The Open UniversitySkip to content

From prejudice reduction to collective action: Two psychological models of social change (and how to reconcile them)

Dixon, John; Durrheim, Kevin; Stevenson, Clifford and Cakal, Huseyin (2016). From prejudice reduction to collective action: Two psychological models of social change (and how to reconcile them). In: Sibley, Chris G. and Barlow, Fiona Kate eds. Cambridge Handbook of the Psychology of Prejudice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 481–499.

Full text available as:
PDF (Proof) - Requires a PDF viewer such as GSview, Xpdf or Adobe Acrobat Reader
Download (213kB) | Preview
Google Scholar: Look up in Google Scholar


Even when the social order appears intractable, social change is constantly unfolding all around us, finding expression in the accumulation of small acts of resistance as much as in dramatic moments of revolution. Psychologists should take interest in the dynamics of social change, whether mundane or dramatic, for at least two reasons. First, the explanation of when and why change occurs – or fails to occur – requires analysis of ordinary people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. To understand fully the conditions under which people act in ways that support or challenge the status quo, we simply cannot afford to overlook the role of psychological factors. Second and related, processes of social change invite us to (re)appraise the moral and political implications of psychological knowledge. How do we reduce discrimination against others? When do we recognize and challenge social inequality and when do we accept or even endorse it? How can we create more inclusive forms of identity and community? Such questions elide the traditional division between scholarship and advocacy. They require us to demonstrate how psychological knowledge helps create a more just and tolerant society. Perhaps less comfortably, they require us to recognize how our discipline may be complicit in maintaining social inequalities.

In this chapter, we discuss two psychological models of social change, namely prejudice reduction and collective action. Both models focus on the problem of “-improving relations between groups to reduce social inequality and discrimination. However, they propose different psychological pathways to the achievement of this goal and prioritize different core questions. As we shall see, the prejudice reduction model primarily addresses the question “How can we get individuals to like one another more?” whereas the collective action model primarily addresses the question “How can we get individuals to mobilize together to challenge inequality?”

The first section of the chapter elaborates the fundamental principles and underlying assumptions of these models. The second section explores the relationship between the two models of change, focusing on the allegation that prejudice reduction exerts counterproductive effects on collective action. The chapter’s conclusion advocates a contextualist perspective on social change. We hold that any evaluation of the efficacy of psychological models of change must remain sensitive to the “stubborn particulars” (Cherry, 1995) of local conditions and the affordances and obstacles embedded there.

Item Type: Book Section
Copyright Holders: 2017 Cambridge University Press
ISBN: 1-107-09833-5, 978-1-107-09833-6
Academic Unit/School: Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) > Psychology
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS)
Item ID: 48454
Depositing User: John Dixon
Date Deposited: 01 Mar 2017 13:28
Last Modified: 07 Dec 2018 15:28
Share this page:

Download history for this item

These details should be considered as only a guide to the number of downloads performed manually. Algorithmic methods have been applied in an attempt to remove automated downloads from the displayed statistics but no guarantee can be made as to the accuracy of the figures.

Actions (login may be required)

Policies | Disclaimer

© The Open University   contact the OU