Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 16, 2014

Social identity theory and homeland security

Filed under: Education — by Christopher Bellavita on September 16, 2014

What do these people have in common?

– Unaccompanied children crossing the border illegally, and the people who don’t want them in this country.
– People opposing the militarization of police, and the people who don’t believe militarization is all that bad.
– People who don’t mind submitting to TSA searches, and people who think it’s a waste of resources and liberty.
– People who think NSA surveillance is a national abomination, and people who believe if you haven’t done anything wrong you shouldn’t mind government having access to your emails and phone calls.

One answer to the question is they are all members of groups whose behaviors can be explained and predicted more effectively by their identities as members of groups, rather than by trying to understand the behaviors of the individuals in each of those groups.

Social identity theory is the name given to this way of understanding why people do what they do.

Social Identity Theory (SIT) has been around since the 1970s. I learned about it a few years ago from colleagues I teach with. I’m still not sure what I think about it. I wonder about its predictive and operational value.  But I do know that a third to a half of the practitioners who graduate from our program think there’s something to SIT worth paying attention to.

SIT is “a theory that predicts certain intergroup behaviors on the basis of perceived group status differences, the perceived legitimacy and stability of those status differences, and the perceived ability to move from one group to another.”

According to an article by Ellemers and Haslam in the Handbook of Theories of Social Psychology, the core premise of social identity theory “is that in many social situations people think of themselves and others as group members, rather than as unique individuals. The theory argues that social identity underpins intergroup behavior and sees this as qualitatively distinct from interpersonal behavior…. [The theory] focuses on social context as the key determinant of social perceptions and social behaviors.”

You can read more about SIT here and here. Or you can watch a 40 minute lecture here.

But why would anyone in homeland security want to learn anything about social identity theory?

Two of my colleagues – David Brannan and Anders Strindberg – argue in their book A Practitioner’s Way Forward: Terrorism Analysis that terrorism research has been conducted without much attention to analytical rigor. They believe SIT can help provide that rigor.

They also offer, through the NPS Center for Homeland Defense and Security, a self-study course titled Understanding Terrorism: A Social Science View on Terrorism. It describes SIT and illustrates — among other things – how it can be used to “provide nuance, depth, and rigor to your studies of religious terrorism.”

There is no cost for the course, but registration is required. You can register at this link: http://www.chds.us/?special/info&pgm=Noncredit.

According to the CHDS website, the course is “available to local, tribal, state and federal U.S. government officials; members of the U.S. military; private-sector homeland security managers; homeland security researchers or educators; and students enrolled in homeland security degree programs.”

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4 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

September 16, 2014 @ 4:34 am

The SORTING OUT and then the SELECTION–to be done by each individual or some group with weight of the STATE behind it.

Personally I believe Nazism, Communism, and perhaps Capitalism are best studied as religions but perhaps SIT also of value.

Oddly clothing almost world wide seems to have declined as a social marker but perhaps not personal hygiene. Youth or demographic cohorts?

Comment by William R. Cumming

September 16, 2014 @ 5:20 am

Watched the lecture excellent content and graphics. I would add Erich Fromm’s ESCAPE FROM FREEDOM. David Reisman’s writings on INNER DIRECTED AND OTHER DIRECTER personalities, and perhaps discussion in PLEASE UN DERSTAND ME [Meyers-Briggs] between introverts and extroverts, and perhaps books on who ends up leading groups and gang organization.

Comment by Tom Russo

September 17, 2014 @ 3:54 pm

It has been years since I read Eric Fromm but Cumming’s reference is motivation to pick up those aged copies and contemplate his writing in the context of the security issues the nation confronts today. But I remember the title well…Escape from Freedom!

Comment by Christopher Tingus

September 17, 2014 @ 9:28 pm

…and attempting to understand terrorist behavior….

Psychological Factors in Terrorism and Counterterrorism: Individual, Group, and Organizational Levels of Analysis

Arie W. Kruglanski* and Shira Fishman

This article explores psychological factors involved in terrorism and counterterrorism on individual, group, and organizational levels of analysis.

On the individual level, we describe attempts to understand terrorist behavior as a form of psychopathology and/or as reflecting a unique constellation of personality traits. We also consider whether there exists a general motivational basis for participating in terrorism.

On the group level of analysis, we address the process of shared reality construction, social influence involved in recruitment of new members to terrorist organization, their indoctrination into terrorist ideology, and the use of language in creating terrorism warranting norms.

On the organizational level, we consider issues of training, logistics, and cost effectiveness as they apply to the decisions to launch or abstain from terrorist activities. We conclude by considering the implications of our analysis for possible ways and means for countering terrorism.

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