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  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: September 2014

2 - The Political Psychology of Identity Choice


Demographic change clearly has complicated prevailing patterns of ethnic relations in the United States. Immigration and differential fertility rates have greatly increased the numbers of Latinos and Asians, and the challenge of their cultural, economic, and political integration is layered on the historic and entrenched racial divide. Nationalism, in the sense of prioritizing a common national identity, and multiculturalism, in the sense of elevating the particular identities of each ethnic group, are based on particular assumptions about human psychology. A driving purpose of our book is to draw on psychological theories to explain patterns of public opinion confronting the search for solidarity in a multiethnic society. We believe that making explicit the psychological assumptions embedded in alternative solutions and testing for them will illuminate the political dilemmas as well. In particular, we argue that the relatively recent political term multiculturalism in fact builds on a much broader and historically quite general social psychological approach to racial and ethnic divisions.

The Psychology of American Intergroup Relations

We begin by presenting and contrasting three broad social-psychological conceptions of how Americans form and utilize their ethnic identifications in the context of contemporary ethnic diversity. In subsequent chapters, we apply these alternative characterizations of ethnic relations to understanding public opinion regarding national identity and multiculturalist ideology.

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