment shown by journalists and news media organisations to the training opens the door to challenging the negative and problematic narratives that some politicians use to cause social division and to fostering socially responsible journalism.
Guest post by Jacqui Ewart and Kate O’Donnell.
Kate O’Donnell is a career public servant turned academic whose research interests also include critical infrastructure resilience, policing of protest and energy security.
Jacqui Ewart is a Professor of Journalism and Media Studies at Griffith University and a former journalist and media manager.
* This post is part of a series based on talks given at the Trajectories of Radicalisation and De-radicalisation Conference held at the University of Queensland in 2018.
In the lead up to the Pathways to Radicalisation and Deradicalisation Conference, Greta Nabbs-Keller and I organised a panel on gender and radicalisation in the Indonesian context. At the event, we spoke about the important but often overlooked link between gender and violent extremism (VE) in Indonesia. Here I would take the opportunity to outline my contribution to the panel, regarding masculinity and Indonesian jihadi groups.
I have been researching men’s pathways out of jihadi foreign fighter networks with Noor Huda Ismail, from Yayasan Prasasti Perdamaian, with the hope of better understanding the link between masculinity and what it means to be a jihadi in Indonesia.
While this research is ongoing, we have three core findings on the role that masculinity plays in Indonesian jihadi groups:
1) That everyday aspects of masculinity Indonesian are often as important as the ideology in recruitment.
2) That jihadi masculinities reflected complex relationships with other groups of men.
3) That disengagement from the network entailed a difficult process of building attachments to civilian masculinity.
The role of mainstream masculine ideals
The first finding was the fighters’ pathways into jihadi networks were shaped by a desire to live up to mainstream masculine ideas. For some of the fighters we interviewed, this included a peer pressure to protect the weak. Recruits often told us that they were told that a real man would not let the weak suffer and that they had to join the group to prove they weren’t cowards. For others, it was more closely associated with risk-seeking behaviour. In this instance, we found that recruits were often involved in bike gangs and other risk-taking forms of male-bonding, which were quickly transferred to the jihadi network as a more respectable form of adventure. In all the cases, it was not extreme or fringe forms of masculinity at play, but mainstream notions of what it means to be a man.
Complex relationships to masculinity
The second finding was fighters had complicated relationships with other forms of masculinity. In our interviews, men would often focus on the perceived failures of men who were unwilling to fight, the failure of Indonesian masculinity (often referring to politicians or businessmen), or the risk that of western forms of masculinity were corrupting the youth. What was more surprising was their difficult feelings towards the performance of masculinity seen in their Arab peers, whom some felt were excessively violent, or too quick to act. They tried to navigate what it meant to be a good man in the face of competing understandings and focused their efforts on legitimising their method as the ideal.
Rejection of common norms of masculinity
Finally, we found that many fighters found adjusting to civilian notions of masculinity profoundly difficult. Particularly for long-term members of the network, the idea of prioritising formal employment or membership to their local community was equivalent to giving in and becoming the kind of cowardly men they had spent a life opposing. Those who succeeded in disengaging from the network did so by finding new ways to ground the gender identity in religious teaching, fatherhood or education. These roles gave them a sense of status and authority even after they left could no longer fight.
While we are still trying to understand how masculinity relates to violent extremism, our research has confirmed that masculinity matters. We believe that to respond to violent extremism, it is not enough to understand the divisive effect of ideology. We must appreciate how harmful notions of masculinity can prime men to become recruits for violent extremist groups.
Guest post by Dr. David Duriesmith, University of Queensland
* This post is part of a series based on talks given at the Trajectories of Radicalisation and De-radicalisation Conference held at the University of Queensland in 2018.
Recent research suggests that identity fusion, a visceral sense of oneness with the group, is capable for motivating extreme self-sacrifice for others, even willingness to lay down one’s life in order to protect them. The link between fusion and self-sacrifice has been demonstrated in a wide variety of different groups, from rural tribesmen to football hooligans and from religious fundamentalists to revolutionary insurgents.
Can identity fusion help to explain the phenomenon of suicide terrorism? In a recent target article due to appear in Behavioural and Brain Sciences, I have argued yes. The article attracted a deluge of commentaries from which twenty-nine were accepted for publication, along with a substantial response from me. The debate is lively but the potential costs for not taking it seriously are high. If I’m right, instead of trying to de-radicalize terrorists we should be trying to de-fuse them. Rather than directly challenging the religious convictions or other kinds of beliefs held by extremists, the idea would be to focus attention instead on their personal experiences, and initiating a process of reframing self-defining memories that give rise to identity fusion in the first place. If such an approach were to work, it would likely need the support of the terrorists’ relational networks, including members of their families, school friends, workmates, and others.
Winnifred’s commentary (with Emma Thomas, Craig McGarty, Catherine Amiot, and Fathali Moghaddam*) also makes the argument that people fused with peaceful groups are not at risk of becoming violent extremists, so norm change may be a more relevant path forward for violent groups. I agree that violence condoning norms are likely to be part of the problem, and research we have done on fusion and violence with football hooligans supports this, but changing norms may not be the easiest or most effective starting point in tackling extremism. What we do know from previous research is that fusion is a necessary, even if not a sufficient, condition for certain forms of violent self-sacrifice so de-fusion certainly appears to be one of the options we should be considering in our efforts to tackle the problem.
