The principle-implementation gap in attitudes towards racial equality (and how to close it)

Dixon, John; Durrheim, Kevin and Thomae, Manuela (2017). The principle-implementation gap in attitudes towards racial equality (and how to close it). Advances in Political Psychology, 38(S1) pp. 91–126.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/pops.12393

Abstract

Research on attitudes towards racial equality has identified an apparent paradox, sometimes described as the “Principle-Implementation Gap.” White Americans accept equality as an ideal yet reject interventions designed to achieve that ideal. In this article, we provide a critical review of empirical and theoretical work in the field and outline some directions for future research. Drawing on a program of research conducted in post-apartheid South Africa, we argue for the value of: (1) widening the field beyond its traditional focus on White policy attitudes in the United States; (2) developing relational models that encompass more fully the perspectives of historically disadvantaged as well as historically advantaged communities; (3) making greater use of methods that elucidate how ordinary people themselves construct the meaning of the Principle-Implementation Gap and how this informs, and indeed justifies and normalizes, associated patterns of behavior; and (4) prioritizing the difficult question of how to promote social change in societies where most citizens embrace equality as a noble end but often reject the means through which it might be accomplished. With regards to the latter—and given the ascendancy of prejudice-based explanations of the Principle-Implementation Gap—the article evaluates in particular some strengths and limitations of a prejudice-reduction model of social change.

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