It’s not just ‘us’ versus ‘them’: Moving beyond binary perspectives on intergroup processes

Dixon, John; Elcheroth, Guy; Kerr, Philippa; Drury, John; Albzour, Mai; Subašić, Emina; Durrheim, Kevin and Green, Eva (2020). It’s not just ‘us’ versus ‘them’: Moving beyond binary perspectives on intergroup processes. European Review of Social Psychology, 31(1) pp. 40–75.



Most of what we know about the social psychology of intergroup relations has emerged from studies of how one group of people (e.g., whites) think and feel about another (e.g., blacks). By reducing the social world to binary categories, this approach has provided a simple, effective and efficient methodological framework. However, it has also obscured some important features of social relations in historically divided and unequal societies. This paper highlights the importance of investigating intergroup relationships involving more than two groups and of exploring not only their psychological but also their political significance. We argue that this shift in focus may illuminate patterns of domination and subordination, collusion and betrayal, solidarity and resistance that have been generally neglected in our field. Developing this argument, we discuss the conditions under which members of historically disadvantaged groups either dissolve into internecine competition or unite to challenge the status quo, highlighting the role of complex forms of social comparison, social identification, intergroup contact, and third-party support for collective action. To conclude, we suggest that binary conceptualizations of intergroup relations should be treated as the product of specific sets of historical and socio-political practices rather than a natural starting point for psychological research and outline some future directions for research.

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