Explaining the paradoxical effects of intergroup contact: Paternalistic relations and system justification in domestic labour in South Africa

Durrheim, Kevin; Jacobs, Nicola and Dixon, John (2014). Explaining the paradoxical effects of intergroup contact: Paternalistic relations and system justification in domestic labour in South Africa. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 41 pp. 150–164.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijintrel.2013.11.006

Abstract

Recent research has shown that contact with the historically advantaged can have paradoxical effects on the political attitudes of the historically disadvantaged, reducing outgroup prejudice but also reducing the motivation to acknowledge and challenge social inequalities. These effects have been attributed primarily to the role of intergroup contact in decreasing the salience of intergroup differences, encouraging common identification, and creating warm feelings. This paper explores a related but distinct process through which contact may have paradoxical consequences, focusing on its capacity to act as a vehicle for the transmission of systems-justifying ideologies. The paper presents a qualitative study of domestic labour relations in post-apartheid South Africa. Analysis of interviews with domestic workers and employers demonstrates how intergroup contact in this context was typically organised and defined in terms of paternalistic values, beliefs and practices. Interview accounts were designed to resolve the moral and political tensions associated with participation in the historically racist institution of domestic labour by (re)constituting everyday relations between ‘maids’ and ‘madams’ in the language of caring, helping and reciprocal exchange.

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