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.
Australia national gender pay gap sits at 15.3%, and has been hovering between 15% and 19% for the last two decades. It’s a complex issue caused by many factors.
It’s not simply that both genders are doing the same work but getting paid differently (although that’s one of the factors). Women tend to have more unpaid caring and domestic chores, they work in jobs that attract less pay, and require more workplace flexibility to accommodate other responsibilities. Taken together, women’s greater time out of the workforce affects their career progression and opportunities.
Would the gender pay gap still exist if women had more flexibility? Let’s take a look at one of world’s most popular ride-sharing services, Uber, as an example.
Is Uber the new example for gender wage gap equality?
Uber seems to offer solutions to some of the issues around the gender pay gap: Their drivers have the freedom to hit the road and start working any time they want; a system of pay based on distance travelled; they also have gender-blind matching of drivers and riders. Theoretically, under those conditions, men and women would earn the same. Perhaps riders would even prefer female drivers?
According to data collected in the United States from January 2015 to March 2017, there was no gender discrimination on the platform - meaning people didn’t show a preference based on the gender of their customers, or their drivers. This is a good start.
However, men were found to make 7% more per hour on average.
So what accounts for this pay difference?
Drivers' decision of when and where to drive accounts for 20% of the wage gap. Men tend to work shifts that have higher pay i.e., late night, early morning shifts. Men also work routes that pay more, such as airport trips. The other reason is that women tend to drive for Uber for shorter periods of time – Men are more much likely to drive for Uber for over 2 years. But how would this affect the hourly pay gap? One word: Experience.
It was found that the more trips a driver does, the more they learn the best ways to make money from the platform. While money earned per trip doesn’t increase, drivers just get better at knowing when and where to drive, how fast to drive, and which ride to strategically accept/cancel. This accounts for 30% of the wage gap.
Need for speed
In general, men drive faster than women, this means that men are completing more trips per hour and thus making more per hour. Faster drivers also attract higher ratings from customers. Driving speed accounts for the remaining 50% of the pay gap.
There is indeed a gender pay gap on the Uber platform, but it is not a structural problem. While gig-work like Uber offers women more flexible work hours, there are still other factors that contribute to the pay difference.
Perhaps over time, the app would improve enough to close the earning gap between new drivers and more experienced ones. Perhaps by putting the spot light on speed as the major determinant of the pay gap, slower drivers (of all walks of life) can step on the pedal and get a bit richer (or die trying).
- Hannibal Thai
Hannibal is a first year PhD student researching how message framing can be used to promote environmentally friendly behaviours.
The right image mage can be a powerful way to capture and engage people on an important issue. Three main tips for selecting the right image are:
Use images that evoke an emotional connection.
Use images that are recognised as relevant to the topic/issue being communicated.
Use images that are personally relevant to the viewer.
In a recent study, I applied these principles in the context of sustainable urban storm-water management.
The Australian government is investing large amounts of money in new, sustainable storm-water management initiatives. These initiatives will help address future challenges associated with increasingly extreme rainfall events like storms, cyclones and flood. But as with any new policy initiative, the government must ensure that the wider community is supportive of this transition away from traditional storm-water management practices. The traditional storm-water systems focus on pipes and sewer systems, and the new systems use more sustainable solutions such as rain-gardens, green-walls and wetlands.
Knowing which images engage or disengage people can help people to better understand this transition.
The Australian government is investing in new “water sensitive” storm-water management like rain-gardens (left) and green-walls (right).
To understand how people engage with pictures related to storm-water management, I showed 70 different images (commonly used in communications about storm-water management) to a group of community members from Brisbane, Queensland. I asked this community which images created the most emotional connection, were perceived to be relevant to the topic of storm-water management, and were considered to be personally relevant to them.
What I found was that images of nature, especially images of oceans and reefs, were very good at creating an emotional connection. These same pictures were thought to be personally relevant, but most people did understand their relevance to storm-water management.
Conversely, everyone indicated that pictures of traditional storm-water infrastructure, such as drains and storm-water outlets, were relevant to the topic, but they evoked disgust. We also found that people thought these pictures were the least personally relevant of all the pictures shown.
Images of familiar environments such as local parks and cityscapes, and images that included people engaging with their natural environment, such as riding a bike or walking in a park, were considered to be highly personally relevant. Unfortunately, people did not feel strong emotional connections to new storm-water management solutions such as rain-gardens and green-walls. These were also not considered relevant to the topic or personally relevant to them. Only images of flooding elicited strong emotional connections for people and were considered both relevant to the topic and personally relevant.
