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The Dynamics of Scapegoating in Small Groups

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Abstract

An analysis is made of the proposition that the scapegoat role emerges in small groups to unconsciously allow other members to distance themselves from the anxiety and threat aroused by the intrapsychic and interpersonal conflict displaced onto the scapegoat. The analysis concentrates on describing the scapegoating process in small groups, the underlying dynamics, and the consequences for a group. Researchable propositions derivable from the dynamics of the scapegoating process are presented
... Original Research Article 2 Djabi and Sitte de Longueval scapegoating. Scapegoats are found in most social groups (Gemmill, 1989), and organizations are no exception. When scapegoats are outside the group (e.g., Europe, the competition), they help strengthen the group to face a common enemy (Tajfel, Billig, Bundy, & Flament, 1971). ...
... The reactions are described as typical and predetermined by the protagonists' roles. According to these studies, the scapegoats, even when they defend themselves, fail to shake off their victim status and even at times unwittingly strengthen it (Eagle & Newton, 1981;Gemmill, 1989). Meanwhile, the persecuting collective engages in a frenzy of violence that will not stop until the scapegoat has been sacrificed, and the witnesses, including management, systematically join the persecutors (Bonazzi, 1980;Casanova, 2014b;Girard, 1982). ...
... To answer this question, we examined seven cases of scapegoating. All were collected in an organization called FERR, which was undergoing profound changes (managerialization of the company, feminization of job positions, rejuvenation of collectives, etc.) that had precipitated a collective experience of crisis (Uhalde, 2016), thus offering fertile ground for the emergence of scapegoats (Bonazzi, 1983;Daudigeos et al., 2014;Eagle & Newton, 1981;Gemmill, 1989;Girard, 1982;Uhalde, 2005). This multi-case and processual study (Langley, 1999) reveals four outcomes of scapegoating and two opposite modes of regulation. ...
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Several studies have focused on scapegoating in the organizational context. However, most have tended to enclose the protagonists in predefined roles: scapegoats are relatively passive, their colleagues persecute them, and management quickly join the persecutors. According to this scenario, the outcome ends irrevocably with the scapegoat’s isolation. The literatures in related fields have nevertheless suggested other modes of regulation, and we might question whether our representation of the organizational scapegoating process, from passive actors to automatic outcome, offers a full account of this complex phenomenon as it unfolds and is lived. We in fact do not know how organizational actors regulate the scapegoating process, interfering with and influencing its trajectory and outcome. In this article, we conceptualize this complex process by examining the active and regulating roles of its protagonists and how they hinder or even avert the violence of scapegoating. In an exploratory and qualitative study of seven cases of scapegoating in a large French company, we describe the actions of the scapegoats (combating the persecution, struggling against stigma, avoidance, and departure) and management (support for persecutors, support for the scapegoat, and ambivalent support). The articulation of the protagonists’ actions ultimately leads to four types of resolution for the scapegoat: isolation, expulsion, cohabitation, and assimilation. Two modes of regulation emerge: the first mode strengthens and catalyzes the scapegoating process, whereas the second mode prevents and channels it. By detailing the actors’ actions and their capacities to co-regulate the scapegoating process, this study moves beyond a deterministic vision of scapegoating and underlines the role of its protagonists. A research agenda is discussed.
... Essentially, the early stages of COVID-19 were exclusively a Chinese problem; "superior" Western society had nothing to worry about, even though experts were warning of a pandemic breakout even before Wuhan was locked down. This conforms with the scapegoating theory of clinical psychology, in which members of a group project unwanted self aspects onto another person or group, then attack the scapegoat believing that "this is not me" [12,17,37]. Political scientists have argued that scapegoating is a major driver for racism in a number of settings [14,36]. ...
... Scapegoating, one principal mechanism of conflict concentration, occurs when team members attribute ''dysfunctions and difficulties within the system to the personal failings and inadequacies of an individual member'' (Gemmill, 1989: 410). Blaming even blameless others for negative situations often brings catharsis (Konecni and Doob, 1972), minimizes feelings of responsibility, maintains personal control over negative situations, provides clear excuses (Rothschild et al., 2012), and may push specific, underlying agendas (Gemmill, 1989). Thus team members experiencing widespread conflict and distress may look for specific groups or individuals to blame and direct their aggression toward them, causing conflict concentration among individuals, dyads, or subgroups. ...
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Teams scholars have historically conceptualized and measured intragroup conflict at the team level. But emerging evidence suggests that perceptions of intragroup conflict are often not uniform , shared, or static. These findings suggest important questions about the microfoundations of intragroup conflict: Where does conflict within teams originate? And how does it evolve over time? We address these and other questions in three abductive studies. We consider four origi-nation points-an individual, dyad, subgroup, or team-and three evolutionary trajectories-conflict continuity, contagion, and concentration. Study 1, a qualitative study of narrative accounts , and Study 2, a longitudinal social networks study of student teams, reveal that fewer than 30 percent of teams experience team-level conflict. Instead, conflict more commonly originates and persists at individual, dyadic, or subgroup levels. Study 2 further demonstrates that traditional psychometric intragroup conflict scales mask the existence of these various origins and trajectories of conflict. Study 3, a field study of manufacturing teams, reveals that individual and dyadic task conflict origins positively predict team performance, whereas traditional intragroup task conflict measures negatively predict team performance. The results raise serious concerns about current methods and theory in the team conflict literature and suggest that researchers must go beyond team-level conceptualizations of conflict.