Research on identity fusion has other potentially valuable applications to reduce criminal violence in society. In some cases, there may be benefits in fostering processes of fusion in persons who lack socially desirable group alignments, for example, convicted felons. If a legitimate goal of any criminal justice system is to reform prisoners, to reintegrate them into society as loyal and law-abiding citizens, then one way to do this might be to facilitate fusion with mainstream groups and values. Yet another potential application of fusion theory would be neither to create nor to obstruct group alignments but to harness existing ones, for example, to rebuild societies devastated by conflicts or natural disasters or to redirect the destructive urges of football hooligans into more socially desirable activities. Again, the research to test and translate the theory into application is only beginning to be conducted – and there is plenty of room for more researchers to become involved.
- Guest post by Professor Harvey Whitehouse, the University of Oxford.
* Louis, W. R., McGarty, C., Thomas, E. F., Amiot, C. E., & Moghaddam, F. M. (in press). The power of norms to sway fused group members. Brain and Behaviour Sciences. Accepted for publication, 11 June 2018.
* This post is part of a series based on talks given at the Trajectories of Radicalisation and De-radicalisation Conference held at the University of Queensland in 2018.
Young people across the world are growing up in environments marred by violent group-based conflict around religious, racial or political differences. These conflicts can have long-lasting effects, not only among survivors, but also for subsequent generations. These effects, however, need not only be negative; there are also constructive ways that young people react to conflict and its legacy. It is these constructive pathways that we have been researching amongst young people in Northern Ireland in our Altruism Born of Suffering project.
What is Altruism Born of Suffering?
Altruism born of suffering (ABS) is a theory that outlines the conditions under which individuals who have experienced risk or harm may be motivated to help others. Key dimensions include whether the harm was suffered individually (e.g., being beaten up) or collectively (e.g., bomb targeted at a community), and whether it was intentional (e.g., hate crime) or not (e.g., natural disaster). It is thought that individuals who experience harm or risk might engage in helping behaviours due to shared past experiences, common victim identity and increased empathy with other sufferers. Whether an individual helps or not might also be influenced by personal and environmental influences such as norms (unwritten rules about how to behave) and past intergroup contact experiences (how often an individual interacts with those from a different group and how positive those interactions are). We believe that understanding the processes underlying these positive pathways following adversity, especially among young people, may be the foundation for more constructive intra- and intergroup experiences that can help to rebuild social relations.
Youth as Peacemakers in Northern Ireland
As part of our project, we conducted a survey (in Autumn 2016 and then again in Spring 2017) amongst 14-15 year olds living in Northern Ireland (N = 466, evenly split by religion and gender) to examine how ABS might playout in a real-world conflict setting.
Participants, born after the 1998 Belfast Agreement, represent a ‘post-accord’ generation. Although not exposed to the height of the ‘Troubles,’ the most recent peak of intergroup violence between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, these young people still face ongoing sectarianism and annual spikes in tension.
We found that having friends who support youth to have friends from the ‘other’ group is really important in determining how much young people interact across group lines. Furthermore, having intergroup contact is associated with greater support for peacebuilding and being more engaged in society, and with lower participation in sectarian anti-social behaviours. Finally, when youth are exposed to a continued intergroup threat, they are more likely to engage in sectarian antisocial behaviours if families reinforce group distinctions and intergroup bias.
Our findings suggest that youth who are living with the legacy of protracted intergroup conflict can be supported to engage in constructive behaviours and that it is vital to recognise the peacebuilding potential of youth.
Guest post by Dr. Shelley McKeown Jones, University of Bristol, and Dr. Laura K. Taylor, University of Bristol.
For those who follow the latest social change trends, sustainable living is the buzz term of the day.
Composting your own food waste. Living in a tiny house. Beekeeping in your suburban backyard. It's hip, it’ll keep the economy purring, and it’s profoundly exhausting:
“I just remember standing there with tears welling up in my eyes. Looking at these two tins of tomatoes, just trying to decide you know, do I buy the organic ones, but they're Italian? Or the non-organic ones, but they're Australian? And I was just … I'm even feeling emotional about it now. Then I thought I've got to get some chocolate and I'll feel better and I'll be able to make a decision. And I went to the chocolate aisle, but of course, I didn't have my ethical consumer guide with me and didn't know which chocolate I could buy that didn't have child slave labour behind it. And then, that was the moment I got really angry. I was just like hey, hold on a second, why is this my job? Why am I supposed to spend every moment, reading every label to make decisions about things that aren't even perfect decisions anyway? Why isn't the job of the company just not to use child slave labour? Why is this all put on me? And I felt really angry and I just, and that's when I realised that all the time I'd been feeling like that whole taking individual action was empowering, but it's not. It's actually keeping you in your place. All of a sudden I saw that as actually a very convenient narrative for big corporations.”
This experience was recounted to me, as part of my research interviewing environmental campaigners about their advocacy experiences and successes. Choosing the ‘right’ tin of tomatoes wasn’t high on the list; in fact, not one of the 26 interviewees said that either the individual consumption or lifestyle choices they, or others they have influenced, were one of their successes.
