Tajfel (1982) suggests that social psychological understandings of group membership should include the relationships between social, cultural and psychological factors. This essay attempts to argue that neither social identity theory nor discursive psychology view group membership as an entirely cognitive matter, however, social identity theory incorporates cognitive factors into its explanations of group membership to a greater extent than discursive psychology. This essay will begin by describing social identity theory and its core assumptions, in order to illuminate the extent to which social identity theory views group membership as being a cognitive matter. Discursive psychological criticisms of the social identity theory will then be discussed. The essay will then describe discursive psychology, what its underlying theory is and how it applies it to the topic of group membership. The essay will discuss of the possibility of combining social identity theory with discursive psychology to provide a more comprehensive account of group membership. This essay will conclude by stating that group membership should be viewed as a cognitive and social matter.
The social identity theory was proposed by social psychologist Henri Tajfel, and his student John Turner, in 1979 to challenge the (then dominant) idea that group dynamics are biologically based (Tajfel, 1982). Tajfel stressed the importance of developing theories that illuminated the relationship between social, cultural and psychological factors (Brown, 2007). Tajfel (1982) states that social identity theory is designed to explain how individuals develop a sense of membership in particular groups and how intergroup behaviour is affected by group membership.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Tajfel took the first step in developing social identity theory when he found that participants displayed a cognitive bias, in exaggerating similarities within and differences between groups, when making judgements on two dimensions (Brown, 2007). Originally using coins, with the first dimension being a continuous scale (monetary value) and the second being a categorical variable (the size of coin), Tajfel (1969, cited in Brown, 2007) applied this to making judgements of people. The continuous scale of character traits and the second dimension as social categories (e.g. race or gender), in which the cognitive bias could cause prejudice and stereotypes. This aspect of group membership is obviously ‘primarily a cognitive matter’.
Social identity theory states that knowledge of group membership, and the value and emotional significance of a particular group membership, forms an important part of our identity (Tajfel, 1982). Brown (2007) suggests that this idea is based on three key assumptions. Firstly, that maintaining positive self-esteem is a basic human motivation. Secondly, that self-esteem is based on the positive or negative values ascribed to a particular group membership. Thirdly, these values are developed by comparing the in-group with appropriate out-groups. It can be argued that the first assumption is biologically based, whereas the second and third are based primarily on cognitive factors.
Tajfel began conducting a series of experiments known as minimal group paradigm (MGP) experiments. These experiments were designed to test whether intergroup discrimination would occur when group membership was assigned using minimal (arbitrary or meaningless) conditions, for example using a coin toss to allocate groups (Billig and Tajfel, 1973, cited in Tajfel, 1982). Tajfel, Billig, Bundy and Flament (1971) began a series of MGP experiments to argue that in-group bias occurs even when there is no conflict or competition between the groups. Tajfel et al...