Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

An Interpretive Investigation into Motivations for Outgroup Activism

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

An Interpretive Investigation into Motivations for Outgroup Activism

Article excerpt

A qualitative study was conducted to explore the motivations of individuals, who advocate politically for members of social outgroups. Long interviews with social activists focussed on self-ascribed motivations for activism, relationship with the outgroup, and the costs and benefits associated with being an outgroup activist. A thematic analysis revealed that feelings of social responsibility were shared by the activists, who were interviewed. Further, some activists attributed their behavior to their personal relationships, while others believed they had a psychological predisposition to engage in social justice. Experiences of personal marginality were also highlighted as a key contributor to social justice efforts. The respondents emphasized the importance of a fundamental, shared human connection between themselves and members of outgroups, suggesting that universalism may be importantly implicated in forging bonds across social identities. Finally, participant's tendency to explicitly describe their social justice work according to costbenefit analyses may signal a desire for recognition or reward for their efforts in light of perceived personal costs. Key words: Social Activism, Intergroup Relations, and Universalism

Scholarship into social groups in ethnic, national, and global contexts over the past 25 years appears to suggest that human groups are inescapably divisive (Feshbach, 1990). Divisiveness--and sometimes violent conflict--between social groups have marked the landscape of the 20th and early 21st centuries (Mays, Bullock, Rosenzweig, & Wessells, 1998).

Social psychologists have devoted considerable effort to the problem of intergroup relations, and their findings indicate that social group identity is an overwhelming engine for divisiveness between groups. Individuals psychologically categorize themselves and others into social groups with little provocation (Tajfel, 1981). Research into social identity suggests (e.g., Brewer, 1979; Tajfel & Turner, 1986) that individuals favor and reward members of social identity groups in which they feel a subjective membership (ingroups) while denigrating and holding biases against groups to which they have no subjective claim (outgroups). People are more likely to help members of their ingroup and deny aid to members of outgroups (Gaertner, 1973). If we engage in social protest in attempts to achieve social justice, it is on behalf of our ingroup that we tend to take action (Taylor & Mogghadam, 1987). Indeed, it has been suggested that the post-cold war world can be viewed as a profound partitioning between different human civilizations, which will ultimately engage in violent confrontation to promote the incompatible worldviews of each (Huntington, 1993).

Is it inevitable, then, that in any intergroup situation, humans will side with those whom they perceive as "their own"? Despite the enormity of evidence that we tend to favor those most like ourselves, it is important that we not overlook the possibility of cross-identity unity, especially in the interest of achieving social justice. A historical example of such unity is the action taken by the Righteous Gentiles, rescuers who sheltered and saved Jews and other members of social outgroups from the Nazis during the Second World War

The central question of this article is why, despite evidence of bias and conflict between groups, do some individuals cross intergroup boundaries to engage in social justice efforts for members of lower power outgroups? The reasons one may intervene in the lives of others has traditionally been constructed as a problem for social scientific understanding, as scholars have devoted far more research to the question of why people do not intervene in the lives of others than to the question of why they do. Research into the motivations of Righteous Gentiles, for example, has often treated the actions of these individuals as a puzzle to be worked out (e. …

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