Instead, they chose big wins like stopping mining and development projects and protecting parcels of conservation land. They had empowered their communities, worked to build partnerships with other groups, and won funds to implement their advocacy activities.
They demonstrated that grassroots advocacy could be successful.
Despite the fact that it is difficult to empirically measure whether environmental advocacy directly achieves campaign success, many of the current rights and freedoms we enjoy owe their existence to the activities of countless advocates who came before us. Advocacy can create social change. It has in the past, and it can in the future.
So why is much of the modern environmental messaging about individual change rather than systemic change?
It is understandable why people may choose to change aspects of their lifestyle rather than external economic, social and political systems over which they have little control. Choosing a bamboo toothbrush doesn’t require an individual to take a public moral stance on an issue. Aspiring to live sustainably doesn’t require expert knowledge on why capitalist systems are unable to address climate change. And of course, choosing to spend your time trying to achieve systems change can be uncomfortable, costly, stressful and demanding. Most of my interviewees shared common stories of burnout, conflict, and aggression.
For these reasons and more, purchasing can be much easier than protesting.
It’s comforting to believe that we can buy our way out of our environmental problems. Yet, it is clear that sustainable living and lifestyle changes will not be enough in isolation to address global challenges such as climate change. Like climate change, many of our environmental problems are systemic problems which require collective action to change.
Living sustainably, but in isolation, is not collective action. However, this does not necessarily mean it is futile. As my interviewee above discovered, individual awareness of the need for a sustainable lifestyle could actually be a pathway towards collective action:
”So all of a sudden I felt really powerful and I was like ah, bought whatever chocolate. Forgot about the tomatoes. Yeah, I just went and bought whatever. Went home, fed my baby, put him to bed and wrote a letter.”
And from these experiences, a strong, vibrant and active collective of environmental advocates is born.
- Robyn Gulliver
As members or leaders of an organization, how can we ensure that a merger with another group goes well?
Mergers happen in the business world, but also in groups that are trying to create social change. My own area of research is religious social change groups in Indonesia. In this context, we see mergers happen and see mergers fail. In 1973 four Islamic parties in Indonesia fused to form a single party named the Unity and Development Party (PPP). Instead of getting stronger by combining resources, the fusion weakened the political drive of the movement.
Why do mergers happen? For example, when facing a crisis, a political or organizational group can merge with another group to combine their power (as was the motivation for the Islamic groups in Indonesia). By doing this, they are more likely to overcome a crisis with their shared resources. However, this action brings about a challenge in managing how members feel about themselves.
This issue seems trivial, but the information below presents a different perspective.
According to a KPMG study, 83% of merger deals within organisational contexts do not advance shareholders’ returns. Other studies concluded that mergers have a failure rate of 50 to 85 percent. Managing post-merger situations to get the ideal outcomes are often focused on environmental factors, values, and attitudes. What is often overlooked is the role of leaders. For instance, many leaders of mergers and acquisitions assume the work climate will continue to develop as it had until the point of merger, but it most often does not. Another important reason mergers commonly fail is that the identity changes that need to occur in group members are overlooked.
Below are a few approaches that we can use in supporting identity integration in merged organisations:
1. Building trust by giving trust
Post-merger situations lead us to interact with people outside our normal organizational circles, and often, mutual trust has not been built. The tricky part of this situation is that trust is needed to form a group identity. So how can we identify with others, if we do not trust them?
The growth of trust in an organisational setting is a gradual process that requires social interactions. If the goal is to build trust and make it a norm in our environment, the simplest way of doing this is by giving trust. Offering trust is a reciprocal action.
2. Boosting a sense of belonging through articulating similarities
To put it simply, belonging happens when you feel accepted as a member of a group. Post-merger situations can often be difficult because they require creating a sense of belonging to a newly merged group. A way of building a sense of belonging in such a group is to highlight the similarities between members of the newly merged group. It can be useful to focus on their shared goals and values, rather than on the differences and difficulties. When situations arise such that highlighting similarity may feel forced, a sense of belonging can come from using our own strengths to help others, and ask for help in return.
At this point, we also need to consider the different status concerns between the two groups merged. Research has found that the members of groups with lower status in a merger generally reported lower adjustment (e.g., less confidence in collaborating with new teammates, etc.) and a greater threat from the merger process. The solution offered for this issue is developing a new group identity that is complex, inclusive, and keeps positive images from both pre-merged groups. Members of the high-status group need to communicate that they care about and value the lower status group and its members.
3. Reframing ‘us vs them’
When two different groups merge, the possibility of a ‘Us vs Them’ mentality may arise. This sort of mentality can be a serious obstacle in post-merger situations. Leaders can take an active role in shaping the group’s new identity: creating and embedding ‘a sense of us’ within the merged groups. Cy Wakeman, the author of ‘Reality Based Leadership’, highlights an employee-based approach to overcome the ‘Us vs Them’ within a multi-group workplace situation. The approach is summarized into four steps: taking responsibility for what we can control, inviting people to take on their own responsibility, helping others to redirect their energy more productively, and actively participating in the efforts to generate a sense of ‘we-ness’.
