Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Intersectionality of Ethno-Cultural Identities and Construal of Distant Suffering Outgroups

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Intersectionality of Ethno-Cultural Identities and Construal of Distant Suffering Outgroups

Article excerpt

There is already evidence that social groups build, uphold or call into question authority relations through inter-group helping (Nadler & Halabi, 2006). Such helping can also be used to improve one's own ingroup image in general (Hopkins, Reicher, Harrison, Cassidy, Bull, & Levine, 2007) or benefit the ingroup in the long run by improving or reaffirming its reputation (Van Leeuwen, 2007). What is more, in exploring outgroup helping one should acknowledge the role of group norms (e.g., it is Christian to feel compassion for others) that make up specific identity contents (Reicher, Cassidy, Hopkins, & Levine, 2006).

Despite such a growing body of data, the issue of how needy outgroups are actually construed in talk is under-researched. Building on self-categorization theory (Turner, Hogg, Oakes, Reicher, & Wetherell, 1987) which implies that depending on the social context people can identify themselves in multiple ways and can even recategorize former outgroup members as ingroup members (Levine, Prosser, Evans, & Reicher, 2005), we aim to address at least some of this research deficit. Recognizing that intersectionality of religious and racial identities shapes social categorisation and boundaries of belongingness (Fenn, 2003; Hamilton, 2001; McDonnell & De Lourenco, 2009; Winant, 2006), we explore how intersectionality can influence the construal of the outgroup that suffers a humanitarian disaster--a devastating phenomenon that is almost certain to become more common in the coming decades (Diamond, 2006).

In doing so, we acknowledge the overlooked impact of religion on people's lives, on important life domains, on cross-cultural dimensions, as well as on beliefs and practices (Tarakeshwar, Stanton, & Pargament, 2003). Intrigued by the unfairly ignored question of how a mixed religious and ethnic identity context might potentially influence individuals to balance their negotiation between their respective sense of solidarity with the needy and a sense of their own migrant disadvantage, we include in our research people for whom religion matters and who engage in its active practice--white Polish Catholics at two catholic community centres in England. Since Catholicism and Polishness can be seen as quite intertwined (Hetnal, 1999; Zdankiewicz, 2001), we are hence able to continue the recent trend of research on interacting ethnic and religious identities (Gudrun Jensen, 2008). Addressing the gap of how audiences respond to communication about distant suffering and shedding light on the relationship between the self and a distant stranger (Boltanski, 1999), we also answer calls for studies on interwoven identities (Levine & Thompson, 2004) and on European attitudes toward the plight suffered by blacks (Grillo, 2008).

As Christianity teaches to help others, particularly strangers, which is exemplified by the proverbial Good Samaritan (Jackson, 2003; Martin, 2008), we probe the question of how our Catholic interviewees can construe African victims in terms of help deservingness. Drawing on previous research on outgroup helping (Levine & Thompson, 2004), we suspected that more verbal sympathy would be shown to Africans with similar religious affiliations (single outgroup--Group 1) than to Africans of an implied different religious orientation (double outgroup--Group 2). Although describing the victims as seeking sanctuary at the church or mosque cannot simply qualify them as Christians or Muslims, we nonetheless anticipated that it would be likely to create certain religious affiliations.

It is important that our research, in which we present interviewees with a short vignette, resembling a fragment from a daily morning paper and describing a natural disaster scenario, was purposefully designed to be structurally similar to the studies in which helping has been traditionally explored.

Such exploration has been notoriously difficult because of problems ranging from experimental manipulation, realistic setting, and measurement of intervention, let alone the issues of ethics or declared vs. …

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