This suggests that images of localised flood events represent the best opportunity to engage community members with the topic of storm-water management.
Overall, the results of our study highlight that it is difficult to find one “perfect” image.
Aside from images of flooding, no other images successfully created an emotional connection, and were seen to be relevant to the topic as well as personally relevant.
We must be careful to select images that match the goals of our message. For example, if the goal was to have people feel good about a storm-water management policy, then using images of drains and storm-water outlets would be counterproductive. However, this type of image may be helpful to help people recognize the connection to storm-water management. Whereas, including images of familiar landscapes and/or people would be best is to increase the personal relevance of sustainable urban storm-water management.
Ultimately while images can be a powerful way to engage people with pro-environmental messages, some are more effective, and some may even be detrimental. The study highlights the importance of conducting research to improve our understanding of the role of images in pro-environmental campaigns.
You can read more about the results of our study here.
- Tracy Schultz
Ever read something in the media about public outrage when a big, bad mining company steamrolled local community needs? Chances are, if you’ve touched a newspaper or clicked in social media in the past decade, the answer is yes.
Mining can be an issue of great contention and conflict. While an important source of economic revenue, mining can also bring costly social, economic, and environmental impacts to the local areas in which mines are developed.
Calls have frequently been made to make the voices of community members and other relevant stakeholders heard in the processes of mining development. This is done in an effort to mine in a socially sustainable way – with benefits for both companies and local communities.
Social licence to operate
In recent years, the concept of ‘Social Licence to Operate’ (SLO) has gained popularity. SLO aims to ensure social accountability for mining companies in the view of the communities and other stakeholders who are impacted by mining.
The social accountability and social acceptance of mining created by SLO requires engagement and relationship-building efforts by companies with their stakeholders. One form of engagement that is important is two-way dialogue. While a lot discussions around the importance of two dialogue have taken place, less research has examined exactly what that dialogue looks like, and what it can achieve – in the context of social licence.
Understanding meaningful engagement: Dialogue
Recent research by our team proposes two main ways in which dialogue – as a reciprocal process involving diverse stakeholders – is implemented in SLO.
The first is a free-form process of two-way engagement that focusses on both sides learning: this is the ‘learning model of dialogue’. The second is a more structured process of dialogue that has a predetermined goal to serve a specific purpose: this is the ‘strategic model of dialogue’.
Each model comes with its own pros and cons but both are likely to be useful in developing the kind of opportunities that are important for social licence: that is, for community members and other stakeholders to make their voices heard in shaping mining development processes. So what can dialogue actually achieve?
Outcomes of dialogue in mining
Follow up research explored exactly that question by interviewing expert stakeholder engagement professionals in the mining context. Findings indicate that there are two main types of dialogue: informal and formal dialogue – each with different kinds of outcomes.
Informal dialogue – the kind of conversations had over a cup of tea or glass of beer – was seen to result in relational outcomes. These included, for example, the building of meaningful relationships, trust, an understanding of one another, or learning from others’ diverse experiences. This is the kind of dialogue that might best fit under the learning model of dialogue.
Formal dialogue – taking place, for example, in consultations or committee meetings – was seen to have a lot of structure and specific purpose. This resulted in more ‘concrete’ outcomes such as shared decision-making, consensus, or solving problems. This is the kind of dialogue that might best fit under the strategic model of dialogue.
These two types of dialogue are both important and ultimately, best practice would include one to support the other. There is a lot of complexity in this research, but one useful way to apply this information is to ask whether any meaningful dialogue is occurring at all, for a particular community and mining company! If there is no dialogue, how could it start? And if there is a sense of ongoing dialogue being fruitless or stale, leaders and community members can ask whether the balance needs to be adjusted to allow more openness, informal talks, and mutual learning, on the one hand, or to give more structured, formal processes that aim to achieve concrete outcomes, on the other.
It is important for researchers and those involved in mining development to understanding the complex nature of achieving meaningful engagement and social acceptance around mining to ensure that multiple stakeholders groups can make their voices heard – to shape the mining processes that impact their livelihoods.
- Lucy Mercer-Mapstone
A new system of supporting environmental advocacy is urgently needed: Does Universal Basic Income offer a solution?
