Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science

Renewed Promise for Positive Cross-Group Contact: The Role of Supportive Contact in Empowering Collective Action

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science

Renewed Promise for Positive Cross-Group Contact: The Role of Supportive Contact in Empowering Collective Action

Article excerpt

"The Just Society will be a united Canada, united because all of its citizens will be actively involved in the development of a country where equality of opportunity is ensured and individuals are permitted to fulfill themselves in the fashion they judge best."

-Pierre Trudeau (1968)

Although the essential features of positive cross-group contact have been debated (e.g., Pettigrew, 1998), an impressive literature now demonstrates that interactions between members of different groups that are pleasant, or even neutral, can result in meaningful reductions in prejudice and decrease reliance on stereotypes (Dovidio, Glick & Rudman, 2005; Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006; Wright, 2009a). Nevertheless, a number of social psychologists (e.g., Dixon, Levine, Reicher, & Durrheim, 2012; Wright, 2001; Wright & Baray, 2012) have raised concerns that positive cross-group contact may interfere with another important route to achieving social equality: collective action by disadvantaged group members. Although promoting intergroup harmony through more positive intergroup attitudes and fighting for social equality through collective action may seem like complementary goals, the underlying psychology supporting these goals may not be complementary at all (e.g., Saguy, Tausch, Dovidio, & Pratto, 2009; Wright & Lubensky, 2009).

The conflict between pleasant, friendly cross-group contact and disadvantaged group members' collective action engagement remains a dilemma in need of a solution. Deciding to discourage or attempt to eliminate friendly cross-group contact is clearly not a reasonable solution. This is particularly true in ethnically diverse countries like Canada. It is projected that by 2017, visible minorities will make up 20% of the Canadian population (Bélanger & Malenfant, 2005), and the percentage is already higher than this in Canada's largest cities. The implication is that cross-group contact is a daily experience, making harmonious cross-group interactions necessary for society to function effectively. At the same time, many would argue that diverse countries like Canada must strive for social justice. For example, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau is remembered fondly by many for his vision of a "Just Society." Thus, it seems essential that we find a solution that allows for both friendly interpersonal interactions and continued commitment to collective action. The current research focuses on one such potential solution. Specifically, we investigate positive cross-group contact in which advantaged group members are explicitly supportive of the disadvantaged group. We propose that this form of contact may not only erase the disempowering effects found to result from other forms of friendly cross-group contact, but may also have an empowering effect on disadvantaged group members.

The Prejudice Reduction-Collective Action Conundrum

Explanations for the conflict between positive cross-group contact and collective action are based on the contention that the underlying psychologies required for participation in these two activities are incompatible (Wright & Baray, 2012). The goal of positive cross-group contact is a harmonious society, but collective action requires at least some intergroup conflict. Perhaps not surprisingly, "getting along" and "taking action" require very different psychological states.

In particular, collective action engagement relies on several psychological factors that can be undermined by positive cross-group contact. As one example, collective action engagement depends on strong perceptions of injustice (Wright, 2010). When disadvantaged group members perceive their group's lower status as unjust, resistance seems legitimate and appropriate. Maintaining a negative or at least adversarial view of the advantaged outgroup (Dixon et al., 2010; Reynolds, Oakes, Haslam, Nolan, & Dolnik, 2000; Simon & Klandermans, 2001) can support perceptions of injustice. …

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