HOW DO NORMS RELATE TO VIOLENCE AND WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?
My research focuses on ideological norms (e.g., sexist norms or anti-immigrant sentiment) and violence prevention and collective action (collective action and sexual assault prevention).
The global prevalence of sexual violence, income inequality, and anti-immigrant discrimination are constant reminders of the ubiquity of intergroup inequality. However, opposition to inequality is also ubiquitous, as demonstrated by Chilean student protests, uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, and campaigns for women’s rights around the world. The dynamics of inequality are an important topic for social psychologists, and my research examines it with theoretical pluralism, methodological rigor, and practical application.
My research focuses on (a) the consequences of ideological norms (i.e., shared belief systems, such as sexist norms or anti-immigrant sentiment) for violence, discrimination, and inequality, and (b) how to disrupt those norms in order to prevent violence (e.g., sexual assault prevention) and to encourage collective action. Most of my research integrates and extends social dominance theory’s analysis of ideologies and intergroup inequality with structural analyses of ideology and violence, and theories of morality, intergroup emotions, and social identity. Thus, I take a pluralistic approach by applying diverse social psychological theories to social problems through interventions, programs, and other applications.
HOW CAN WE PREVENT OR REDUCE INTERGROUP VIOLENCE?
There are many strategies to prevent violence. My research focuses on two broad strategies: (1) interventions and programming and (2) collective action.
INTERVENTIONS AND PROGRAMMING
My work on sexual assault prevention targets men for intervention. Primary prevention work rarely targets men or other advantaged groups, and I believe that they should be the primary targets of primary prevention programs. For many years, I have been working on a primary prevention program that targets college men, called “The Men’s Project.” I have found that men who participate in the program report lower sexism and rape myth acceptance and also greater feminist activism, collective action willingness, and bystander efficacy.
THE MEN’S PROJECT
The Men’s Project is a sexual assault primary prevention program that targets college men. Over the course of 11 weeks, male student leaders—who have access to large social networks—explore issues related to masculinity, gender-based violence, and responses to the breadth and depth of sexual assault. The program was first implemented in 2004 through the Office of Women’s Programs and Studies at Colorado State University. Ryan Barone and Chris Linder developed the original curriculum and program design. The Men’s Project represents years of trial and error with different activities, readings, and approaches to presenting the material, and it continues to evolve with new cohorts of participants and new advances in research and theory on sexual assault and gender.
A minority of men perpetrate the vast majority of sexual assaults, so targeting men in primary prevention programs is paramount in attenuating sexual violence on college campuses. Most primary prevention programs, however, target college women, providing them with risk reduction strategies in order to prevent their own potential assaults. This approach focuses on the primary targets of sexual violence and does not address men’s role and responsibility in mitigating the problem. Obviously, both approaches are necessary in primary prevention, but the Men’s Project puts much needed focus on college men.
The content of the Men’s Project is presented in three major sections: (1) three weeks dedicated to understanding different masculinities, socialization, and male privilege, (2) five weeks exploring the breadth, depth, and emotional impact of sexual assault, and (3) three weeks developing bystander intervention strategies on an individual (e.g., confronting sexist jokes) and institutional (e.g., joining women’s rights organizations) basis. In Week 1, participants begin understanding the social construction of gender and the existence of multiple masculinities and identities, and in Weeks 2 and 3, participants explore gender socialization, male privilege and power, male sexuality, including extensive treatment of homophobia and sexual prejudice. Weeks 4, 5, and 6 introduce sexual assault including statistics and other information. Participants are also introduced to the many forms of gender-based violence (e.g., stalking, sexual harassment, and rape), and they begin to explore how seemingly minor behaviors (e.g., using the word “girls” to refer to women) can contribute to an environment that privileges men and allows sexual assault to flourish. Weeks 7 and 8 are dedicated to understanding the experiences of sexual assault survivors, including male and female survivors, and in Week 8, the program participants listen to a survivor’s panel and learns from their experiences. Weeks 9, 10, and 11 explore how participants can engage in bystander intervention at the individual level (Week 9) and at the institutional level (Week 10). Participants also learn about the activist communities on their campus, along with existing programs and sexual assault prevention efforts (Week 11). The Men’s Project is an intensive sexual assault primary prevention program that targets college men, and it integrates insights from other prevention programs.
Most research on collective action uses social identity theory, including the dual pathway model of protest (Stewart et al., 2019). I have argued that social dominance theory’s analysis of intergroup ideologies is also important for collective action.
In one manuscript (Stewart, 2017), I argue that social identity models should be used for disadvantaged groups, such as women, and social dominance models should be used for dominant groups, such as men. I therefore argue for theoretical complementarity based on intergroup status and power. Across three studies, I find that social identity models work well for women, and social dominance models work well for men. Similarly, the social dominance theory model of collective action works well to explain White Americans’ collective action motivations to reduce racial inequality (Stewart & Tran, 2018).
In another manuscript (Stewart, et al., 2016), I argue that bystanders to some injustice are motivated both by solidarity with the aggrieved group and also having positive beliefs about that group’s competence can motivate collective action. Thus, I argue for theoretical integration for bystander models of collective action. In an international sample of over 1400 participants, I find that an integrated model of collective action that uses both social identity and social dominance models fit the data best.
HOW DO SOCIETAL NORMS AFFECT ATTITUDES, BELIEFS, AND PHYSICAL WELL-BEING?
Ideological norms are socially shared intergroup belief systems, viz., ideologies. Norms index ideological agreement in a population. Ideological norms can influence the ways in which individual-level ideological beliefs correspond to people’s public policy positions. For example, in one study I have conducted, I examined how normative or contentious sexism is across 57 nations. I found that people’s sexist beliefs corresponded to whether they believed abortion and domestic violence were justifiable. Sexist beliefs predicted the justifiability of abortion when sexism was normative, but sexist beliefs predicted the justifiability of domestic violence when sexism was contentious (a pattern of results I call the ideology/violence tradeoff). In another study, I found that people’s anti-immigrant beliefs correspond to their opposition to immigration, but only when ideological beliefs concerning immigrants were normative. Many theories predict that when beliefs are contentious (i.e., non-normative), people are more likely to discriminate, and violence becomes more prevalent. Ideological norms are important moderators of individual beliefs and social policy attitudes.
THE NEED FOR MULTILEVEL THEORY AND METHODOLOGY
To examine ideological norms, we must use multilevel theories and multilevel methodologies. Thus, every study I have conducted to examine ideological norms has used social dominance theory (which is a multilevel theory) and also multilevel modeling. Ideological agreement is operationalized as the variance in an ideological measure for each nation, group, or other collective. Low variance indicates that people agree, and high variance indicates disagreement. Multilevel modeling techniques allow us to examine multiple levels of analysis at once and to examine how these levels of analysis interact.