Microaggression and Moral Cultures

In: Comparative Sociology
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  • 1 Department of Sociology, California State University, Los Angeles, 5151 State University Drive, Los Angeles, ca 90032
  • 2 Department of Sociology and Anthropology, West Virginia University, 316 Knapp Hall, p.o. Box 6326, Morgantown, wv 26506

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Campus activists and others might refer to slights of one’s ethnicity or other cultural characteristics as “microaggressions,” and they might use various forums to publicize them. Here we examine this phenomenon by drawing from Donald Black’s theories of conflict and from cross-cultural studies of conflict and morality. We argue that this behavior resembles other conflict tactics in which the aggrieved actively seek the support of third parties as well as those that focus on oppression. We identify the social conditions associated with each feature, and we discuss how the rise of these conditions has led to large-scale moral change such as the emergence of a victimhood culture that is distinct from the honor cultures and dignity cultures of the past.

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  • 14

    Gender studies scholar Hugo Schwyzer (2006), in an essay critical of this phenomenon, complains that “too many of my students insist on writing essays that I can only describe as narratives of suffering.’ ” As he puts it, possibly exaggerating in describing the logic of the students’ letters, “If your parents are immigrants, mention it. If one of your parents drinks, or is in prison, don’t hide it – wallow in it! If you moved around a lot, if you grew up surrounded by drugs or violence – share, share, share!” (Schwyzer 2006).

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