MBESC Seminar: Intergroup contact and social change

29 January 2015, 2.30 PM - 29 January 2015, 3.30 PM

Professor John Dixon, from the Faculty of Social Sciences at the Open University

Room 3.13, 35 Berkeley Square

The past, present and future of research on intergroup contact and social change
The ‘contact hypothesis’ proposes that interaction between members of different groups reduces intergroup prejudice and discrimination, particularly when it occurs under favourable circumstances. Since the early decades of the last century, research based on this idea has informed interventions to promote social change. In this paper, I trace the history of this enterprise, discuss its major achievements, challenges, and limitations, and consider some directions in which the field may develop in the future. In a world where globalization, migration and immigration – allied to the rise of social media and electronic communication - are bringing members of formerly isolated groups into new relations of proximity and interaction, intergroup contact is likely to remain a fundamental social psychological topic. However, if research on the contact hypothesis is to fulfil its original promise, I suggest that we now need to develop the field in a number of directions. That is, we need to: (1) acknowledge the limitations of the prejudice reduction model of social change on which most contact research is based; (2) investigate the nature and consequences of negative, instrumental and hierarchical intergroup encounters in everyday life settings; (3) pay closer attention to the contact experiences and perspectives of minority group participants; (4) understand how, when why processes of desegregation are offset by countervailing processes of (re)segregation and exclusion; and, perhaps most important, (5) reconnect research to the problems of institutional change and social justice that inspired the earliest proponents of the ‘contact hypothesis’.

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