... Scapegoating, one principal mechanism of conflict concentration, occurs when team members attribute "dysfunctions and difficulties within the system to the personal failings and inadequacies of an individual member" (Gemmill, 1989: 410). Blaming even blameless others for negative situations often brings catharsis (Konecni and Doob, 1972), minimizes feelings of responsibility, maintains personal control over negative situations, provides clear excuses (Rothschild et al., 2012), and may push specific, underlying agendas (Gemmill, 1989). Thus team members experiencing widespread conflict and distress may look for specific groups or individuals to blame and direct their aggression toward them, causing conflict concentration among individuals, dyads, or subgroups. ...
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Teams scholars have historically conceptualized and measured intragroup conflict at the team level. But emerging evidence suggests that perceptions of intragroup conflict are often not uni-form, shared, or static. These findings suggest important questions about the microfoundations of intragroup conflict: Where does conflict within teams originate? And how does it evolve over time? We address these and other questions in three abductive studies. We consider four origi-nation points—an individual, dyad, subgroup, or team—and three evolutionary trajectories—conflict continuity, contagion, and concentration. Study 1, a qualitative study of narrative ac-counts, and Study 2, a longitudinal social networks study of student teams, reveal that fewer than 30 percent of teams experience team-level conflict. Instead, conflict more commonly origi-nates and persists at individual, dyadic, or subgroup levels. Study 2 further demonstrates that tra-ditional psychometric intragroup conflict scales mask the existence of these various origins and trajectories of conflict. Study 3, a field study of manufacturing teams, reveals that individual and dyadic task conflict origins positively predict team performance, whereas traditional intragroup task conflict measures negatively predict team performance. The results raise serious concerns about current methods and theory in the team conflict literature and suggest that researchers must go beyond team-level conceptualizations of conflict.
... Essentially, the early stages of COVID-19 were exclusively a Chinese problem; "superior" Western society had nothing to worry about, even though experts were warning of a pandemic breakout even before Wuhan was locked down. This conforms with the scapegoating theory of clinical psychology, in which members of a group project unwanted self aspects onto another person or group, then attack the scapegoat believing that "this is not me" [13,18,38]. Political scientists have argued that scapegoating is a major driver for racism in a number of settings [15,37]. ...
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The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives in unprecedented ways. In the face of the projected catastrophic consequences, many countries have enacted social distancing measures in an attempt to limit the spread of the virus. Under these conditions, the Web has become an indispensable medium for information acquisition, communication, and entertainment. At the same time, unfortunately, the Web is being exploited for the dissemination of potentially harmful and disturbing content, such as the spread of conspiracy theories and hateful speech towards specific ethnic groups, in particular towards Chinese people since COVID-19 is believed to have originated from China. In this paper, we make a first attempt to study the emergence of Sinophobic behavior on the Web during the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. We collect two large-scale datasets from Twitter and 4chan's Politically Incorrect board (/pol/) over a time period of approximately five months and analyze them to investigate whether there is a rise or important differences with regard to the dissemination of Sinophobic content. We find that COVID-19 indeed drives the rise of Sinophobia on the Web and that the dissemination of Sinophobic content is a cross-platform phenomenon: it exists on fringe Web communities like \dspol, and to a lesser extent on mainstream ones like Twitter. Also, using word embeddings over time, we characterize the evolution and emergence of new Sinophobic slurs on both Twitter and /pol/. Finally, we find interesting differences in the context in which words related to Chinese people are used on the Web before and after the COVID-19 outbreak: on Twitter we observe a shift towards blaming China for the situation, while on /pol/ we find a shift towards using more (and new) Sinophobic slurs.
... Scapegoating, one principal mechanism of conflict concentration, occurs when team members attribute "dysfunctions and difficulties within the system to the personal failings and inadequacies of an individual member" (Gemmill, 1989: 410). Blaming even blameless others for negative situations often brings catharsis (Konecni and Doob, 1972), minimizes feelings of responsibility, maintains personal control over negative situations, provides clear excuses (Rothschild et al., 2012), and may push specific, underlying agendas (Gemmill, 1989). Thus team members experiencing widespread conflict and distress may look for specific groups or individuals to blame and direct their aggression toward them, causing conflict concentration among individuals, dyads, or subgroups. ...
... Heterophobia could also be directed toward minority members and members of lowstatus groups. Negative gossip induced by heterophobia could in particular be intense in case of perceived out-group threat and scapegoating (Gemmill, 1989;Katz, Glass, & Cohen, 1973). ...
Chapter
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