Report on EASP Meeting: Group Based Power: Solidarity vs. Collective Action
31.05.2019, by Tina Keil in meeting report
June 28th–July 1st, 2018 at Castle Eyba, Thuringia, Germany; Organizers: David F. Urschler & Thomas Kessler (Friedrich-Schiller-University, Jena)
Aims of the workshop
We aimed to bring together researchers who are interested in different approaches to prevent and overcome intergroup conflicts. We discussed opposing approaches: First, intergroup contact can promote the resolution of intergroup conflicts by reducing prejudice and social discrimination, and improving relations between formerly hostile groups. However, structural disadvantages and benevolent discrimination may remain uncontested. Consequently, intergroup harmony may be a velvet glove on the iron fist of inequalities and subtle oppression.
Second, collective action can establish equal and just relations within and between societies, and create genuine solidarity. However, collective action that promotes social change can also backfire by threatening the majority and, thus, foster intergroup conflicts.
Seemingly, prejudice reduction and the establishment of harmonious relations between groups, and collective action and attempts for social change have their specific problems. As an alternative or integrative attempt of both positions, one may focus on group-based power or “power through people” (Turner, 2005). This means to recruit an increasing number of people who are joining under the umbrella of a common identity (e.g., shared cause instead of shared group markers) to change societies for the “better”. Here, the strengths of “good” or “rational arguments” would shape common identity and form opinion based groups.
Structure of the workshop
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Jena Workshop on Intergroup Processes, we extended our meeting to three and a half days. Participants spent their time in the beautiful castle of Eyba. Our schedule included three keynotes, eighteen research presentations, and a concluding round table discussion. We reserved 45 minutes for each presentation, including 25 minutes for in-depth discussion. This format enabled enough time for detailed feedback for each presenter, deepening discussions, and time for developing ideas for future research.
Besides the official scientific slots, participants used coffee breaks, communal meals, and the social event for ongoing discussions on the topic. As social event, participants could participate in archery and/or a guided castle tour.
Thirty-seven researchers participated at our meeting; of those were twenty EASP-members. Nine participants were full professors, twelve were postdoctoral researchers, and thirteen were PhD-students. They work in thirteen different countries: Austria, Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Netherlands, Israel, Ireland, Poland, Spain, and United States.
Topics covered by the workshop
The covered topics represented the state of the art of solidarity, collective action, and power, including causes and consequences. In the meeting we addressed questions of when and why people engage in collective action, what are positive and negative consequences of such actions, and how does it affect the involved parties (i.e., power) and their relations. We had three key notes presenting three different perspectives on the topic: Mark Levine (University of Exeter, GB) provided a thorough overview of what can be learned about conflict reduction from studying the conflict itself (i.e., third-party implications in conflict generation and resolution). Jim Sidanius (Harvard University, USA) talked about the dynamics of gendered prejudice (i.e., that arbitrary-set discrimination must be understood as an inherently gendered phenomenon). Stephen C. Wright (Simon Fraser University, Canada) covered the role of supportive contact in empowering collective action (i.e., that positive contact with an advantaged group member who explicitly communicates opposition to the intergroup inequality can increase collective action intentions about disadvantaged group member).
Overall, various ways of (re)gaining group based power were discussed, for example, opinion based groups, identification with all humanity, perceived agency, commitment, self-respect, reaction to threats, allies, helping behavior, etc. We identified individual- and group-based factors that promote and, as well, hinder different behaviors to gain group based power. Eighteen talks from international researchers dealt with topics, such as: “Engaging in social change or preserving the status quo?”, “Disruptive technologies for politics: Polarization and the psychological foundations of mass protest, online radicalization, and populism.”, “Have faith in humanity: human identification promotes support for refugees in Ireland”, “In-group oriented action in times of collective injustice: why a chronic disaster may elicit little collective action” The dilemma of joint collective action: Acting together with the enemy”, and “Diversity and Discrimination in Europe: Multicultural perspective as a bridge between prejudice reduction and collective action”.
We discussed the implications of intergroup contact, shared goals, and different kinds of collective actions on group based power. Moreover, joint collective action of different groups may cause a dilemma for the involved groups, thus, preventing different groups from acting towards a shared goal. For example, the overwhelming presence of allies may reduce members of disadvantaged groups’ motivation to act, especially when allies take over “their” cause and start to act paternalistically for the disadvantaged group. Overall, we critically examined the status quo of psychological research on group based power (i.e., current theories and research agendas on solidarity and collective action).
[The workshop] was very exciting. The ongoing discussions were interesting and stimulating. I really appreciated this intense meeting.
I enjoyed the meeting. The sequence of the talks was well planned. I wish that more meetings would offer so much time for discussions.