Tuesday, March 07, 2006


Everyday, everywhere, willingly or unconsciously we all tend to use stereotypes when referring a specific group of people that share an identity, (ethnic or religious being the most common examples). How often do we catch ourselves attributing specific characteristics to a set of people or generalizing about their behavior based on a trait? We sometimes go that far so as to predict behavior based on some knowledge we think we have. Earlier in the day i had a discussion with an American gentleman, he insisted: "Europe is different. You are in Spain today, you move a little and there you are in France. Without even noticiing, you are in Switzerland. In the US it's different. You may travel the same distance only to find that you have changed a state or two. People in America are very different, and non-Americans hardly ever realize that".

Stereotyping. For a speaker of Greek, the guess is easy since "stereo" means solid; while by no means the most accurate interpretation, understanding stereotyping as the assigning of specific, general, simplified or exaggerated attributes to a set of people is a close call. What is most important though is to notice its volatile nature: stereotyping may stir anything from friendship to politics, even rhetoric (here: inspire). Yet stereotyping appears to be one of those things that people refuse to grant importance unless they become affected harshly by its consequences: not until we lose a friend or we are stigmatized/classified for what we are (not), do we really comprehend the significance of stereotyping.

And admittedly stereotyping is an easy pitfall to fall in. It easy to create an argument based on a single notion (because X people are Y they...) rather than considering various influential parameters. Such is our "love" for stereotypes that we have even created jokes about them!Probably because stereotypes appeal to that lazy part of our brain that adores simple-straightforward concepts and rejects the more complex ones. What do you think? What is alarming however is that in a world of increasing access to information, we still uphold many of such stereotypes instead of trying to get to know how "these" people really look like. If for our ancestors stereotypes were one way to refer to people they had hardly ever met what is our excuse today?

So, should we abolish stereotypes altogether? Considering the cultural dimension of some of the stereotypes, (often they do reflect important components of a people's identity), it is difficult to dismiss the concept altogether. It is important however not to abuse stereotypes and rather to opt for a genuine understanding of another people by delving into its culture. Yet above all, what is most important is to understand that under the socially and culturally constructed façade, we all humans are the same: meme si on parle français, o español, oder deutsch ή ελληνικά ya da türkçe! Having realized that commonality, perhaps we will be able to even use stereotypes; yet at that point we will be doing so without intending to ridiculize or criticize people: two of the intentions responsible for the aforementioned consequences that divide people.


dimitris said...

it's difficult to keep the balance though. although i am not a fan of stereotyping myself, i have been blamed in conversations for not having an opinionor that i am avoiding to express one with the excuse that "an opinion on subject X would be stereotypical". and more or less it's true, that our opinions on any subject are our stereotypes, our interpretation based on personal experience, which we make our belief.

i would agree with you that we must learn how to use stereotypes rather than abuse them (like we very well know how to do). Just confine them to opinions and not insults, realise what it is that is overgeneralisation and be open to listen to sbd else's opinion and change ours ina few cases - the world would be so much better.

aleppian said...

it seems that i will spend a good deal of time here in your blog :)

Raoul Panim said...

If i get it right, it seems you are warning us of your concern about using stereotypes mainly because they are almost impossible to avoid using. I tend to think that any other individual is a stereotype in himself since he follows a path made of values and ideals he has constructed over the years. So much so that stereotyping an individual is called a biography. Denying him his stereotypehood would be tantamount to despise, to deprecate his unique self endeavoured reality and would probably be regarded as heretic in the midst of the rule of the Self.
The main question underlying the use and abuse of stereotypes, as i see it, is our moving from the rule of the community to the rule of the individual. Doing so we tend to use stereotypes which apply to a smaller group or category than an entire religion, nation or race until we manage to pile up a set of clichés about our neighbors, housemates, brother, mother, wife and children.
Stereotypes are everywhere, so are truths.

Anastasia said...

In theory, I don´t think it is impossible to live without stereotypes to begin with even if in practice that would be a challenge. I am not sure if abolishing some stereotypes would e always desired, yet I see a threat to the overuse of stereotypes.

In my discussion I did not refer to the notion of the individual at all. By "stereotypehood" do you imply originality too? Nonetheless, by equaling the notion of stereotyping to biography you raise an important question, namely to what extent people are able to exert influence upon their lives as opposed to following a path that their families and the institutions of their countries have shaped for him.

As far as the individual-community relation, I think that stereotyping creates defective identities whether for smaller or larger groups, unless exercised with caution.

Einstein de Barossa Valley said...

Soy muy malo para el inglés.

Saludos y me gustaría que hiciéramos un intercambio de links.

Me avisas si estás de acuerdo.


Einstein de Barossa Valley said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nicholas Brett said...

Oiga, me gusta mucho a mí lo que ha puesto usted acá. Creo que mucha gente debe de leerlo. Gracias por lo que me ha comentado en la mía. Suerte también.

frag said...

muy interesante, yo he visto mucho sobre estereotipos en mi carrera, y C.Jung habla mucho de eso con sus arquetipos...deberías de leer acerca de su teoría...
saludos y gracias por tu comentario en mi blog.

frag said...

no no lo sabía, yo sabía que significaba fragmentado o algo por el estilo..pero de hecho frágmata salió por un invento raro mío..y después me enteré que si tenía significado..

Boo said...

