Monday, June 17, 2013

“Generalization” Good, “Stereotype” Bad

Hard on the heels of the ACSC lesson on stereotypes, deftly tucked in to the lesson on cultural awareness and sensitivity, came a glimmer of intelligence:


When discussing domains and dimensions, keep in mind that the focus is on generalizations and tendencies, not stereotypes. The dominant behaviors and values of a culture will never be shared by all of its members. Factors such as age and generation, gender, socio-economic and educational level, occupation, and life experience can lead to significant differences from individual to individual. Please see the illustration below for a graphic depiction of stereotypes and generalizations.

Mmm . . . this looks familiar.  Oh, yeah, I saw some of this here, here, here, and here, and, oh look, here’s my graph almost identical to the one above.

Reading that paragraph I recalled my thoughts on reading bird-watching handbooks. (My in-laws are relatively serious bird-watchers.) As I looked through the colorful illustrations, drawn to highlight the distinctive features of each breed (species, whatever), I remarked, "How come I never see any birds that look like this? All I see are darkish blobs tearing through the sky." But apparently people much more observant than I am find these guides useful.

Of course, I would caution any freshly-scrubbed ACSC graduate hoping to take refuge in, "But it's not a stereotype, it's a generalization!" to, um, proceed cautiously. I'm sure Jason Richwine would concur.


Elusive Wapiti said...

If I understand correctly, the distinction is this:

Generalization: making observations about a group, and using those observations to shape policy and guide behavior toward one group or another in the macro sense, but refraining from applying those conclusions at the individual level.

Stereotyping: making observations about a group, and using those observations to guide one's behavior and opinions not only at the macro level, but at the individual level as well.

It's a pretty handy distinction, actually. By opposing stereotypes (bad) but favoring generalizations (good), it permits the user to engage in all the out-group and other-bashing she wishes--which influences behavior--while still affording enough manuever room to dodge accusations of bias and bigotry.

Hate. With plausible deniability. Awesome.

newrebeluniv said...

That's racist: overlapping two curves like that.