Over 15,000 scientists from 184 countries recently co-signed the ‘World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice’, highlighting the continued deterioration of the health and stability of our global environment. Since the first warning was penned twenty five years ago, there have been some glimmers of hope, such as the impact of citizens engaging in advocacy to demand the protection of our biosphere.
Volunteers sustained and formed iconic campaigns in Australia’s environmental history, however building organised grassroots movements requires time, skill, and money.
In Australia there are hundreds and hundreds of grassroots groups who together – group by group, person by person – form the backbone of the environmental movement. They have had successes with the Daintree Rainforest blockade and the Franklin Dam occupation, and are mobilising across the country on the modern Stop Adani campaign.
However, the high cost to voluntary advocates is overlooked. These costs can include financial instability, unemployment, a criminal record, and in some countries, even death.
Luckily for our communities, and our planet, engaged citizens willingly bear individual costs to fight for our collective rights, equality and power.
With the escalating threat of climate change, we need a substantial percentage of our population dedicated to taking action, whether that’s through planting trees, raising funds for community solar projects, or organising and attending rallies and protests. A crucial factor in increasing the number of advocates is ensuring that current and future environmental advocates have the time, financial stability and equal access opportunities to be the active and engaged citizens we so desperately need.
Unfortunately, we can’t rely on the traditional model of paid advocates to do this work for us. Jobs in the environmental advocacy sector are few and generally unsecure. Advocacy can be silenced because of fears of political, legal or financial retribution against both the advocates themselves and those who fund their salaries or support their voluntary organisations. Furthermore, in Australia, a hostile Federal government has spent years attempting to gag non-profit advocacy work by trying to impose restrictions on their tax deductibility status.
We need a different way of supporting our social and environmental movements.
Universal Basic Income (UBI) may be the key to enabling more citizens to devote their time and skills to advocating for our environment. With the State providing a set basic income for all citizens to cover their basic needs, those who are able to devote their time to advocacy may finally have the opportunity to do so without risking their livelihood. Additionally, a UBI system increases the ability of citizens to retrain, start businesses and have more time as caregivers. However, a UBI system, is not a panacea. Many philosophical and practical questions still need to be answered about its effect on social and economic systems.
Fortunately, with Finland, the Netherlands and Ireland currently trailing versions of UBI, we are a few steps closer to answering these questions. As a result we may be closer to a system that better supports grassroots and unpaid advocates to continue to speak up for our biosphere and our collective future.
As the World Scientists’ Warning notes, ‘with a groundswell of organised grassroots efforts, dogged opposition can be overcome and political leaders compelled to do the right thing’. We all have an opportunity to contribute to this effort.
One of the best ways of contributing is by better enabling the powerful and persistent voices in our communities the resources to advocate for us and the environment.
It is only through that groundswell of grassroots strength that we have any hope of safeguarding our environment and guaranteeing a healthy future for generations to come.
- Robyn Gulliver
I’ve written before about different types of domestic abuse. New research shows that when people subscribe to traditional social norms about gender and romance, they may be more vulnerable to such abuse.
How traditional gender norms can promote domestic abuse
Gender norms highlight the expected or typical behaviour of a person based on their gender.
Traditional gender norms hold men as strong, dominant protectors and women as kind, nurturing caregivers. Gender norms don’t consider gender diversity or fluidity. Although such norms seem positive—emphasising chivalry towards women, for example—these ideals are restrictive of both men and women. Women’s perceived competence may be lowered, and men may be less able to express their emotions and vulnerability.
Many people who hold traditional views of gender have loving, equal relationships.
For others, gender norms can promote a power imbalance that may manifest as abuse within relationships.
Research has shown that women who endorse traditional gender norms are more likely to experience intimate partner violence in their romantic relationships. The same is true for people who believe in traditional romantic beliefs and norms.
Why subscribing to romantic norms makes some women vulnerable to abuse
Traditional romantic norms emphasise the importance of being in a relationship and promote the ideals of love at first sight, one true love, and love conquers all.
These ideals are ever present in Western cultures. Even in early childhood, Disney movies and fairy tales promote love at first sight and the power of love to triumph over all obstacles to an unrealistic degree. Similar messages persist through teen and adult romance novels and films.
Contrary to intuition, women who accept such romantic norms are actually more likely to experience abuse within their romantic relationships.
When internalised, romantic norms may encourage women, in particular, to view their romantic relationship’s success or failure as a reflection of their own self-worth. That’s when such norms can become dangerous.
