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Organizational Effect on Social Categorization Process: A Study of Ethnic Stereotyping in Karachi.

Byline: Fatima Imam

The present study explores the effects of perceived discriminatory attitudes of employers on employees' in-group/out-group formation process. Purposive sampling data was collected from two small garment factories in Karachi. For measuring employers' attitudes towards their workers structured interview was conducted by workers belonging to Urdu-speaking linguistic group. A total of 80 workers participated in the study. The data was collected in two phases: in the first step interview was conducted from workers working in two working setup related to their perception towards attitudes of their employers; in the second step the workers completed semantic differential scale expressing their perception towards themselves and other linguistic groups.

It was hypothesized that the organizational setup perceived as biased and prejudiced towards their workers would have more strong impact for in-group formation process and the workers would possess more positive stereotyping towards their own linguistic group and more negative towards other linguistic groups. The results confirm the hypothesis by supporting the assumption that the biased and discriminatory attitude by employer produces in- group bias and more negative attitudes towards other linguistic groups. The results are explained in terms of social categorization theory.

Key Words: Organizational Effect, Social Categorization, Ethnic Stereotyping, In-group Bias


People in all cultures and societies learn to make distinctions toward others in terms of in-groups and out-groups. Literature on in-group/out-group bias in the field of intergroup relations suggests a distinction between two theoretical approaches: (a) motivational or in-group favoritism/out-group discrimination, and (b) Cognitive perspective. Both the approaches start with a common assertion that categorization is the first step in the process of cognitive and evaluative differentiation.

In categorization theory, Tajfel examined the effects of super-imposed classification on a stimulus series and explains the accentuation (or distortion) of judgment as a result of this classification. Tajfel (1969) proposed that intergroup bias may be a general phenomenon, a direct product of categorization process. Tajfel (1981) further argued that motivational mechanism postulated operates through in-group members' self- identity and positive self-esteem maintenance. The phenomenon of in-group favoritism has been demonstrated in such studies as (Haque, 1968) during the Indo-Pakistan war; and with Arabs and Israelis (Haque and Lawson, 1980).

The in-group out-group classification is one of the oldest and best studied social classifications in history of social psychology ( Tajfel, 1982). Tajfel sees the various intergroup relations as turning on individuals' sense of belonging to, or identification with, their group. Definitions of 'what is or is not' a group thus depends on this process of identification, rather than on any other single factor. In- group/out-group bias is an attitude toward members of a social group based solely on their membership in that group. It reflects underlying emotional responses to different out-groups, including fear, anger, guilt and disgust (Baron et al. 2012).

Social identity theory by Tajfel and Turner,(1986) proposes that individuals while comparing themselves with other groups, due to a basic need for maintaining positive self-esteem evaluate their own group (in-group) more positively in comparison to other groups (out-groups). The negative effects of discriminatory attitudes expressed by organizational setup may contribute more in-group biases formation in order to maintain their identity. In analyzing the structure and origins of social categorization process, many researchers suggests that prejudice and discrimination have their roots in process of social categorization (Allport, 1954; Tajfel, 1969; Tajfel and Turner, 1986).

In Pakistan (Khalid, 1990) examined the hypothesis that the use of words referring to in-group status (such as, we or they) may unconsciously promote intergroup bias. The sample consisted of 72 postgraduate university students equally divided by sex. As hypothesized by the researcher the nonsense syllables unobtrusively paired with in- group designating pronouns (e.g. us, we, our) were rated on semantic differential scales as more pleasant than the nonsense syllables paired with out-group designators (e.g. them, they, theirs). Similarly individuals perceived as in-group members were rated significantly higher on positive traits than as members of out-group.

The realistic group conflict theory (Sherif et al., 1961; Campbell, 1967) states that real or objective conflicts of interests between groups causes conflict. For example, in the camp studies (Sherif et al., 1961), only one group of boys could win the games. Thus, real conflict of interest may lead to intergroup hostility as well as in-group loyalty. The role of economic threat on stigmatization has been highlighted by King, et al (2010) and concluded that economic conditions influence stigmatization in selection decision.

A number of studies have been conducted on ethnic stereotypes internationally (Brewer and Campbell, 1976; Marjoribanks and Jordan, 1986; Triandis, Lisansky, Setiadi, Chang, Martin and Betancourt, 1982). Many researchers found effectiveness of careful structured cooperative activities in producing positive sentiment among members of different racial groups and increase the likelihood of intergroup friendship (Johnson and Johnson, 1981; Sharan, 1980; Slavin, 1981, 1985).

In Pakistan Haque (1989) conducted a research on generational changes in ethnic stereotypes and found that third generation rated for self and other ethnic groups more intensely as compared to second generation. Earlier, Sailer (1955) in Lahore found male and female Punjabi-speaking students selected more positive traits for self as compared to others. Another study by Schuman (1966) carried out research in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). The result of study confirms social identity theory (Tajfel and Turner, 1986).



In order to investigate in-group/out-group biases among workers belonging to Urdu-speaking linguistic group towards other linguistic groups working in two garment factories, data was collected from 80 male workers by using purposive sampling. One garment was selected from Orangi town and other from Landhi industrial area. All the workers belong to working class families. Age range of subjects was 22-57 years.