Overall, merging groups together is a complex task – it brings with it advantages but also brings new challenges. Understanding how people create and manage their social identity will help in a post-merger context that requires identity change. Building interpersonal and intergroup trust, focusing on similarities and creating a new frame of we-ness might be effective approaches in leading a group fusion process.
Footage of 12 boys trapped in a cave system in Thailand has inundated our screens in recent days.
An international rescue effort is under way, which includes a team of specialists sent by the Australian government to assist with the safe recovery of the young soccer team. Highlighting the gravity of the situation, a former Thai Navy diver has died after running out of oxygen during rescue efforts.
This is without doubt a frightening situation for the boys and their families. It’s no surprise the situation has received global media attention. Though it does raise some interesting questions about how we extend empathy and concern to people we don’t know.
Why does this tragedy capture the world’s attention, when more long-term issues such as children in detention don’t to the same extent? Research from moral psychology can help us to understand this.
A Picture is worth a thousand words
A key reason is simply that we can see the Thai soccer team. We’re watching the rescue effort play out, and we can see the emotions of the boys and their families.
We have seen this kind of viral, blanket coverage of tragic incidents recently. For example, the horrific scenes of children fighting for their lives after the 2017 chemical weapon attacks in Syria. Or the striking image that emerged in June of a small Honduran girl crying as her mother is detained by officials at the US-Mexico border.
By contrast, issues that are arguably no less frightening don’t always generate the same outpouring of concern and sympathy. For example, the more than 200 children held in detention on Nauru and throughout the Australian mainland.
This isn’t to suggest the Australian government shouldn’t aid in international rescue efforts, but we should be equally concerned about the far greater number of children being held indefinitely in Australian detention.
The fact is we have very little access to images of children in detention, as media access to Manus Island and Nauru is heavily restricted. For example, journalists face substantial obstacles if they want to visit our offshore detention centres, and in 2016 the Australian government threatened health-care workers with jail time if they spoke about the conditions they encountered on Nauru and Manus.
We simply aren’t permitted to view the plight of child refugees, and we’re much less likely to experience an empathic response if we can’t see them.
The recent outcry caused by the dramatic footage aboard an Australian live export ship illustrates this perfectly. Most of us would be aware to some extent live export is a cruel practice. But it isn’t until the footage forces us to confront the realities that we create enough momentum to discuss meaningful change.
Time and perspective matters
The perspective we take also makes a huge difference. If we can easily draw comparisons between ourselves and those in need we’re more likely to extend concern and empathy.
Given Australia’s geography and climate, it’s not too difficult for us to imagine our children caught up in a natural disaster. It’s much more difficult for us to imagine our children fleeing their homeland and seeking asylum in a foreign country.
And it’s far easier to extend sympathy to a situation that, one way or another, will reach an end.
Ongoing humanitarian issues such as asylum seekers or food shortages on the African continent feel like immense challenges often placed in the too hard basket. Therefore, these issues fade away in the face of what we consider more pressing matters with more straightforward resolutions.
Language is crucial
The labels we attach are also crucial in determining our response.
For example, in 2016, former prime minister, Tony Abbott referred to asylum seekers as an invading force.
This sort of language is incredibly damaging, because when trying to make sense of a moral injustice we immediately look to identify both a victim and a villain. Suffering without a villain doesn’t always make sense to us – though the villains we choose are often subjective.
There is some fascinating research demonstrating this. For example, throughout the US, belief in God is highest in states where citizens experience the greatest amount of suffering – infant mortality, cancer deaths, natural disasters. This relationship holds after controlling for a range of alternative explanations, such as income and education. God is perceived to be the “villain” responsible for all this senseless suffering.
It’s impossible to label those suffering at the hands of a chemical attack as anything but victims. However, if we perceive asylum seekers as wrongdoers trying to steal some sort of unfair advantage, we’re far less likely to think of them as victims requiring our compassion, meaning it’s far easier to cast them out of our moral circle.
Do we have a moral responsibility to think differently?
Of course we should have sympathy for the soccer team trapped in the cave. But no matter the outcome, the story will disappear from our screens as the next pressing crisis arises.
We should ensure the reality of longer-term problems doesn’t also disappear, having fallen victim to the failings of our moral cognition.
- Dan Crimston, Postdoctoral Researcher in Morality and Social Psychology, The University of Queensland.
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
The social psychology of collective action to achieve social change (e.g., social protests, demonstrations, petitions, strikes) has long focused on members of disadvantaged groups in Western democratic societies. This has led to knowledge about “core motivations” for collective action (Van Zomeren, 2013): Individuals’ identification with the disadvantaged group or social movement, their anger towards those responsible for their collective disadvantage, and their belief in the efficacy of the group or movement to change things for the better. Such knowledge is important for effectively targeting the right motivations when mobilizing individuals for collective action. However, if we want our scientific insights to be useful in practice, we also need to be accurate in communicating them. We may therefore want to be careful with broad, sweeping claims, as there is a huge elephant in the room called “culture”.
Does what we know about collective action apply to non-western contexts?