Accepting romantic norms may motivate people to ignore or romanticise the warning signs of an abusive relationship.
Possessiveness and jealousy can be easily reframed as romantic rather than controlling.
Popular media Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey, for example, both strongly romanticise controlling behaviours as a sign of passion and commitment. Characters in both series express the desire to restrict the behaviour of their love interest for reasons motivated by jealousy and possessiveness.
But acting on jealousy in this way by controlling who your partner spends time with and when, is a form of abuse.
Where do we go from here?
Differences and complementarity can lead to mutual respect and care. Vulnerability can be a part of intimacy. In contrast, abuse in romantic relationships is typically about control. Traditional gender norms, and idealised romantic norms provide a framework that can be used to justify or romanticise control and power imbalances. As we move forward we need to challenge our understanding of romance and gender. We need to focus on trust and equality as the foundations of healthy romantic relationships.
- Kiara Minto
Many cringe-worthy moments between White people and people of colour come from well-intentioned White folks, not from slur-spewing, Nazi-saluting bigots.
These are people who are your good friends, dating partners, supportive colleagues, or friendly strangers at parties. They’re likely progressive in their views, culturally aware, and well-read. They volunteer where needed, protest when things are dire, and they always recycle.
In short, these are people with good intentions. Yet, they often get it really wrong.
The phenomenon is so recognisable in popular culture, that there are millions of videos on YouTube dedicated to this genre (I’m referring to the “shit White people say” comedy series.)
So how do interactions between White folks and folks of colour become awkward? Social psychological research offers us some understanding.
4 reasons interracial interactions go awry and strategies that help:
1. Anxiety and avoidance
Friendly interactions between groups is known to reduce prejudice and build harmony between these groups.
However, interracial interactions can be a source of some mild forms of stress for both people involved.
For White people, interracial contact brings concerns about appearing prejudiced. They may use avoidance strategies such as over-monitoring themselves to avoid saying or doing the wrong thing. Often times, such interactions can be draining.
For people of colour, interracial contact brings concerns of experiencing prejudice and/or confirming racial stereotypes with their behaviours, especially stereotypes to do with their competence. This leads to a heightened awareness of one’s racial group identity (e.g., I am Keira the Aboriginal woman versus Keira the cute 20-something year old in this party) and over-monitoring of one’s mannerisms or behaviours in an attempt to ensure smooth interactions. This results in them feeling less authentic.
What helps? For White people, it can be useful to try to recognise and accept the awkwardness first – it will pass. And be motivated by the desire to foster equality, mutual understanding, and friendship, rather than trying to avoid appearing prejudiced.
2. Positive stereotyping
We are often guided by multicultural values that encourage not just acknowledgement of racial and ethnic differences, but also appreciation of these differences.
White people motivated by such values might think that they are being appreciative and complimentary to people of colour, when they make remarks such as “Gosh Asians are so good at Math” or “You Indian women are so exotic looking”.
Such positive stereotypes are sometimes considered non-prejudicial by Whites.
However, research shows us that these positive stereotypes are received by minorities with ambivalence at best, and with negativity at its worst: perceiving Whites in such interactions as unlikeable or even prejudiced.
Positive stereotypes negatively affect minorities’ self and community esteem if they feel judged by their group membership rather than individual merits and achievements. Also, they may not self-identify with such descriptors.
What helps? Acknowledging that positive stereotypes are capable of evoking negative responses, and is another form of subtle prejudice, can be a good starting point. Actively engaging in the idea that substantial individual differences exist within groups can be helpful too.
3. Denying others’ identity and putting them in the wrong category
In the spirit of multiculturalism, White people can inadvertently deny a person of colour an identity that they feel strongly about.
Take for instance an unfortunate situation where a White Australian at a party, in an attempt to establish a bond with someone with a turban and brown skin, asks them about a recent event in India, all while the turbaned individual actually identifies as Aussie (born and raised) and has never been to India.
Questions such as “How long have you lived in this country?” or “Where are you really from?” while motivated by genuine interest and curiosity, could imply that the person does not belong here. For example, asking a hijabi Muslim woman living in Australia where she is from can inadvertently communicate that they could not possibly be Australian and that, no matter what, they are considered foreign.
When minorities experience such identity denial, they sense the difference between how they describe themselves and how they are publicly identified. They report disliking their interaction partners, and engage in explicit identity assertion strategies as a way of coping with such interactions.
