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Explain and evaluate: Agency theory, Power of Social Roles, Social Identity theory, Realistic Group Conflict theory

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Explain and evaluate: Agency theory, Power of Social Roles (Deindividuation), Social Identity theory, Realistic Group Conflict theory Assignment plan: 1. Explanation and evaluation of Agency theory 2. Explanation and evaluation power of Social Roles (Deindividuation) 3. Explanation and evaluation of Social Identity theory 4. Explanation and evaluation Realistic Group Conflict theory 1. Explanation and evaluation of Agency Theory Based on his findings, Milgram proposed a general theory of obedience called Agency Theory. He suggested that social rules are needed to maintain a stable society and that in order to follow them we surrender some of our free will. People in their everyday lives operate on two different levels: * as autonomous individuals, behaving voluntarily and aware of the consequences of their actions * on the agentic level, seeing themselves as the agents of others and not responsible for their action Most on the time we are free-thinking and aware of our actions. However, when presented with particularly situational cues we tend to switch into an agentic state - in which we see ourselves as the "agents of others". Consequently, we attribute responsibility for our actions to the authority figure. Milgram believed that this explained the behaviour of the participants in his study; they denied personal responsibility, claiming that they were merely "doing what they were told" What caused people to undergo the agentic state? ...read more.


The analysis of the results showed that the participants of the experiments simply 'became' the roles they played. More than a third of the guards behaved in such a hostile manner consistently, that Zimbardo described their behaviour as sadistic. This was despite the fact that the roles were assigned at random and there was absolutely no prior evidence that any of the subjects were inclined to behave as they did. Instead of protesting, some of the prisoners began to act in depressed, dependent ways, just like many real prisoners and inmates of institutions. They deteriorated into learned helplessness, becoming ever more surly and depressed. The more they acted in that way, the more they were mistreated. By the end of the sixth day, the situation had deteriorated to such an extent, with guards inventing new rules to make the prison regime more punitive, that Zimbardo called a halt. Deindividuation describes the loss of a sense of personal identity that can occur when, for example, in a crowd or wearing a mask. Deindividuation can happen as a result of becoming part of a group, such as an army or mob. Zimbardo's participants were wearing a uniform. They became members of a particular group: guides or prisoners. They acted in ways in which they might not ordinarily act, as they were normal, stable and educated people. Analysing this experiment we can see that when people become part of a group they take the attitudes and behaviour of the group. ...read more.


The theory has been criticised on the grounds that it presents racism as "natural" helping to "justify" it. If, as SIT implies, inter-group hostility is natural and built into our thought processes as a consequence of categorisation, then racism conceived as a form of inter-group hostility (or in-group favouritism), may also be considered natural. Tajfel never intended SIT to be seen as a justification of racism; indeed he was a life-long opponent of racism. Taken out of context SIT is easily misrepresented as an explanation and justification of racism. SIT generates a number of testable propositions. It can account for prejudice in inter-group competition but doesn't really fully explain the violence associated with some prejudice. 1. Explanation and evaluation Realistic Group Conflict Theory According to realistic group conflict theory, realistic inter-group conflict arises when two distinct groups want to achieve the same goal but only one can and hostility is a natural consequence. It suggests that competition for resources such as jobs, housing, education, etc. can increase prejudice between groups and may even lead to prejudice driven violence. This explanation of prejudice only applies to inter-group conflict, that is when one group's interests are threatened by another. When self -interest is threatened, aggression is most likely result, not prejudice. The theory doesn't explain why prejudice and economic conflict do not always occur together. It doesn't account for how we might categorise ourselves as belonging to this group or that group, nor does it account for how economic groups are created. ...read more.

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