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Keywords:

  • social identity;
  • intergroup relations;
  • social dominance;
  • group cohesion;
  • group conflict

The current forum is designed to assess the strengths and weaknesses of social identity, social dominance, and system justification as theoretical approaches to the study of intergroup relations. Each of these approaches tries to account for variation in the development of ingroup cohesion and outgroup antipathy among individual group members, across groups, and in different societies—three levels at which theorists have commonly sought explanations for variability in intergroup attitudes and behavior. Social dominance theory is the most ambitious of the theories but does not succeed in explaining intergroup relations equally well at all three levels. However, it has excelled in highlighting individual differences in the need and desire to dominate members of lower-status groups and in exploring the interaction between individuals and institutions. Social identity theory is primarily concerned with the attributes of groups that foster the development of ingroup bias and examines the conditions under which this occurs. It is more fully developed in this respect than the other approaches but ignores variation at the individual level and, to a lesser degree, the societal level. System justification theory considers a mix of individual- and societal-level factors, focusing on the role of support for the status quo in producing acceptance of status inequalities among members of low-status groups, even when it is against their own interest to do so. The theory highlights an important problem—the quiescence of low-status groups—but more work is needed to flesh out the theory and its central concepts.