Sigrun Marie Moss

NTNU, Department of Psychology

Sigrun Marie Moss

Political Leadership and Social Identities: Policies of Unity and Diversity in Conflict Situations. Experiences from Rwanda, Zanzibar and Sudan

Our social categorization influences how we think, feel and act toward other people and how we create ingroups and outgroups. Even if social categorization is part and parcel of human life, it is still possible to influence the level of category inclusiveness people use for their own and other groups. This project in political psychology investigates how national and regional political leadership can manipulate social identities to reduce or exacerbate intergroup conflict, looking at Rwanda, Zanzibar and Sudan. Through framing and identity entrepreneurship, political leaders can improve or worsen intergroup relations to mobilize collective action for a given political project, and such construction or destruction of social cohesion and entitativity is here investigated within the social identity tradition. Making some aspects of identity more salient and suppressing others is complex, and studies have shown attempts to build social cohesion can increase intergroup conflict due to factors such as threatened social identity. In Rwanda and Zanzibar, the political leadership have attempted recategorization policies (moving from separate groups to a superordinate category, for example from Hutu, Tutsi and Twa to a shared Rwandan identity), whilst the Sudanese government is accused of fragmenting the population.

The research focus is twofold. First, how can leaders manipulate social identities, and transform collective representations to more including or excluding social categorizations? Second, what effects does this have on the population? Empirical data gathered over four months per case address these questions. I have conducted 180 in-depth qualitative interviews (60 per case) from four groups: regional/ national political leaders, local academics, civil society, and local population. As going from negative to positive social relations is seen as a focal aspect of peacebuilding, increased knowledge of the psychological mechanisms of real-life attempts to increase social cohesion (Rwanda and Zanzibar) or decrease cohesion (Sudan) will be valuable in improving understanding of conflict and conflict reduction strategies.