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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2001, Vol. 4 No. 1 .


The Outsider: Prejudice and Politics in Italy
Paul M. Sniderman, Pierangelo Peri, Rui J. P. de Figueiredo, Jr and Thomas Piazza

Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2000
222pp. Index. Biblio. Hb.: 18.95; ISBN 0-691-04839-8.



Sniderman and his co-authors have provided serious students of prejudice and politics with a refreshing and methodologically stimulating innovative approach to understanding prejudice against immigrants in Italy.

The book describes an exploratory study of immigrants from North Africa and Eastern European countries who have settled in Italy where they have become an outgroup and aliens in a country where prejudice is evident. Sniderman critically reviews classical theoretical contributions from Tajfel, Adorno, Asch and Sherif, and explores the theoretical and empirical limitations of these approaches in relation to explaining the roots of prejudice between the Italians and the immigrants.

In the opening chapter the concept of prejudice as an exclusively psychological phenomenon is displaced by Snidermans contention that it is irrelevant and inadequate in todays world. There is little space in Snidermans thinking for social psychological processes or social cognition as dominant theoretical models to explain ingroup versus outgroup hostility. Whilst political and ideological self conceptions, he argues, provide the impetus for prejudicial attitudes between the Italians and immigrants, his advanced state of the art methodology is severely limited in that he has not tapped the multidimensional nature of individual self concepts. His approach could well be accused of being heavily reductionist in the socio-politico -economic sense of the word.

In his second chapter the authors impeccable scholarship acknowledges a major paradox in that competing theories of prejudice do not advance our understanding of prejudice between ingroups and outgroups. He contends that they have lost their explanatory power to explain the changing nature of prejudice. Sniderman, however, utilizes Tajfels Social Identity theory and Adornos Authoritarian personality theory together with Sherifs realistic conflict theory to generate a uniform and more comprehensive theory of prejudice in Italy. This reformulation comprises an eclecticism which is evaluative encompassing class interests, education, competition for jobs and housing as major features of prejudice. The problem with such an evolutionary approach such as this is that compromise is a distinct reality. At what cost theoretically and conceptually do we allow ourselves to generate comprehensive models of conflict?

The authors reconceptualize the concept of prejudice and utilize a multiformat, multitrait approach to measure prejudice between the Northern and Southern Italians and both against the immigrants. Whilst marginalizing the significance of Adornos Personality indices the irony is that Sniderman uses a confirmatory factor analysis to extract factor loadings which assess Italians evaluative consistencies and personal attributions of prejudice towards the immigrants.

The findings do shed new insights into the measurement of prejudice and conflict but at the expense of theory and multidimensional self concepts. They show clearly that to be different is to be an Outsider. This is the heart of the matter. We have learned much from Snidermans approach, theories are in a sense only theories, what the authors need to do now is to consider what are the most appropriate research questions to ask. Retrospectively, Sniderman could well consider how to replace the full stops with question marks.


Dr. Arthur Cassidy



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