This elephant matters because social psychology is embedded in Western philosophy and thought that underpin Western democratic societies. What we learn through science about collective action is therefore very much dependent on the culture we study it in. This dovetails with Henrich et al. (2005, 2010)’s forceful criticism on the broader field of psychology for zooming in on those in Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic (i.e., WEIRD) contexts. Many textbook findings in psychology are geared towards WEIRD individuals and contexts, but may have little applicability beyond. This would not be problematic if most people in the world are WEIRD --- but the fact is that WEIRD people are only a small minority of the world population, and thus may be best seen as an exception, rather than as a rule. Therefore, what we know about collective action may similarly be restricted to WEIRD individuals and contexts.
This is precisely why Winnifred Louis and I guest-edited a 2017 special issue of Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, which asked: How well do the things that we think we know about collective action apply to individuals and contexts outside of Westernized territories? We argued that culture is not just geography --- it is also psychology. Indeed, culture is about how individuals psychologically connect to the people and groups around them in their social world. Culture, at the end of the day, is therefore about what we share in terms of how we understand the world around us, and what we want to change about it together, for example through collective action.
We need cultural diversity in our study of collective action
The special issue exceeded our expectations in terms of the cultural diversity in where studies of collective action were conducted. For instance - Italy, Canada, Russia, Turkey, New Zealand, Germany, Croatia, Hungary, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Ukraine. Furthermore, the different studies focused on very different collective action groups and contexts, such as sexism across different cultures, and ethnic discrimination in New Zealand. This shows that the study of collective action is global, and highlights at least two key consequences for how we think about collective action. First, more culturally diverse samples require us to also diversify our theories about collective action, for instance by taking advantage of the insights from cultural psychology. And second, we should be open to being challenged by our findings, and to change our current explanations of collective action. Indeed, such reflection may yield the important insight that what we know already may be too “Western”.
In conclusion, the new and exciting direction in the social psychology of collective action is culture. Importantly, discovering the importance of culture for how people change the world together will require scholars to change their minds, or at least their theories. I invite anyone interested in contributing to this to join this challenge.
- Guest post by Professor Martijn van Zomeren, University of Gronigen
This blog post is the second in a series summarising a special issue of PAC:JPP on the role of social movements in bringing about (or failing to bring about!) political and social transformation. I co-edited the special issue with Cristina Montiel, and it is available online to those with access (or by contacting the papers’ authors or via ResearchGate). Our intro summarising all articles is also online ‘open access’ here.
The overall aim of the special issue was to explore how social movements engage in, respond to, or challenge violence, both in terms of direct or physical violence and structural violence, injustice and inequality. In my first post I looked at four papers from that issue; in this piece I look at 2 more. The key theme that I want to draw out from the two papers here is how social transformation occurs along multiple dimensions that can progress and regress rapidly, and in complex ways.
Movement failure can follow success (and vice-versa)
One important analysis was provided by Uluğ and Acar (2018), who are both peace psychologists, in an article titled, “What happens after the protests? Understanding protest outcomes through multi-level social change.” Acar – as most readers may not know – is a social psychologist in Turkey who was recently charged and convicted for signing a pro-peace petition (along with 100s of other academics who have also suffered penalties including jail time, job losses). Her important reflection on her shocking experience is online here, and there is some detail about the evolving context and opportunities for people to support the academics involved.
In the article in the special issue, Uluğ and Acar are examining the impact of a series of protests around Gezi Park in Istanbul, Turkey. The protests started in opposition to urban development of the park, although many other issues (such as opposition to corruption and militarism) soon became included. For the paper, a series of expert interviews were conducted analysing the impact of the protests for individuals, groups and society in the short and longer term. An aspect of the piece that I would like to highlight in particular is that after the Gezi Park protests, the consensus was that first, there had been a number of gains in the short term; but second, these were then rolled back as the authorities fought back over time, particularly with the rising authoritarianism in Turkey after the coup attempt of 2016. The piece by Uluğ and Acar highlights how success in creating more freedom can be temporary and fragile (and more hopefully, also that failure can be momentary).
The pace of social change over years or decades invites interdisciplinary, historical analysis – but also, in my mind, this dynamic invites additional research and theorizing (a challenge our group has begun to address in an in-press paper *). The process whereby social movements’ successes create counter-mobilization, and sometimes state repression, which in turn may create new movements, or lead to tactical changes, is strangely understudied within social psych – and of course, we might also consider how this is occurring at the same time as actors struggle to create or undermine institutions and cultures that support structural peace.
Historical change over decades: A case study of Madagascar
A second piece within the special issue which engaged the theme of cycles of peace and conflict was Razakamaharavo’s (2018) “Processes of Conflict De-escalation in Madagascar (1947– 1996)”. Razakamaharavo explicitly takes a historical perspective to reflect on periods of greater turbulence or stability by working on episodes of conflict with various intensities between the colonial period and 2016. The paper considers in depth (including with a welcome review of the relevant literature) the factors that lead some regions or groups to remain trapped indefinitely in stalemates or ‘intractable conflict’, or to break free. The paper’s analysis of the Madagascar context then specifically documents swings and roundabouts of conflict escalation and de-escalation, and thoughtfully considers their causes.