What helps? Acknowledging that people of colour possess multiple identities without one or the other being particularly apparent on the outside can be a helpful start. Taking the time to understand what they identify with (or how they describe themselves) would make for more accurate understanding and relating. Being curious about someone’s background (as opposed to assuming their identity and background) can be a great way to show appropriate interest in them. Questions can take the form of “hey were you born here in Australia? Where did your folks originally emigrate from?”.
4. Failing to acknowledge inequality and privilege
Another way interracial interactions go awry, is through the denial of inequality or racial privilege in society.
Take for instance a situation where a White colleague might lament the in-custody treatment of Dylan Voller (the Indigenous Australian teenager shown tortured whilst in juvenile custody in a documentary exposé), but disagree about the claim that the justice system is racist towards Aboriginal people.
Where issues of inequality are being discussed, being friendly but denying or expressing ambivalence about inequality and privilege can have negative outcomes for the interaction. People from socially disadvantaged groups are likely to perceive such discussions as less supportive or comforting when structural inequality and privilege is not also acknowledged.
However, people from advantaged groups may feel threatened when they’re reminded about their privilege. They even engage in self-protective strategies to cope with that threat—such as denying their group’s privileged position or distancing themselves from such a position.
So what helps? Understanding the concept of privilege—that individual advantage is different from group advantage—can help ease some of the guilt, discomfort, and defensiveness that acknowledging privilege can evoke. It is important to understand, that we can have and benefit from group-based privilege even if we never asked for it or actively took advantage of it. Explicitly acknowledging inequality and privilege when discussing issues of race or racism, rather than succumbing to the defensiveness, makes for more supportive interactions.
A comedy of cringes
All this cringe-worthy stuff that happens in interracial interactions has been parodied endlessly on YouTube. Because all this awkwardness can sometimes be insanely funny too.
A comedy piece sometimes brings the complexities of social life into sharp focus, in a non-threatening way. So, to end, let’s watch vlogger Jus Reign’s video on…what else? “Shit White people say to brown guys” of course! Click on the image below to watch the hilarious video.
I want to start by acknowledging our group’s successes in 2017:
Nita Lauren submitting her PhD thesis (whoohoo!); Sam Popple, Syasya Goh, and Zoe McMaster completing their honours with flying colours; and many students smoothly passing their milestones, from confirmation (Susilo, Robyn, Tulsi) to mid-candidature (Cass, Lucy) and thesis review (Kathy). There were also those taking well-deserved leave (Gi, Anna).
A huge joy for me personally in 2017 was being promoted to professor – such a long journey, and a great honour. I plan to revel all year long.
I also want to pass on a special thank you to our volunteer students! I particularly acknowledge the contributions of Josh and Kane to multiple projects and to my own work. Thank you, and congratulations everyone!
2017 was a year of big steps in impact
As well as the normal dissemination through keynotes and journal articles (17 papers! A personal record!), I had great fun with engagement opportunities.
I presented at two Senate inquiries, gave a talk to an overflow audience at the Department of the Environment in Canberra, and co-hosted a sold out workshop on social cohesion in Sydney (slides from the talks can be found here).
If I had to summarise the key lesson I have learned it is that people are hungry for knowledge about the group processes that underlie polarisation, and hungry to learn how to break through conflict and stalemates.
I’m eager to pass on and grow this knowledge, so I look forward to more of these events in 2018. I also hope that I can hear more from people who used the information I gave out last year, both regarding successes in implementation and regarding barriers that need to be overcome.
Thanks to Cassandra Chapman, our group also started the social change lab site and blog series. I have been very pleasantly surprised by the prolific activity of our team, the generosity of guest writers, as well as the take-up of our posts by the community. Normal blog posts attract 200 readers within a month, with popular posts double or triple that – much more than I expected in our first year of operation.
The blog series has also led to fun outreach opportunities, such as a video-conference talk on peace psychology in Iran – how awesome!
Another crazed net breakthrough was my March post at The Conversation, with Cass, on the ‘seven deadly sins of statistical interpretation’ which was read by 135,000 readers, and shared more than 10000 times on Facebook alone. Eventually some colleagues in sports medicine even turned it into a peer-reviewed paper at a high impact journal! Thrilling stuff!
In my wildest dreams I would never have guessed that this piece would attract such an audience. The lesson that I take from these last two points is that using the internet to give away teaching and research is going to lead to immense positive engagement and unexpected opportunities.
