Stereotypes as Explanations: The Formation of Meaningful Beliefs about Social Groups

By Craig McGarty; Vincent Y. Yzerbyt et al. | Go to book overview

9
Conclusion: stereotypes are selective,
variable and contested explanations
Craig McGarty, Russell Spears and Vincent Y. Yzerbyt

The chapters in this book make a number of distinct contributions that help us understand the importance of explanation in stereotype formation. Despite the distinctiveness of the various contributions, a number of key themes emerge and recur. Before addressing these in more detail it is useful to remind ourselves of perhaps one key theme that has guided this volume and gives all of its contributions some common ground. Perhaps more implied than explicitly stated, all of the contributions focus on stereotype formation (and more generally 'stereotyping') as a dynamic psychological process embedded in intergroup relations. This point may sound like a truism, but in our view, the partial nature of some previous approaches flows from an emphasis on one or other of these two components. That is, much previous and contemporary research has tended to focus on stereotyping as a psychological process, but to neglect the social and contextual dimensions of this process (e.g., the importance of own group membership, content, the nature of the intergroup relations). Alternatively, where research has recognized the social dimension of stereotyping, it has often neglected the dynamic explanatory psychological processes involved (stereotypes as fixed structures, percepts, pictures in our heads, epiphenomena of intergroup relations or culture). If there is a common theme that brings many of the current contributions together, then, it is the attempt to integrate the cognitive and the social aspects of the stereotyping process by attention to both cognitive and social levels of explanation and analysis. Put another way, the analysis of the psychological processes involved makes most sense when understood in terms of the social relations involved (and vice versa). Indeed the central idea of stereotypes as explanation is the bridge that links social perception to the social perspective of the perceiver.

In the following sections we elaborate the particular themes in more detail, which allows us to see in sharper focus the specific ideas that recur in the contributions. These themes also suggest to us a number of profitable directions for future development. However, such continuities should not disguise the potential for divergence and debate (as befits an

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