What is fascinating in this piece (and in that by Uluğ and Acar) is how the levels of analysis appear to change not just in tandem, but independently or even in contradiction. Institutional changes may be occurring that erode or promote peace, at the same time as changes in structural relations between groups, ideological and policy changes, changes of personnel and by leaders of tactics, as well as changing narratives and experiences of trauma and healing, are working in the same, orthogonal, or opposite dimensions. The complexity of this for modelling, theorising and analysis is immense!
As with the first blog post, there is much more that could be said about each of these papers. I hope there is time for more engagement another time, but meanwhile I am excited, through this post, to begin to share the messages more widely.
- Winnifred Louis
* Louis, W. R., Chonu, G. K., Achia, T., Chapman, C. M., Rhee, J. (in press). Building group norms and group identities into the study of transitions from democracy to dictatorship and back again. In B. Wagoner, I. Bresco, & V. Glaveanu (Eds.), The Road To Actualized Democracy. Accepted for publication 12 December 2016.
Coercive control is when an abuser consistently or repeatedly uses a pattern of behaviours to insert themselves into, and control, the abused partner’s life. It is a pattern originally identified by Evan Stark in 2007, which aims to strip the victim of independence and self-confidence. Coercive control is associated with long-term harm and can pose significant risk from the abuser even after the relationship is over. Given the role that coercive control plays in understanding and responding to intimate partner violence, below are 4 things everyone should know about what it is and how it functions.
1. What does coercive control in romantic relationships look like?
Coercive control involves abusers attempting to dictate every aspect of their partner’s lives, and does not necessarily require physical violence. Some examples of non-physical, abusive behaviours are:
2. The impact on health and well-being.
The gradual loss of independence that comes with coercive control, and the consistent experience of stress and tension, can have a lasting negative impact on the health and well-being of victims. The road to recovery from non-physical elements of coercive control and the destruction of self-esteem, are often reported as a challenge as great as recovery from physical violence. For victims, a considerable struggle after leaving their abusive partner is regaining confidence and faith in themselves.
3. The risk of retaliation.
Even after leaving a relationship with coercive control there is a risk of retaliation from the abuser. Risk of retaliation is associated with the amount of coercive control an abuser has over their victim, rather than the physical or non-physical nature of the previous abuse. The risks are clearly illustrated by the cases of Claire Hart in the UK, and Tara Costigan in Australia. Although neither Claire nor Tara experienced physical abuse from their partners during the course of their relationships, both were tragically murdered after taking steps to leave their controlling abusers. In less extreme but still very damaging cases, victims experience continued abuse from their former partners such as harassment or stalking. In cases with children in particular, abuse can continue through court proceedings.
4. Coercive control and the law.
It can be particularly difficult to prosecute coercive control involving non-physical abuse in a legal system that presses criminal charges based on single instances of criminal behaviour. The UK recently implemented a coercive control offence in an attempt to remedy this problem. Unfortunately, the results of this law do not appear to be as positive as might have been expected.
As we progress in our understanding of intimate partner violence it is important to develop a deeper understanding of coercive control. We need to further our awareness of the warning signs, the harms it causes, the risks it poses, and the complexities of this issue. It is clear from what we now know that a lack of physical violence doesn’t necessarily reduce the harm or risk of retaliation for those who have experienced abuse. We need to move away from a black and white understanding of abuse that discounts the severity of non-physical abuse to come to grips with the true nature and scale of the problem.
- Kiara Minto
What is the role of social movements in bringing about, or failing to bring about, political and social change? Cristina Montiel and I recently edited a special issue of Peace and Conflict: The Journal of Peace Psychology, inviting answers to this question. In addition, we aimed to explore how social movements engage in, respond to, or challenge violence, injustice, and inequality.
This blog post begins to summarise the special issue, which is available online to those with access (or by contacting the papers’ authors or via ResearchGate). There were ten articles in total, and each one a gem, if I may say so. I thought I would explore the papers in two or three blog posts, of which this is the first. The introduction to the special issue also summarises all these articles to begin our understanding of the challenges and breakthroughs of social change.
How can we break through conflict?
In the first paper, Ben-David and Rufel-Lifschitz talked through three approaches that created social change in Israel. They used three case studies of environmental, LGBT, and religious organisations. (It should perhaps be noted that none worked directly on the conflict with Palestinians; as I write this post in May 2018, Israel has been racked again by bloody protests in which troops have shot dozens of protestors. It feels like we are far from positive change, and growing further away. But all the more reason, perhaps, to explore some of the recommendations that have created a sense of progress for other social movements in Israel.) Ben-David and Rufel-Lifschitz articulate the following recommendations to break through conflict: rejecting simple binaries and adopting a complex view of identities; committing to a moral compass (resisting retaliation in the face of state or opponent violence); and using small and symbolic acts, carefully timed, to build trust and attract reciprocation. The paper generates a sense of hope and inspiration, which can be rare emotions!
Leaving violence behind – Challenges for violent groups
Ferguson, McDaid and McCauley, reviewed five challenges violent groups face in order to leave violence behind. Their paper described how loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland accomplished these tasks. The challenges were: changing the cultural glorification and subjective inevitability of violence; making the decision as a group to cease physical attacks; resisting pressure from group members and others to restart violence as the peace unfolds and in the transition; developing an activist culture for political non-violence; and learning to trust progress with former enemies. One of many interesting points made by the authors was that it was essential to retain formerly violent group members as key members during the transition to peace. Formerly violent group members bring legitimacy to the change because of their moral authority as former warriors. This is needed to defeat the calls to restart violence from younger members and outsiders. Ferguson and colleagues argued that attempting to disengage disillusioned members prematurely from violent extremist groups could slow the pace of change and undermine the sustainability of the transition.
