Pettigrew, Thomas. F.
Pettigrew, Thomas. F. 1931-
The American civil rights researcher and activist Thomas Fraser Pettigrew is one of the leading experts in the social science of race and ethnic relations to emerge in the post-World War II (1939–1945) period. Pettigrew received his B.A. in psychology from the University of Virginia in 1952 and both his M.A. (1955) and PhD (1956) in social psychology from Harvard University in the Department of Social Relations. His graduate training, requiring courses in sociology, social psychology, and anthropology, is reflected in the interdisciplinary perspective he has brought to over five decades of research on intergroup conflict. Pettigrew’s approach to social psychology was shaped by his mentor, psychologist Gordon Allport (1897–1967), and his classic 1954 text, The Nature of Prejudice. Other intellectual influences included sociologist and survey researcher Samuel Stouffer (1900–1960) and sociologist Talcott Parsons (1902–1979). Pettigrew’s experience of growing up white in the segregated South in the 1930s and 1940s further influenced his approach to prejudice and intergroup conflict by bringing him into close contact with the plight of African Americans.
Initially, Pettigrew studied the differences among white Americans in different regions of the United States. His research showed that psychological factors alone, in this case authoritarianism, could not account for the greater hostility toward blacks found among southerners. For a more complete picture, he argued for the importance of examining the structural components and the way in which societal norms hold bigotry in place. Pettigrew’s work continued to build on this insight, and he has argued throughout his career for the importance of studying social issues at several levels of analysis.
Pettigrew consolidated his theoretical position by developing a multilevel approach to social issues that combined the individual, the situational, and the societal levels, and the links among them. In the case of prejudice, there is the micro level of analysis, which includes individual attitudes, cognitions, and personality dynamics. There is also the macro level of analysis, including structural aspects of one’s society, its norms, and its mores. And finally, there is the meso level of analysis, in which the immediate situation of social interaction plays a key role. Throughout his career, Pettigrew has studied each level of analysis and its interaction with other levels, arguing that none is sufficient alone. Consequently, he has pursued research on authoritarianism and its relationship to prejudice, subtle prejudicial attitudes and their involvement in undermining societal desegregation, and the importance of friendship in his reformulation of contact theory and intergroup conflict. Pettigrew’s research is international in scope, with attention always paid to racial norms guiding the societies and their institutions (e.g., South Africa, the Netherlands, Germany) in which micro and meso factors are played out.
Pettigrew came into the study of social psychology with the intention of combining both scientific work and social activism. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, he argued for an “honest broker” approach to the study of social issues, whereby social scientists, in a two-way dialogue with policymakers, would bring research to bear on social issues through, for example, pro bono expert testimony to courts and Congress, as well as policy-relevant research. Pettigrew has provided expert testimony on the positive effects of school desegregation to municipal, state, and federal levels of government. He has conducted research and consulted directly on implementation of policies and plans for desegregated schooling. Pettigrew’s work has always reflected the pulse of change in the United States for African Americans, as well as the resistance to change. He has researched, for example, white attitudes to African American breakthroughs in public life at the grassroots level (e.g., the 1960s sit-in movement) and their candidacies as mayoral “firsts” in Gary, Indiana; Newark, New Jersey; Cleveland, Ohio; and Los Angeles. In his earliest books, A Profile of the Negro American (1964) and Racially Separate or Together? (1971), as well as more recent writings, Pettigrew has argued for an integrated society with data supporting its benefits in information and access for minorities.
As incoming president of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues in 1967, Pettigrew pressured a reluctant American Psychological Association to provide a suitable forum for Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968) to address its annual convention, which King did to an overflow crowd of five thousand psychologists. Working with noted civil rights activist and scholar Kenneth B. Clark (1914–2005) on this and other civil rights projects through the latter’s Metropolitan Applied Research Center (MARC), Pettigrew continued research in the public domain at a time when the majority of social psychologists were focused on micro-level analyses of individual social behavior.
Pettigrew has never retreated from debate in both the academic and the public arena, and he is one of the most articulate defenders of the need for social scientists to engage with and make explicit their values. In 1975, at the beginning of the resegregation era, James Coleman (1926–1995) published a widely publicized study showing that school desegregation resulted in “white flight” to the suburbs. Pettigrew is well known for his critique of the Coleman Report, both its flawed science and the recommendations that ensued. While “white flight” was neither universal nor as damaging as thought, it provided judges with an acceptable reason for opposing urban school desegregation, turning back the gains of the desegregation era (1930–1973) and dismissing effective metropolitan solutions.
In the late 1970s, Pettigrew challenged the claim that race was declining in its significance relative to the rising role of social class, a claim put forward by sociologist William Julius Wilson. Pettigrew drew attention to the importance of the interaction of race and class, making racial discrimination only more subtle for upper-class African Americans. Reflecting back on the fiftieth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, Pettigrew argued for a rededication to efforts for preventing further resegregation in American society. By combining the best research with political and historical analyses, Pettigrew has demystified legal arguments for segregation, showing instead that separate educational facilities are inherently unequal and that intense residential segregation is a key element in the continued resistance to integrated schooling.
Pettigrew has maintained a prominent place as a scientist, teacher, public intellectual, and activist for over five decades. He has mentored numerous doctoral students, many of whom are renowned in their fields, including John Jemmott III, Howard Schuman, and Eliot Smith. He has collaborated with numerous colleagues internationally on issues of prejudice and discrimination toward immigrants in western Europe, most notably with Roel W. Meertens in the Netherlands and Ulrich Wagner in Germany. In addition, Pettigrew has held several appointments in sociology and social psychology, including appointments at Harvard University (1957–1980), the University of California, Santa Cruz (1980–1994), and the University of Amsterdam (1986–1991). He has been honored at many points in his career: as a fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University (1975–1976); with the Kurt Lewin Award of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (1987); with the Distinguished Scientist Award from the Society for Experimental Social Psychology (2002); and as a New Century Scholar, Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board (2003). He served as president of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (1967–1968) and has been a longtime member of that organization, as well as of the American Sociological Association and the American Psychological Association.
SEE ALSO Brown v. Board of Education, 1954; Achievement Gap, Racial; Allport, Gordon; American Sociological Association; Authoritarianism; Bigotry; Clark, Kenneth B.; Ethnicity; Parsons, Talcott; Prejudice; Psychology; Race; Racism; Segregation; Social Psychology; Sociology; Stereotypes; Wilson, William Julius
Pettigrew, Thomas F. 1964. A Profile of the Negro American. New York: van Nostrand.
Pettigrew, Thomas F. 1971. Racially Separate or Together? New York: McGraw-Hill.
Pettigrew, Thomas F. 1993. How Events Shape Theoretical Frames: A Personal Statement. In A History of Race Relations Research: First-generation Recollections, ed. John H. Stanfield II, 159–178. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Pettigrew, Thomas F. 1997. Personality and Social Structure: Social Psychological Contributions. In Handbook of Personality Psychology, eds. Robert Hogan, John A. Johnson, and Stephen R. Biggs, 417–438. New York: Academic Press.
Pettigrew, Thomas F. 1998. Intergroup Contact Theory. Annual Review of Psychology 49: 65–85.
Pettigrew, Thomas F. 2004. Justice Deferred: A Half Century after Brown v. Board of Education. American Psychologist 59 (6): 521–529.