9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN31 Ethnic Relations, Racism and Antisemitism

2009-09-03 15:30:00 2009-09-03 17:00:00 Thursday, 3 September 15:30 - 17:00 Patterns of European Prejudice I Building II, C5.09

Tolerance is not enough: Why Ethnic Relations Theory needs a sociological concept of respect

Many immigrants in European societies experience that their cultural habits or their physical appearance are tolerated but not respected. Policy programmes try to improve this situation by enacting laws against discrimination and racism as well as by campaigning for more respect. We argue that many of these attempts are likely to fail, as they build upon a semantic confusion of respect and tolerance. Even in academic debates on racism and ethnic relations, these concepts are often defined in a circular manner.
In this paper, we present a sociological theory of respect that does justice to the inherent differences in the concepts of respect and tolerance. Our empirical data, taken from survey experiments, interviews and focus groups, reveal two dimensions regarding the relation between respect and tolerance. The first dimension refers to a semantic and hierarchical difference. Whereas tolerance means passively putting up with a person even if one actually dislikes her, respect implies an active submission to the other?s agency. To respect someone means treating her as an agent worthy of consideration. Thus, tolerance is a prerequisite for respect, but the converse does not hold.
The second dimension is characterised by the opposing poles of (social) communication and (psychological) attitudes. The two are logically ? but not necessarily empirically ? independent. Although one can have a disrespectful attitude towards a person, one still can show respect towards her in concrete social interactions. Whether disrespectful behaviour relies on corresponding underlying racist attitudes or not can, therefore, not be inferred from the behaviour alone.
In sum, we believe that research on ethnic relations and racism can gain from a sociological theory of respect. It can explain why people are not satisfied with being merely tolerated. The insight that someone who demands respect wants to be considered as an agent can direct policy-making, including policy oriented at decreasing paternalism and increasing empowerment. Furthermore, our distinction between attitudes and communication suggests that it might be an effective first step in the fight against racism to make people change their disrespectful behaviour, even if this change is initially not accompanied by a corresponding change in attitudes.