Violence by and against the police: Case studies from South Africa and Portugal
Also dealing directly with violent actors were two papers examining police violence towards protesters, through analysis of incidents in Portugal (Soares, Barbosa, Matos, and Mendes, 2018) and South Africa (Kiguwa and Ally, 2018). These were rich and fascinating analyses involving the views of police, community members, and protestors. One of the points that struck me the most was the symmetry between arguments that legitimise police violence towards protestors and delegitimise protestors’ violence towards the police in these two different contexts. For example, protestors’ behaviour was seen as a trigger or provocation for police ‘defense’ of the police and the community, but neither direct nor structural violence by the state was seen as a legitimate trigger for protestors’ aggression. This kind of asymmetry seems relevant in many contexts.
There is much more that could be said about each of these papers, and perhaps there will be an occasion to engage more deeply on another day – but it gives me great pleasure through this post to begin to share the messages more widely. I hope that interested readers will explore these papers and the other great work of these authors.
- Winnifred Louis
Effective Altruism is a global movement to promote efficient philanthropy.
Propelled by Peter Singer’s The Life You Can Save and William MacAskill’s 80,000 hours, the movement argues that individuals have a moral obligation to give as much as they can. Effective altruists urge donors to use science and evaluation to determine which action is morally best—defined as helping the largest number of people possible.
Effective altruism is increasingly popular with scientists, philosophers, and donors around the globe. Yet the movement has been criticised by many activists and aid workers.
Is effective altruism just?
The desire to maximise good may lead some effective altruists to overlook those with the greatest need. The extremely poor, disabled people, and those who are disadvantaged in multiple ways are comparatively costly to help because their problems tend to be complex.
Further, some effective altruists may endorse actions that benefit many but carry a heavy cost for a few. For example, they may perceive sweat shops to be morally defensible because they provide cheap and abundant goods to many around the world, even though they are harmful to workers.
Some critics consider effective altruism to be unjust when it overlooks severe need and endorses projects that benefit many at the expense of a few.
Is the measurement of effectiveness appropriate?
Effective altruists seek an evidence-base for the impact of their giving. They generally favour data that is quantifiable and measureable in the short term.
This sounds great, but actually presents some challenges.
Effective altruists put special stock in randomised, controlled trials, a famously robust method of scientific investigation. These trials, however, are costly. Many charities cannot afford to run them. This has lead effective altruists to disproportionately endorse medical interventions, where funding for such trials has been forthcoming.
These trials work best on small, containable solutions. Mosquito nets, for example, can be randomly allocated to some individuals, and infection rates are easy to measure. However, many of the world’s greatest problems—like education, food production, water quality, and human rights—cannot be solved with a simple product.
Important solutions may be overlooked by effective altruists because they are harder to evaluate with preferred quantifiable methods.
Does effective altruism help people in the long-term?
Critics claim that effective altruists focus disproportionately on tangible solutions but fail to consider the wider socio-political landscape that creates and perpetuates human suffering.
First, focusing on personal charity as the solution to systemic inequality may lead some effective altruists to overlook their privilege and the benefits they receive from the political and economic systems that oppress the global poor.
Campaigning and sustained advocacy are required to change many of the systems that oppress people. Effective altruism, with its focus on doing the most good, is cause-neutral. This means that effective altruists may be less likely to sustain focus on a given issue long enough for real change to occur.
Focusing on technical approaches and cost-benefit analyses, effective altruists may prefer to send dependency-oriented help (a total solution to a problem) rather than autonomy-oriented help (the tools and skills people need to help themselves). Rather than lifting people out of poverty and hardship, dependency-oriented help may actually perpetuate a reliance on aid in the long-term.
When beneficiaries take charge, they develop self-esteem and a sense of control over their lives. Communities that develop their own solutions also care more about maintaining change over time. Unfortunately, it is much more expensive and time-consuming to up-skill local community members to drive solutions forward than to provide outside experts who are already trained.
Taken together, these concerns suggest effective altruists may be less likely to recognise the systemic sources of suffering. They may also be less willing to offer aid that brings about sustainable change.
So, is effective altruism effective?
The effective altruism movement has been inspiring to many and has motivated a groundswell of generosity that is wonderful to see. Yet, some claim that effective altruism is unjust, methodologically flawed, and fails to address systemic sources of poverty and oppression.
As a comparatively young movement, effective altruism is still finding its feet. Once the movement considers and responds to such suggestions for improvement, its momentum could make a huge positive impact in the world. Three ways effective altruism could change for the better are: considering the degree of need; broadening the sources of evidence; and seeking to build capacity within beneficiary groups to respond to future crises.
What are the causes and conditions of global inequality? How can I best help? What can I do with my resources and privilege to create a better world?
