Social Identity Theory states that a social category (e.g., nationality, political affiliation), which an individual qualifies for and maintains a positive sense of belonging to, provides a defined construct for attitudes and behaviors considering the specific social affiliation (Hogg, Terry & White, 1995). Individuals often possess multiple discrete social associations which vary in relative importance with more salient associations possessing a stronger influence on conduct (Kopecky, Bos & Greenberg, 2010). Each membership represents a social identity which both describes and prescribes what one should think and feel, and how one should ultimately behave. Thus, when a specific social identity becomes the salient basis for self-regulation in a particular context, self-perception and conduct become in-group stereotypical and normative, perceptions of relevant out-group members become out-group stereotypical, and intergroup behavior acquires competitive and biased properties to varying degrees depending on the nature of relations between the groups (Hogg, Terry & White, 1995).
Social identities prove also as evaluative. They furnish a shared or consensual evaluation of a social category, and thus of its members, relative to other relevant social categories (Hogg, Terry & White, 1995). Because social identities possess such considerable evaluative consequences, it strongly motivates groups and their members to adopt behavioral strategies for achieving or maintaining in-group/out-group comparisons that favor the in-group (Hogg, Terry & White, 1995). Furthermore, association with a social identity often pressures individuals to keep personal perceptions in line with the perceptions held in the identity standard maintained by the particular social group (Burke & Reitzes, 1991). This study will consider participants primary or salient social identity as a variable to help predict differences in perceptions of social access which may result in increased acceptability levels for violence.
Within research concerning violence and conflict, the concept of identity continues to gain significance in explaining the development and complexities of disagreement and acceptance of hostility (Bangura, 1994; Osaghe & Suberu, 2005). Identity often refers to the construction of meaning on the basis of related socio-cultural attributes which often hold priority over other sources of influence (Okpanachi, 2010). Knowing such identity affiliations significantly aids in understanding attitudes and opinions, as identified members of such groups tend to adopt opinions compatible with their identity groups; thus, helping predict attitudes and behavior (Abdelal, Herrera, Johnston, & McDermott, 2006; Haslam & Turner, 1995; Turner, Hogg, Oakes, Reicher, & Wetherell, 1987). As such, understanding the pattern of identities in a population plays a key function in understanding conflicts, predicting locations where conflicts might transpire, and forecasting how groups align and react in a situation pertaining to conflict (Kopecky, Bos & Greenberg, 2010).
With knowledge that identities possess the potential to change over time (Hoddie, 2006), Kopecky et al. (2010) identified the difference between identities which can vary in the short term called flexible identities and relatively fixed identities called descent identities. Descent identities relate to group affiliation which individuals are born into and remain attached to the member with little chance of disassociation (Kopecky, Bos & Greenberg, 2010). Kopecky et al. further identify ethnicity as a descent identity recognizing such association as relatively fixed. For example, in the case of Nigeria, those who identify as Fulani possess connection to the Fulani identity group for their entire lives. Kopecky et al. (2010) also identify religion as a descent identity recognizing that while religion affiliation can and sometimes become nuanced or augmented, it remains a relatively fixed identity for most individuals. This research will specifically focus on analysis using descent identities.
As stated above, individuals often carry multiple identity types; however, each identity often differs in salience with one identity usually proving stronger than others. This ‘primary identity’ frames social context and meaning which often sustains over time (Stets & Burke, 2003). For example, one may possess greater identity towards their specific ethnic group while another may have greater identity association with their geographic location rendering such affiliation as most salient. Examining salient identity affiliations from members of the Hausa tribe in Northern Nigeria, Miles and Rochefort (1991) found religion as the strongest identifier selected followed by village, then ethnic group, with country as the fifth strongest identifier. Given the understandings of Social Identity Theory, one can conclude religion as the primary driving factor for everyday attitudes and behavior for such Hausa members; however, one must ensure the proper historical context for the data collection. The period of collection (1986) occurred after three years of military rule under two separate regimes with minimal government interaction. One could naturally conclude that such identity affiliations would occur given the historical context and prominence of Islam in Northern Nigeria.
Considering the importance of Nigerian ethnic loyalty, Kopecky et al. (2010) performed a similar study examining non-national identity salience using information from a 2008 Afrobarometer country data set demonstrating how salience varied across individuals and systematically across different Nigerian segments. Again they found religious identity most salient for Muslim Hausas in Nigeria, while Christian Igbos salience stemmed from strong ethnic identity affiliation. The study also found considerable variations in strong salient political and economic identities within the sample as well. This study which expands on Miles and Rochefort’s research reveals a population with a diverse and complex identity affiliation.
Additionally, just as identity affiliations can fluctuate, so can their salience given different social influences. Thus, members of a group can decide to identify themselves as religious rather than ‘ethnic’ or vice versa depending on the level and scope of the situation (Osaghae & Suberu, 2005). For instance, Lewis (2007) showed that identity affiliation in Nigeria changed significantly between 2001, 2003, and 2005, with ethnic identities significantly higher in the first and last year given that elections with high ethnic contention occurred during those years. Furthermore, Okpanachi (2010) investigated identity salience in the diverse ethno-religious states of Kaduna and Kebbi whose state judicial systems operate completely under Sharia Law (i.e. the body of Islamic Law). He found that religious identity proved most salient given the context and contention over each states religious judiciary system (Okpanachi, 2010). Such contention refers to the notion of polarization (Duclos, Esteban & Ray, 2004). Derived from the identification-alienation framework, polarization relates to the alienation that groups feel from one another with such alienation fueled by notions of within-group identity (Duclos et al., 2004). Based on this concept alone, one could assume that strong salient group identity affiliations would naturally lead to disparagement with other groups; however, research shows this is not always the case (Esteban, Mayoral & Ray, 2012; Lim, 2007; Osaghae & Suberu, 2005).
While the findings from the previous studies discuss how different salient identities and social circumstances attribute to identities and daily conduct, the scope of data collection limits any statistical support to warrant definitive attitude and behavioral conclusions as a result of such associations. Additionally, with knowledge that salient identities vary due to social interactions and experiences over time, identity affiliation warrants further investigation given Nigeria’s contemporary historic events since publications of the aforementioned studies. Whereas it remains that different structures or configurations of identities can and do generate various levels or patterns of social contention, the simple presence of different identities does not make division and aggression inevitable (Osaghae & Suberu, 2005). Thus, we look to the tenants and empirical studies within the elements of Conflict Theory to further define what sociological characteristics heighten levels of social struggle leading to increased levels of violence acceptability.
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