Ethnocentrism and stereotyping essays


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Essay on Stereotyping and Stereotypes

Essay on Stereotyping and Stereotypes

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Stereotyping is a way of representing and evaluating other people in fixed, unyielding terms. The stereotypes which result from this process homogenize traits held to be characteristic of particular categories of people, make them appear natural, necessary and unchangeable, reduce people to them without qualification and reproduce notions of others as radically different from those among whom the stereotypes circulate. The force of a stereotype is strongest when it is commonly held to be irrevocable. This is especially the case when stereotypes are connected to alleged biological determinants of, say, gender or ethnicity, for in such cases they can exert a tremendous pull, drawing description and assessment back towards their essentialist measures of difference.

Essentialism involves seeing others through the singular characteristic that is supposed to be definitive of who they are and what they do. It is the opposite of individualism, which conceives of each individual as personally unique regardless of their formation in particular cultural worlds. Against this exaggerated version of selfhood, stereotypes essentialize by refusing the distinction between individuality and group membership. Stereotypes make categories seem categorical, and so are a form of individualism in reverse.

Stereotyping is a sign of power, or a bid for that sign. The forms of representation it deals with provide support for existing structures of power, relations of domination and oppression, and inequalities of resource and opportunity. Yet those with relatively little power or privilege also engage in stereotyping, at times as a way of salvaging status and esteem from conditions which damage or destroy them. Their stereotypes of others may serve as scapegoats for feelings of frustration, disaffection, or anger, again because of social power and inequality. Travelers, foreign workers, and refugees (or so-called asylum-seekers) are examples of people who have suffered from this displaced aggression, not least when it is exploited by populist media with a main eye for circulation and sales. Stereotypes implicitly affirm those who stereotype in their own sense of superiority, and may also extend beyond this in validating a social order or culturally sanctioned hierarchy. The symbolic boundaries which stereotypes construct and reproduce strategically exclude those who are targeted, stating that ”you do not belong here” or ”you are not one of us.” Stereotyping always operates via strict demarcations between ”us” and ”them,” even when power issues are not immediately involved, as for example when it involves the selective idealization of others (e.g. the elevation of certain limited notions of feminine beauty or behavior, or the heroic status accorded by certain whites to black jazz, blues, or rap artists). Stereotypes may then appear to deal in positive images and affirmative identifications, but these are still one-sided projections and may have negative consequences for the other, as for example in confining them to a set role or ability.

Stereotyping may not be confined to the modern period, but it has certainly increased enormously during this time and become characteristic of modern societies or societies becoming modern, one that follows from their increased rate and pace of social change, movements of people and encounters with cultural difference. The need for informational short cuts and readymade devices of discourse and representation that help us process the otherwise overwhelming data of daily social realities creates fertile ground for stereotypes. Once established, they obstruct critical enquiry or fuller forms of portrayal because of their facile convenience and fixed manner of representation. Stereotyping may also be encouraged when the speed of social change results in a drive to order, reassertion of proprieties and norms, and antagonism towards fluidity and ambivalence. When these attain a resolute presence in media which are accredited as sources of authority or truth, the rhetorical force of stereotypes is increased, whether this involves young people reading teen magazines or adults watching the news on television.

Stereotyping is not just a psychological problem, attendant on the question of how to regard others as we strive to make sense of the world around us. It is also a sociological problem, attendant on the question of how others are conceived and represented. Contesting stereotypes involves untying their tight knots of symbolic figuration in the name of self-determination, and we should take heart from those who have done so, for they show that it is possible to challenge the closure of stereotypical representations and achieve greater inclusiveness within society, greater opportunities and scope, and a more positive social identity.


  • Pickering,    (2001)  Stereotyping:   The  Politics of Representation, Palgrave Macmillan, New York.

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