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Are"ingroups" vs. "outgroups" as commonly used typically based on self-identification or is it not sufficient?

by orthogenesis1 min read7th Jun 20217 comments


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Wikipedia says: 

"In sociology and social psychology, an in-group is a social group to which a person psychologically identifies as being a member. By contrast, an out-group is a social group with which an individual does not identify." 

Implying it is about psychological identification. This makes sense for groups like libertarians, socialists, rationalists and political ideologies or cultural leanings where individual choice and agency matters, perhaps more than for "immutable" characteristics bestowed upon people by birth. Even so, there is fuzziness (e.g. what if you call yourself one, but most people who call themselves one don't recognize you as one?).

But there are usages where it's unclear if ingroup and outgroup are about self-identification or categorization by others, or even some "objective standard" (all people with trait X are part of an ingroup and you can't join if you lack X). I don't think everyone uses the Wikipedia definition based on "psychological self-identification" when they speak of the terms. I have heard the term used for situations where the person is ascribed to a group and other members of the group are called the person's "ingroup" without knowing anything about psychological state of self-identification. Is this a misuse of the term?

Imagine a person that dislikes the country they are born in and never left -- they reject the label of (insert demonym of nation) to describe themselves -- perhaps they aspire to be another country's citizen (but can't accomplish that for practical reasons) or maybe even dislike the idea of nationalism or patriotism and identify as "citizen of the world". They do not favor their own country and support other countries economically or even politically.

Would this person be considered (1) disloyal member of ingroup by fellow members of the ingroup or perhaps outgroup sympathizer (2) outgroup member by fellow citizens?

How does the ingroup/outgroup distinction handle situations where the individual and other members of a group disagree on whether they are members of the same group?

Or does the ingroup/outgroup distinction only apply where self-identification and broader consensus agree on what group a person belongs to, which becomes the person's ingroup?


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I have heard the term used for situations where the person is ascribed to a group and other members of the group are called the person's "ingroup" without knowing anything about psychological state of self-identification. Is this a misuse of the term?

This question assume that there's a source of authority that determines what's proper usage of terms. What kind of authority do you think would decide that question?

Well, first, maybe in academic settings, what is the usage most commonly accepted and understood in social science?

And second, though there's no one authority, I want to know what usage(s) is most commonly understood or widespread broadly (even outside academia) by the public. 

And if popular usage conflicts with it (not to say that it's wrong, that's just usage), I also want to know. Just like how "anti-social"can describe introverted, asocial people in popular speech but in psychology or sociology mean actively harmful or adversarial to society. ... (read more)

2ChristianKl13dWhy are you surprised that common usage of terms isn't very explicit? That's frequently how people use words in common language.
3orthogenesis13dWell, I thought the rationality-and-adjacent community emphasizes and would be a good place to clarify and disentangle concepts and meanings. These are major places, on blogs etc., where ingroup and outgroup are popularly used online. And I don't mean to bring too much whataboutism into this, but I find it noteworthy that of criticism of two posts that I got recently downvoted for, one seemed to center around not enough explicitness and usage of common language (over the term "stereotype") but the other about asking for too much explicitness (over the term "ïngroup").
2ChristianKl13dIf someone uses a term, it makes sense to ask them what they mean with the term. Discussing terms in a vaccum is generally not productive. Thomas Kuhn makes the point that physicists and chemists use different notions of what "molecule" means. That's in hard sciences. Different scientific paradigms usually operationlize terms differently. There are likely plenty of different academic disciplines that likely use the term "ingroups" / "outgroups". There's a good chance that many of them have their own operationalizing and some field likely even have multiple ones. If you ask what's concept of molecule is the most frequent we have to count physics papers and papers by chemists. You likely get into some problems because some papers aren't specific about their notion. You likely can write a academic paper about it in history of science and philosophy or in linguistics but you wouldn't write that paper in physics or chemistry. I asked you to move from focusing on words to focusing on empiric reality. Your post has the same problem. If you made a post asking "What do people mean when they say 'tree' without saying much about why that's a useful question you are likely going to get downvoted on LessWrong. On the other hand a post like https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/fRwdkop6tyhi3d22L/there-s-no-such-thing-as-a-tree-phylogenetically [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/fRwdkop6tyhi3d22L/there-s-no-such-thing-as-a-tree-phylogenetically] says interesting things about the concept of 'tree'.
2ChristianKl13dWhy are you asking the question? If your goal is to understand the underlying science, why not go directly to the science and read papers?
3orthogenesis13dI will admit my goal was primarily more about the second, about popular usage precisely because I perceived a mismatch with the "self-identity" emphasis which (many) more academic sources seem to focus on. I wanted to interrogate if this mismatch fit people's perceptions and the usage on blogs, online and in related circles. And also if it had any implication for clearer thinking when conflicting usages arise between people talking about ingroups and outgroups.