A model bringing together intergroup contact and collective action research
Research on collective action has focused predominantly on the psychological processes leading to collective action, rather than on how to foster it (cf. Becker & Tausch, 2015). We argue that intergroup contact can result not only in prejudice- reduction but also motivation to engage in collective action. It is thus important to focus on the processes stemming from contact that allow collective action to emerge. The model we propose, rooted in existing collective action models (Becker & Tausch, 2015; Subasic et al., 2008; van Zomeren et ah, 2012), is presented in Figure 7.2. The model proposes how and under what conditions intergroup contact can lead to collective action. We specifically propose a number of key mediators that can explain how contact fosters collective action, as well as moderators that can enhance or diminish this effect. These will be presented in the following sections, starting with the mediators.
For low-status groups, resorting to collective action is more likely when group boundaries are impermeable and when status differences are unstable and illegitimate; these conditions are related to separation and conflict between groups (Elle- mers et ah, 1993; Mummendey, Klink, Mielke, Wenzel, & Blanz, 1999; Schmitt & Branscombe, 2002). Predictions are, however, less clear for high-status groups, which can experience incompatibility between ingroup advancement/status and the struggle for equality. Perceiving an unstable status may in fact inhibit high-status group members’ collective action, because it threatens the privileged position of the group (Saguy & Dovidio, 2013). Permeability between ingroup-outgroup boundaries may also lower high-status group members’ collective action, since it threatens their advantaged position and group distinctiveness (Jetten et ah, 2004), in addition to legitimizing their high-status position by feeding into the meritocracy. Illegitimacy of status differences, on the other hand, can threaten the high-status groups moral image and enhance feelings of guilt, favoring support for collective action (Iyer, Leach, & Crosby, 2003).
Despite their immediate relevance for inducing collective action, there are currently no studies that examine the relation between contact and the three socio- structural variables in the pathway to collective action. In order to address this gap, we conducted a correlational study with a sample of Italian and immigrant high school students, where we also tested membership salience as a potential moderator of the contact effects (Di Bernardo, Vezzali, Stathi, et al., 2019).
Results for the high-status group (Italians) indicated that quantity and quality of contact were associated with increased perceptions of stability and permeability and with lower perceptions of legitimacy. However, only decreased legitimacy
FIGURE 7.2 Theoretical model of the pathway from intergroup contact to collective action mediated the effects of contact quantity and quality on collective action intentions (to support the low-status group’s rights). Importantly, the indirect effects of quality of contact on greater collective action only emerged when membership salience was high. Therefore, positive contact allowed the recognition of the unfair social hierarchy, only when the respective group membership was salient.
Results concerning the low-status group were somewhat consistent, revealing that quantity of contact was indirectly associated with greater collective action intentions via lower perceptions of legitimacy. We did not find, however, moderation by membership salience. Inspection of means suggests that membership salience was higher for low- than for high-status group members; chronic membership salience may explain, at least in part, why contact allowed recognition of injustice (i.e., illegitimacy of status differences).
Note that the effects of socio-structural variables may be contingent upon the type of collective action under consideration. As noted by Becker and Tausch (2015), research on collective action has largely neglected non-normative collective action. According to Scheepers, Spears, Doosje, and Manstead (2006), the low-status group’s actions are strategically determined by appraisals of the intergroup situation. Reactions to the unfair status differences are moderate (based on ingroup favoritism) when the status is perceived as unstable, and extreme (based on outgroup derogation) when the status is perceived as stable. In fact, when the status is stable, the low-status group has ‘nothing to lose’, and only extreme actions are seen as capable to produce social change. However, in this chapter (and the suggested model) we focus on positive, benevolent social action and thus acknowledge the role of perceiving status differences as unstable. Note also that non-normative collective action from the low-status group may elicit negative reactions from the high-status group, especially among high-identifiers, whereas normative collective action can be more accepted (and therefore supported) by the high-status group identifiers (Teixeira et al., 2019). It is therefore important to consider both highland low-status groups’ perspectives to understand what type of collective action can be more supported and more effective in specific contexts.