I realise that some of you already knew that, but I’m a fresh convert as of this year :)
What the new year holds:
In 2018 I’m excited to continue connecting with social change colleagues. For face to face networking, I’ll be at ICAP in Montreal in June as well as possibly SPSSI (the same weekend! Why!) as well as SASP in Wellington in April. Please email me if you’d like to meet up.
Going into the new year, I welcome several new students as associate advisor – Robin Banks, at UTas, doing a PhD with Margaret Otlowski on bringing the law and psychology of discrimination closer together; and Hayley Kimball and Hannibal Thai, at UQ, who will be working with Kelly Fielding on environmental psychology.
Another exciting commitment in 2018 is that I will be organising and co-hosting a small group meeting on Trajectories of Radicalisation and De-radicalisation in August at the University of Queensland. We have a wonderful line up of scholars, and I am looking forward to learning heaps. Keep an eye out, as I’ll be putting out a call for volunteers.
And there are lots of other projects on the go throughout the lab – I can’t wait to see what 2018 brings for us all!
- Winnifred Louis
As societies have developed, technological advances and medical discoveries have increased life expectancy and made our lives seemingly easier.
But this development is not experienced equally by all people.
In general, industrialised nations have a high quality of life. Yet stark differences remain in how wealth and benefits are spread across society. This is called income inequality.
Sadly, income inequality is a global phenomenon. The distribution of wealth across the globe shows that 71% of the world’s population hold just 3% of the global wealth. On the other hand, 8% of the population hold over 84% of the world’s wealth.
Income inequality is especially pronounced in the United States, where the income gap is twice that of the rest of the industrial world.
So you might be thinking, why is this important? Here are 3 reasons why you should care about income inequality:
1. Less happiness and life satisfaction
The more wealth a society has the happier that society will be, right?
Well, not quite.
In 1974, Economist Richard Easterlin showed that Americans were not happier during periods of high economic growth.
Some countries, however, do show increased happiness with increased economic growth.
What can explain this difference? Income inequality.
In a study of 34 countries, researchers found that when income inequality is high, increased economic growth is not associated with increased happiness.
When economic inequality is high and people can see the wealth of others, it may make their relative lack of economic prosperity more obvious.
We become aware of the differences in our own economic gains, and the difference in our lifestyles. This, in turn, can reduce our sense of happiness and wellbeing.
Reflecting on how we consume social media, platforms such as Instagram give us daily access to the life of the rich, through accounts like the rich kids of instagram, which boasts “They have more money than you and this is what they do.”
2. More obesity and related health problems
When thinking about how income inequality affects health, it’s reasonable to think that your personal wealth would be the main determinant of your personal health.
You may conclude that income inequality only affects the health of the poor, but you’d be wrong.
Higher obesity and related health conditions such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease are present amongst all social classes in societies with higher income inequality.
Regardless of personal wealth, people living in countries with greater income inequality experience poorer health outcomes than their counterparts in more equal societies.
People in a laboratory setting, who were made to feel relatively poor, ate 54% more calories, rated the high calorie food as more enjoyable, and were more likely to want to buy higher calorie food in the future that those who were made to feel rich.
Outside of the laboratory we also find that the more income inequality, the higher rates of obesity in a society.
This shows us that inequality has a direct effect on our lifestyles.
3. Less generosity and trust
Higher income inequality makes the wealthy less generous and breeds a sense of entitlement—the belief that one is more important and deserving than others. However, in more equal societies, the wealthy are just as generous as the poor.
People in areas with high income inequality also trust each other less. When there is less trust in society, people are more likely to only look out for themselves, and their families.
We’ve established that inequality has detrimental effects for all. Yet it is not always communicated as something that is bad.
Politicians often frame inequality in a way that hides the full picture. They highlight economic mobility—the sense that everyone can move up the wealth ladder—and related concepts such as the American Dream.
For example, Rick Santorum recently said: "There is income inequality in America, there always has been, and hopefully, and I do say that, there always will be. Why? Because people rise to different levels of success based on what they contribute to society.”
Be aware that this framing has profound effects on our psychology. People become more tolerant of income inequality the more they perceive economic mobility. In truth, economic mobility is not as widespread as people think.
So next time you hear politicians praise inequality, remember the burden falls not just on the poor, but on all of society.
- Zahra Mirnajafi
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.