Changing Social and Economic Contexts and Changing Identities

(Coordination: A. Mummendey)

Globalisation and internationalisation affect all domains of life, be it by technological progress, or by the opening up of national borders. As possible consequences, this maintains and promotes a permanent but discretionary flow of migration of people with different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, demographic transformations, an increasing rate of mergers of companies and economic organisations within and across national borders, the rise of completely new industries and the fall of traditional ones: all of these consequences represent major causes and contexts of essential processes of exogenous and endogenous change in society. These changes will result in contexts that may threaten or challenge traditional social identities, that is, self-definitions which are based on one’s membership in social groups within a context of intergroup relations (e.g., ethnic groups, nations, companies, or generations). Furthermore, by internationalisation of market mechanisms in organisations, new groups (such as the new type of entrepreneurial self-employed people or groups defined via their integration into networks rather than companies) and new group memberships (such as core vs. temporary employees in a company with internalised global market rules) can arise. These contexts bear different potentials to build identities or group memberships upon and so, the meaning of previous group memberships can be altered or re-defined. In sum, these phenomena can be broadly described as social and economic change as well as change in values.

Fundamental Research Question
In many domains of life, social and economic change as well as change in values is affected by and itself affects the relations between social groups. Further, we know that individuals act in terms of their social group membership. Systems of social and moral beliefs and values are based on knowledge and evaluations of groups to whom individuals belong or do not belong. Social perception and the behaviour of individuals are strongly affected by the structural and procedural characteristics of relations within their own group and by the characteristics of relations between their own group and other groups. Individuals’ social protection and wellbeing (or the degree of uncertainty driven by social context changes) is often transmitted via the membership in certain groups, for example, the group of employees protected by labour law or the group of self-employed people not so protected. As a frequent consequence of structural, organisational and technological change, collective self-esteem, which is primarily based on group membership, is questioned, and commonly shared values and attitudes can no longer be taken for granted. A social-psychological intergroup perspective is therefore essential for the analysis of the consequences of social and economic change for individual self-construal, for changing relations within and between social groups, and for predicting how changing identities themselves will affect society and economy. In particular, the active determination of one’s own or group environment bears the potential for intended social and technological innovations.

The level and scope of social protection may change together with a change in group membership. Or in the case of precarious work, it is questionable if group membership can serve as a source of identity at all. Therefore, (group membership) change might be experienced as a threat which demands other sources of identity and (new) means of protection. Alternatively, it might be experienced as challenge and opportunity for positive growth and innovative developments. Pressures to protect, or to alter, social identities go together with pressures to protect or alter relations between traditional groups. Some of these pressures may relate to income distributions between groups and its members and are a result of a different use of economic opportunities, determined by group and individual abilities to generate and to adapt to novel contexts. Conflicts between groups might emerge which can be expressed in terms of negative attitudes, derogation, discrimination, or even aggressive behaviour and violent attacks against those who are different from one’s own group.

These anticipated trajectories of the dynamics of social change and social identity give rise to numerous specific research questions.