Who defines equality for whom?
The interplay of equality and intergroup contact
My research is on intergroup contact i.e. interpersonal meeting between people from different social groups and (in)equality. I focus on the interplay between contact and equality in real-life intergroup contexts. Bridging intergroup contact research with cultural psychology, I examine (1) how cultural equality values shape intergroup contact and prejudice, (2) how minority group perceptions of (un)equal treatment and their experiences of intergroup contact jointly affect intergroup relations; and (3) when and how minority and majority members converge on shared perceptions of (un)equal treatment through intergroup contact. To address the first aim, we revisited Thomas Pettigrew and Linda Tropp’s (2006) meta-analysis of contact studies in 36 countries and tested the role of culture-level equality vs hierarchy values over and above situational equal status. We investigated how far contact reduces prejudice, and showed that most powerful contact was uniquely afforded by cultural contexts which promoted egalitarian (vs. hierarchical) ways of relating to others (Kende, Phalet, Van den Noortgate, Karan & Fischer, under review). To engage with the second aim, we inquired how institutional level equality impacts intergroup relations in schools. Firstly, we investigated how minority youth in Flanders might distance themselves from their minority group and thereby lose important social support and belonging when they have contact with majority youth. We showed that such disengagement only happens when minority youth experience contact in unequal school settings, but not when the schools treat them equally (Kende, Baysu, Van Laar & Phalet, under review). Secondly, we implemented a longitudinal extension which found lower identification levels and increased identity conflict over time for minorities in less equal intergroup contexts (Phalet, Kende, Baysu, Fleischmann & Deaux). These three studies show that equality at the cultural and institutional level impacts the meaning and consequences of intergroup contact and demonstrate how inequality damages intergroup relations. Therefore to tackle our third aim we explored how inequality could be addressed through intergroup contact. We showed that majority and minority youth can respond to inequality by coming to share perceptions of injustice through intergroup friendship (Kende, Gagliolo, van Laar & Phalet).