What are the types of intergroup relationships in sociology?
The term intergroup relationship describes the relations, or interactions, between two or more groups of people. In sociology, the focus is often on the intergroup relations between two different racial groups, ethnic groups, or social groups. Some relationships could be described as tolerant, while others are clear examples of intolerance.
The types of intergroup relationships in sociology include:
Assimilation occurs when one group discards its identity and adopts the values, beliefs, language, or culture of another group as a way to fit in. In many cases, it is a minority group that assimilates to the majority group, but assimilation can be a two-way process.
Pluralism occurs when each group retains its identity while peacefully and respectfully existing with the other group. For pluralism to exist, the minority or subordinate group must be accepted by the majority or dominant group and fully participate in the majority or dominant society.
Amalgamation occurs when two different groups combine to form a single group with shared values, beliefs, cultures, languages, and so on. This is sometimes, but not always, achieved through marriage or breeding between people from two different groups.
Segregation occurs when one group, typically the dominant group, creates a physical separation between themselves and another group. This may involve designated areas or behaviors for each particular group, to ensure that there is limited or no intermingling.
Expulsion occurs when one group, typically the dominant group, forces another group to leave a community, region, or country.
Genocide occurs when one group, typically the dominant group, tries to deliberately destroy another group. It is undoubtedly the most toxic, intolerant intergroup relationship.
According to sociologists, there are two main patterns of intergroup relations. These are assimilation and pluralism.
Assimilation occurs when a group comes to lose its distinctive identity in a society. This can happen through a “melting pot” process in which two or more groups’ identities are all melded together or it can occur through one group coming to conform to the other’s ways. Most white ethnic groups in the United States have almost completely assimilated into mainstream American society.
Pluralism occurs when a group maintains its cultural identity. This can occur on an equal basis (with the group being seen as different, but equal to others) or it can be unequal, with the group being discriminated against or otherwise abused. Pluralism can be seen to a large degree in relations between white Americans and African Americans.
The concept of intergroup relationships (sometimes known as intergroup relations) is one of the most difficult and important foundations of sociology. Like many aspects of this field of study, intergroup relationships actually do not fall under any black or white category, but rather exist on a spectrum that ranges between tolerance at one extreme and intolerance at the other.
The most tolerant form of intergroup relations is called "pluralism". With pluralism there is no distinction between groups and group members, be they minority or majority. Under pluralism all members share equal standing. In its ideal form pluralism is characterized by respect for all cultures, traditions, and nuances. The hallmarks of pluralism is that it is interdisciplinary in that it spans form and function, and that it evolves with the times; if new members want to join the group they are welcomed with open arms, a process known as assimilation. Ultimately, pluralism means that a group is always changing, always growing, and adapts well. A good example of assimilation in action would be a salad bowl or a sandwich; each culture (or ingredient) retains what's unique about it, but they all work together in harmony, without prejudice.
On the other extreme of the intergroup relationship spectrum lies intolerance. While pluralism is rather straightforward intolerance comes in multiple varieties: amalgamation, genocide, segregation, and expulsion. In all cases the ultimate goal is to divide groups, to create an "us versus them" mentality that causes unrest, anger, and mistrust.
Amalgamation, also known as miscegenation, is perhaps the most basic form of intolerance. Whereas assimilation sees multiple groups as being equal and working together amalgamation refers to these groups merging completely, becoming one brand new group. A good example of this is the classic "Melting pot" rhetoric common in the United States. Under this ideology different cultures sacrifice individuality in order to become something different, like melting two different metals to make an alloy. This is considered an intolerance because amalgamation demands that a group sacrifice itself and its cultural identical or risk discrimination, a concept in sociology known as being an "Other".
A related concept is expulsion. Just as the name implies, expulsion refers to a subordinate or minority group being forced away by a dominant or majority group. While expulsion can precede an even more severe form of intolerance, like genocide, it in of itself can cause significant damage. One of the most glaring examples from American history is the Trail of Tears, where entire communities of First Worlders were ejected from their own land, which was then seized by the dominant white majority. Colonialism as a whole is a living historical reminder of the dangers of expulsion.
Segregation is similar to expulsion in many ways, though there are some subtle differences. While expulsion implies the forcing of one group away segregation requires the physical separation of disparate groups, most commonly racial. This could be in school, workplace, areas of residence, or really any area two or more groups may otherwise interact. Segregation can be overt or declared (known as de jure segregation), such as through literal law (such as the Jim Crow laws of the American south), or it can be subtle (known as de facto), such as profiling.
At its most extreme of intergroup relationship intolerance is genocide. Genocide is both the intent and the deliberate destruction or annihilation of an entire group of people. While the Holocaust is possibly the best known example genocide has occurred throughout recorded history, and still exists today, such as the Darfur conflicts in Sudan. Genocide is the most toxic and destructive form of intergroup relationships, and is abhorred in all forms.
Social Identifications: A Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations and Group Processes (Dominic Abrams and Michael A. Hogg)
Intergroup Relations: Sociological Perspectives (Michael Banton)