Thursday, August 3, 2017

Clarification on recent paper by De Guissmé & Licata (2017)

Some clarification about our paper on Competition over collective victimhood recognition
Our paper « Competition over collective victimhood recognition: When perceived lack of recognition for past victimization is associated with negative attitudes towards another victimized group » - https://t.co/te4Jd7Zmqq - has attracted much attention lately, apparently after Arthur Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, sent a tweet about it stating “Study: A culture of "competitive victimhood" makes people less, not more, empathetic to others”. This tweet was widely shared, apparently mainly among American conservatives.
Then a résumé of our paper was published on PJ Media, also triggering a number of comments, mainly leaning on the right wing of the political spectrum: https://pjmedia.com/…/competitive-victimhood-among-racial-…/ .
Some commenters cited our studies’ results in support of their own anti-feminist, anti-Muslim, judeophobic, racist, or more generally anti-minorities and anti-liberal position taking. Some also made connections between our paper and their condemnation of what they refer to as the social justice movement on American campuses.
These interpretations are both very far-fetched, and absolutely contrary to the message we believe our article conveys. Here, we try to briefly outline what these studies show, and do not show.
What our studies show:
- Individuals who perceive that their group was victimized in the past seek for recognition of this collective victimhood status from the society in which they presently live;
- This sense of collective victimhood can be associated with the feeling that the recognition of their victimhood is insufficient, especially compared with other groups, who they perceive as benefitting from more recognition than they do;
- When this feeling is associated with the belief that their group’s lack of recognition is due to the greater recognition granted to another group, it tends to induce negative attitudes towards this other group, even though this group was not responsible for the initial victimizing events.
What our studies do not show:
- Brooks’ tweet is not erroneous, as it is in accordance with previous social psychological studies that demonstrated a negative effect of competitive victimhood on empathy. For example, Noor, Brown, and Prentice (2008) showed this effect in the Northern Irish context. However, empathy was not measured in any of our studies.
- Our paper does not show that claims for victimhood recognition are widespread among minorities – i.e. that minorities keep on complaining. We only addressed the sense of collective victimhood in two minority groups in Belgium. Both samples were not representative so that we cannot claim anything about the real average levels of collective victimhood among these two populations, let alone other minorities in other societal contexts, such as the USA. We were interested in social psychological processes, which we outlined by exploring associations between variables (sense of collective victimhood, lack of victimhood recognition, attribution of this lack of recognition to another group, negative attitudes towards this outgroup). The three studies confirmed our theoretical assumptions.
- Our paper does not show that all claims for recognition of collective victimhood from minorities are fake, nor that they are illegitimate – i.e. that minorities instrumentalize their victimhood. On the contrary, most of the time, claims for collective victimhood recognition are expressed by members of minorities that really went through intentional harm from one or more outgroups. In our sense, claims for victimhood recognition should be taken seriously.
- Our paper does not suggest that authorities should simply disregard minorities’ claims for collective victimhood recognition. On the contrary, inspired by Axel Honneth’s approach of the struggle for recognition, we believe that authorities should be able to value and recognize the diverse constituents of the societies or institutions they govern. Failing to do so only heightens the struggle for recognition, leading to more conflicts. However, authorities should pay attention to the way they manage their politics of recognition – especially when collective victimhood recognition is at stake – because perceived inequality in the granting of recognition can trigger a sense of injustice, which may fuel conflicts among minorities, and distrust towards these authorities.
Other excellent papers on the social psychology of collective victimhood were published in the same special issue of the European Journal of Social Psychology: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/…/10.1002/ejsp.v47.2/issuetoc
Laura De Guissmé & Laurent Licata
3 August 2017

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