Prejudice became a very popular term in social psychology during the 1920s and 1930s, partly out of a concern with the development of attitude theory (and new techniques for scaling attitudes such as the Bogardus social distance scale); partly because of a concern with the widespread existence of hostility to ethnic minorities in the United States and the rise of anti-semitism in Europe; and partly due to a generalized concern with minority groups. The original tradition of prejudice research reached its peak with the publication of two major books: Theodor Adorno et al. , The Authoritarian Personality (1950)
and Gordon Allport 's The Nature of Prejudice (1954)
. The former provided the most detailed analysis of the personality foundations of prejudice; the latter attempted a synthesis of research findings, trying to integrate the psychological, structural, and historical foundations of prejudice. Although much research has continued in this tradition, the term has also been heavily criticized within sociology, notably for its individualistic implications.
Sociological definitions of the term tend also to stipulate that prejudice violates some social norm such as rationality, justice, or tolerance. Overgeneralization, prejudgement, the refusal to take account of individual differences, and thinking in stereotypes all violate rational thought. Similarly, in so far as the net effect of prejudice is to place the individual or group at some disadvantage that is not merited, prejudice is inherently unjust. Prejudice also involves intolerance and even the violation of human dignity. Zygmunt Bauman, in Thinking Sociologically (1990), suggests that prejudice results in double moral standards. What the members of the in-group deserve as of right will be an act of grace and benevolence if done for the people of the out-group. He goes on to insist that ‘most importantly, one's own atrocity against out-group members does not seem to clash with moral conscience’. Identical actions are called different names, alternatively loaded with praise or condemnation, depending on which side has undertaken them. One person's act of liberation is another's act of terrorism.
Prejudice is both a consequence of and a reinforcement for the existence of in-groups and out-groups, which embody the distinction between ‘them’ and ‘us’. In-group and out-group attitudes are intrinsically related, because in-group feeling results in out-group sentiment, and vice versa. It could almost be claimed that one side derives its identity from the fact of its opposition to the other. In this sense the out-group is necessary for the cohesion and emotional security of the in-group, and an out-group might need to be invented, if one does not already exist. A classic but ethically disturbing example of how an in-group and out-group were experimentally created is described in Muzafer Sherif and and Carolyn Sherif , An Outline of Social Psychology (1956)
. The authors structured activities at a boys' camp such that two specially created clubs had to compete with each other for rewards. The respective members soon developed hostility towards, and stereotypes of, each other—despite initially having equal numbers of friends in each club. The authors conclude that these stereotypes must have been created rather than learned.
Groups also tend to close ranks when an enemy is at hand. Prejudice, by magnifying the vices of the enemy, ensures that norms of justice and tolerance no longer apply. Prejudice does not always result in any hostile action, but when prejudice is made manifest it can range from (at minimum) avoidance or discrimination, through to mass extermination, as in the Holocaust.
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