Thank you for visiting my blog!! :D

...life would be so much better if we didn't judge people...

Loreta said...

Muy buen post, buen tema.
seguire visitando por aqui.

Nikela said...

Stereotypes are widely shared generalizations about members of a social group. They act as templates to help to interpret the huge diversity of the social world. I hate to break it to you but they are slow to change and are aquired at a very early stage. they also seem to be a universal part of our cognitive system. These cognitive mechanisms act unconsciously, you can't really control them. they act as "heuristics", short-cuts for our mind to reduce problem-solving to simpler judgemental operations.
Evolutionary this kind of mechanism can be seen as a tool to help humans make sence of relationships with other people.
So I quess all i am trying to say is that it's not so easy to learn to use stereotypes in your liking...Once you aquire one you probably will have it for life, unless a psychological "tsunami" happens...it's in our culture!!! One solution would be to strike stereotypes at school, through education; when children are young. But still it's not only school where children aquire information about the social world...It's the family, the media etc.
So I don't see any way we could control for this, since sometimes we won't even know we are insulting somebody!

Anastasia said...

Nikela, the scientific explanation you provided is very useful and indeed and it provides a great tool for understanding the process of stereotyping formation.

Clearly the term "stereotyping" has a much stronger connotation in psychology than in a non-scientific contect. In our every day talking what we refer to as stereotyping may not meet the strict scientific definition.

The fundamental premise that stereotyping occurs at an earlier stage in one's life and is an inalterable stage originates in cognitive psychology and can be historically be corroborated by the Nazi case or the Hutu/Tutsi Rwandese genocide.

Many of what we call "stereotypes" when describing our modern day societies may just be facettes of hate or indoctrination. While it is possible that some people acquire real stereotypes, often times it is the case that people are in a "grey zone". Such people, who make joke over a person's religion or skin color, may have received some negative remarks yet not to the point to develop real true stereotypes.

It these "gray zones" that are of interest to me because I believe that if societies engage in the battle against discrimination through developing better education systems for example, the process of developing setereotypes will fade. It is crucial therefore to emphasize both the importance of education and the individual responsibility of each and every one, of the media, of institurions in condemning discrimination and derogatory and malicious processes whether they take the form of a remark or joke.

Optimus said...

I can't add more here rather than the fact that I agree with what most people say here, e.g. that sometimes you are blamed for expressing a stereotypical opinion without planning to do so. Or that you are afraid to express your opinion because of the possibility to be accused of being stereotypical.

Of course there are people who sound biased in the way/the tone they express their opinion and others who have a nicer way in doing so. And mainly the most important are the motives/reasons of people doing so. If you are discussing it because you find the diferrences in cultures/races an interesting subject to discuss it's ok (I do find such discussions interesting without thinking negatively about diferrent kinds of people but just because I like to know our funny differences). Several people though seem to raise these opinions in such a way like they want to burst out to other people, with no apparent reason. I just want to discuss openly and with humor about diferrences in countries, other people want to get something out (having nerves ;) and others really seem to hate some ethnic groups. Or they are just having a bad life ;P. Diferrent motives for similar discussions?

And to end up, because the text grew big, a final mention on social stereotypes rather than ethnic/religious ones. And something I find ironic..

I was more fed up of those stereotypes of what people with diferrent hobbies/entertainment/ideas are. And even the common opinion who tried to defined what real life is and what is not (And my mother repeating those cliche opinions to myself till these days ;P) has created stereotypes in my head about a life that I didn't have and one I should seek for. But I found out it was not my real self. And each time I imagine dialogues in my head trying to compensate with myself, to justify myself about what I am. Perhaps I could call these stereotypes too, those that discriminate the cool guy, from the geek, the nerd, the weirdo, etc. I had enough of these..

What I find most ironical in these stereotypes, it is the fact that they create an identity for those subcultures, that the individuals of these communities adopt. What I mean with in example, e.g. is that when people told us that computer geeks are this shit and having that appearence/attitude, we geeks adopted these descriptions and we even defined our self with them! We used people's opinions as definitions of the common geek people and some people who read the stereotypical opinion about the geek community and found they belong in the description joined us! So, after a while the steretypes came true and you really go into some group of people to find what you expect (but of course there are still several people there that doesn't match exactly ;). Perhaps it was mentioned already, stereotypes sometimes seem to work against to what they are supposed to blame. They seem to create the real identity of these social groups. And the individuals adopt the negative comments as funny or possitive identities. We even say jokes about us! It's just not to be taken serious. That's for social groups in entertainment, music and hobbies as far as I have lived this out..

What if we suddenly mixed all these data in our heads and believed that geeks are cool and trendy guys are intelectual? =)

Or we did behaved to these people in ways they didn't expect, maybe in the natural way like we never knew they belong in their group? Would be fun!

p.s. Ah,. I wish I could write shorter texts.

Anastasia said...

i think there is a distinction between 'stereotypes', 'stereotypical opinions' and 'afraid of sounding stereotypical'. Expressing a stereotypical opinion may result either because you are truly doing it or because other people have a preconceived bias that you do that or because you don't make yourself clear enough. In the latter, a second or third sentence clears up the mess.

As I mentioned in my original post, what concerns me is how easy it is to fall in the trap of using some derogatory general statements and the severe consequences they can bear in our diverse societies. What you say about 'geek culture' is a perfect example of that I believe.

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