Social Protest and Its Discontents

A System Justification Perspective

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  • 1 New York University vivienne.badaan@nyu.edu
  • 2 New York University john.jost@nyu.edu
  • 3 University of Auckland d.osborne@auckland.ac.nz
  • 4 University of Auckland c.sibley@auckland.ac.nz
  • 5 University of Buenos Aires jungaretti@psi.uba.ar
  • 6 University of Buenos Aires edgardoetchezahar@psi.uba.ar
  • 7 Purdue University ehennes@purdue.edu
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Abstract

Psychological factors that encourage—as well as discourage—participation in social protest are often overlooked in the social sciences. In this article, we draw together recent contributions to the understanding of the social and psychological bases of political action and inaction from the perspective of system justification theory. This perspective, which builds on theory and research on the “belief in a just world,” contends that—because of underlying epistemic, existential, and relational needs to reduce uncertainty, threat, and social discord—people are motivated (to varying degrees, as a function of personality and context) to defend, bolster, and justify the legitimacy of the social, political, and economic systems on which they depend. We review evidence that, alongside political conservatism and religiosity, system justification helps to explain resistance and acquiescence to the status quo in sociopolitical contexts as diverse as Lebanon, New Zealand, Argentina, and the United States.

Contributor Notes

Vivienne Badaan is a PhD candidate in social and political psychology in the Department of Psychology at New York University. She studies collective action, political ideology, religiosity, and the linguistic expression of prejudice. Before joining NYU, she received her BA (2010) and MA (2012) in psychology from the American University in Beirut, after which she worked as a research consultant on social justice at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia. Email: vivienne.badaan@nyu.edu

John T. Jost is Professor of Psychology and Politics and Codirector of the Center for Social and Political Behavior at New York University. His research, which addresses stereotyping, prejudice, political ideology, and system justification theory, has been funded by the National Science Foundation and has appeared in top scientific journals. He has received numerous honors and awards, including the Gordon Allport Intergroup Relations Prize, the Society for Personality and Social Psychology Theoretical Innovation Prize, and the Society of Experimental Social Psychology Career Trajectory Award. He was President of the International Society of Political Psychology and is editor of the Oxford University Press book series on political psychology. Email: john.jost@nyu.edu

Danny Osborne is Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Auckland. His program of research examines the intersections of intergroup relations and political psychology, focusing particularly on factors that contribute to—and impede—people’s intentions to redress inequality. He has published numerous articles in this area and has won several early career awards for his research. Before joining the School of Psychology in mid-2011, he was a PhD student at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he studied the effects of stereotype activation on errors in eyewitness identification. Email: d.osborne@auckland.ac.nz

Chris G. Sibley is Professor of Psychology at the University of Auckland. He teaches in research methods and social psychology, and is the lead investigator for the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study, a large-scale national probability longitudinal panel study of more than thirty thousand New Zealanders. Email: c.sibley@auckland.ac.nz

Joaquín Ungaretti works as a researcher at the National Scientific and Technological Research Council (CONICET) and as Professor of Psychology at the University of Buenos Aires. He is interested in the study of intergroup relations and has been the author and coauthor of different articles about prejudice toward minority groups in Argentina. Email: jungaretti@psi.uba.ar

Edgardo Etchezahar is Professor of Psychology at the University of Buenos Aires. He works at the National Scientific and Technological Research Council (CONICET) in Argentina. His research is focused on the study of intergroup relations, particularly on how different aspects of authoritarianism and political ideology assist the emergence and support of different kinds of prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination. Email: edgardoetchezahar@psi.uba.ar

Erin Hennes is Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences at Purdue University. Previously, she was a postdoctoral associate at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a fellow at Harvard University. She completed her PhD in psychology at New York University. Her research focuses on cognitive and motivational biases in information processing, primarily in the context of contemporary social justice issues such as environmental sustainability and gender and racial inequality. Specifically, she examines the consequences of the motivation to resist changes to existing sociostructural arrangements on basic psychological processes such as perceptual judgment, recall, and the evaluation of scientific and media information. Email: ehennes@purdue.edu

Contention

The Multidisciplinary Journal of Social Protest

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