As concerned humans—whether we be effective altruists, traditional philanthropists, activists, or volunteers—the more we ask ourselves these questions, the better the world will become.
- Cassandra Chapman
The content of this blog post is based on the following article:
Gabriel, I. (2017). Effective Altruism and its Critics. Journal of Applied Philosophy, 34(4), 457-473. DOI: 10.1111/japp.12176
When I had first moved to Australia from India, a friend of mine was growing out his hair and we were having an elaborate discussion about how his hair could be styled. He was looking for some advice from me (I give great hair and skincare advice in general). I suggested a look and he wasn’t convinced at first. So I said to him that I’d google it for him and show him how it could look on someone like him. When I typed the style descriptor in, I added “White male” into the search terms. He found it hilarious and said that just adding “male” would have done the job. He later joked that I was being super racist towards him! I had to explain to him that while in his world, “man” just meant men who looked like him (i.e., White), my world consisted of both White men and other men of colour. In describing him as a White man, I was being specific and descriptive.
Our relationship with race continues to be a difficult one - true for both White folks and for folks of colour.
Consider this: white folks apparently shouldn’t be seeing colour in anything or anyone – things get pretty awkward the moment race or skin colour is mentioned. Additionally, folks of colour can’t catch a break from “where are you really from?” based on how they look. They are encouraged to become race-blind by the very same people when they’re told “Oh my god, stop seeing race in everything!”. It’s only time before someone gets badly hurt from all this blindness!
The topic of race makes people anxious, and it doesn’t help that talking about race also evokes social disapproval. To protect ourselves from all this angst, we use different strategies such as avoidance, pluralistic ignorance, and denial. One particularly preferred strategy, is called strategic colourblindness.
Strategic colourblindness is the avoidance of putting race on the table. It is the avoidance of talking about race, noting racial factors as influencing anything, or even acknowledging racial difference. The purpose of this is to avoid the appearance of bias, or avoiding potential misunderstanding, or the avoidance of discomfort that comes from considering the issue of race.
It’s the familiar “I don’t see race or skin colour, I see people as people” line. It sounds great, right? It may even seem like a strategy that would make the world an equal place for us all. But as research now shows (see here for a review), it is a strategy and set of beliefs that is linked with several social processes that preserve the racial status quo, and further entrench existing cleavages in inter-racial interactions.
So how is it harmful to suggest that we see people as individuals and not as mere members of groups? Let’s break it down from the start.
“I don’t see colour” – is it really possible for us to not perceive race when we meet someone?
People claim that they don’t see race or skin colour, but on the contrary, research indicates that people are not colourblind perceivers. Of all the dimensions on which people categorise others, race is among the quickest and most automatic categories we process when we see someone.
People see colour, but saying that they do, is not socially acceptable. This gap between perceiving racial categories and the reduced social acknowledgement of it, is often guided by social and interactional motivations. This means that people don’t acknowledge race because they don’t want to appear prejudice, and want to avoid the anxiety of race-based conversations.
Is insisting on a colourblind view of the world actually furthering racial hierarchy, alienating White folks, and silencing racial minorities?
1. Colourblind strategies make White people feel bias-free but they ironically appear biased to folks of colour:
Research shows that whilst avoiding the issue of race is a way of protecting oneself from the anxiety inter-racial interactions for socially dominant groups, most commonly White folks in the inter-racial equation, it actually backfires and is counterproductive. Contrary to seeming non-prejudicial and bias-free, when White people avoid race in race-relevant contexts, folks of colour are quick to pick up on the avoidance, and perceive them as racially biased.
2. The “I don’t see colour” line, may feel like equality, but the consequences associated with such beliefs are far from equal.
Colourblind beliefs are associated with implicit bias, modern racism, and less support for equality initiatives that create opportunities for minorities.
3. Colourblind beliefs makes us particularly prone to ignoring, overlooking, or downplaying instances of inequality and bias.
Ignoring people’s identity groups makes us prone to either ignoring or downplaying instances of bias, discrimination, or inequality (see here and here). So when White folks adopt colourblindness, it can make them blind to the injustices that folks of colour face as a result of the racial groups they belong to, and the unique experiences they come with. Also, colourblind views are seen as maintaining the status quo – keeping the system of racial hierarchy and oppression-justifying beliefs going. System-justifying beliefs can include beliefs that racism is now a thing of the past, and that inequality by race or ethnic group no longer exists. Put together, it keeps the cycle of poor faith and mistrust going between White people and racial minorities.
I’m going to end by going back to the question I asked at the start:
How does something that is actually suggesting that we see people as individuals and not as mere members of groups, harmful?
Try to answer the following questions for yourself now that you have read the research.
When I adopt a colourblind strategy:
Tulsi Achia is a second year PhD student in the social change lab, and works as a researcher for a not-for-profit organisation. Her PhD focuses on advantaged group allyship or solidarity with disadvantaged groups and ways in which it goes wrong. In projects outside her PhD, she is currently exploring the framing of group-blind thinking in the context of expressed progressive values and allyship with disadvantaged groups, and its impact on the uptake or rejection of diversity initiatives.
All researchers in the Social Change Lab contribute to the "Do Good" blog. Click the author's name at the bottom of any post to learn more about their research or get in touch.