All the participants of study responded on: (1) Structured Interview containing 6 questions covering three dimensions: perceived discrimination; unfavorable comparison; and competitive threats (2) Semantic Differentials with 10 evaluative scales (e.g., brave- coward; cruel-kind; honest-deceitful; peaceful-aggressive, etc.). For interview the researcher asked the questions in urdu, as well as the urdu translations of the ten evaluative scales were used (Sechrest, Fay and Zaidi, 1972). All the 80 subjects rated self (Urdu- speaking) and other linguistic groups (Pushto-speaking; Sindhi-speaking; Punjabi speaking; and Baluchi-speaking) on semantic differentials.


The researcher obtained permission to conduct interview and to administer semantic differential scale on workers of factories. The researcher approached each worker (belonging to urdu-speaking families) individually and obtained responses verbally. The participants were assured that their responses would in no way influence their jobs, and would be use for research purpose. It took 15 to 20 minutes to conduct interview and administer semantic differential scale.


Table 1

Table 1 showing responses of workers in both factories in interview situation

Interview schedule###Respondents

###Factory 1###Factory 2



Perceived Discrimination###20%###80%###66%###34%

Unfavorable Comparison###25%###75%###70%###30%

Competitive Threats###18%###82%###76%###24%

Table 1 showing responses of workers in both factories, where in Factory 1 perceived discriminatory attitude of employers for employees, as well as unfavorable comparison and competitive threats were perceived by workers as less than 25%. Whereas, in factory 2 the workers perceived discrimination by employer for workers as well as unfavorable comparison and competitive threats equal or more than 66%.

The means of the ten evaluative scales were calculated on the basis of ratings on seven point scale so that 7 is assigned to maximum on positive pole, whereas 1 is assigned to minimum of scale on negative pole. The mean scores of Urdu-speaking Adults (working in Factory 1 and Factory 2) for self and others (for four major linguist groups i.e., Pushto- speaking, Sindhi-speaking, Punjabi-speaking, Baluchi-speaking) is presented in Table 2.

Table 2

Table 2 showing means on ten evaluative scales of Urdu-speaking Adults for self and others (Pushto, Sindhi, Punjabi and Baluchi speaking) in Factory 1 and Factory 2.

###Factory 1###Factory 2













Table 2 is showing mean scores of urdu-speaking adults in two different working places. In situation 1 (i.e. in Factory 1) they perceived less discriminatory attitude by employers. In situation 2 (i.e. in Factory 2) they perceive more discriminatory attitude and competitive threats, as a result in Table 2 we can clearly see in-group biases and out-group discrimination.


The present study explores organizational effects on social categorization process of workers belonging to urdu-speaking linguistic groups. The design of study is based on two organizational set-up differs in their treatment towards their employees. The organizational headship of factory 1 (located in Orangi Town) belongs to Urdu-speaking linguistic group, where at the top management level all posts are hold by urdu-speaking people.

The situation is reverse in factory 2 where the top management is with other linguistic group, and the workers belonging to urdu-speaking group feel unfavorable and discriminatory attitude by their bosses as well as they perceive competitive threats which induced to show more favoritism towards their own linguistic group and negative for others.

Here, one important point need to describe is that the researcher, in order to desensitize the issue in focus deliberately collected data from urdu-speaking workers only, as well as in order to soften the sensitive issue is withholding the ethnic identity of top management of factory 2 located in Landhi industrial area.

The finding of study is depicting a clear picture (see Table 2) of in-group favoritism and formation of in-group bias formation as a result of perceived discriminatory attitude of employer towards employees. The experimental work by Tajfel and Associates (Tajfel, 1970; Tajfel and Turner, 1979) have shown that mere presence of the out-group is sufficient to produce an in-group bias and discrimination toward an out-group. There is no conflict of interest or antagonism between the groups.

Tajfel explains the intergroup conflict by positing the individual's need for positive social identity, which is obtained by first distinguishing one's own group from others and by evaluating one's own group more positively. The behavior of employers may be explained by an extension of categorization theory to intergroup behavior (Tajfel, Billing, Bundy and Flament, 1971) which explains that one's own group is favored and the other group is discriminated in distributing monetary rewards and other material resources, if people are arbitrary divided into in-group and out-group.

Another possible explanation for urdu-speaking adults' favoritism for self and discriminatory attitude for others might come from King et al. (2010) which explains that:" Based on realistic group conflict theory, realistic threats (i.e., competition for scarce resources) increase ethnocentrism and in-group bias while simultaneously increasing hostility toward out-group members, particularly when they are believed to be the source of the threat."

Researches in social sciences have shown as the perceived threat and discriminatory attitudes increases, the in- group bias and out-group hostility also increases. The individuals work in the interest of in-group members to save organizational, structural, and societal policies that could benefit their in-group (Tajfel and Turner, 2001).


Based on earlier research on intergroup relations by Allport (1954) till current evidences, researches are assigning psychological primacy to the processes of in-group bias formation over attitudes toward out-groups. Majority of preferential treatments and attachment for one's own group is motivated by the desire to maintain positive relationships with in-group members. Current research (King, et al, 2010) highlighted the role of economic conditions on intergroup attitudes and explains that when resources are perceived to be scarce, the social categorization really works.

It is suggested that at organizational headship level, the discriminatory attitude should be avoided in order to mitigate the negative effects of social categorization in ethnic stereotyping.


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Publication:Journal of Business Strategies (Karachi)
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Dec 31, 2013
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