Top Menu

Dominant Theories

Alan Scott, Continuing Education Officer, Applied Sociology Thematic Group

The ABC Programme “All in the Mind” on the 3rd December 2017 raised the question, “Why we deny the science.”  It began with the problem that:

Some parents refuse to vaccinate their children, even though the link with autism has been thoroughly debunked.  And many still deny human-induced climate change despite solid scientific evidence.  In this age of contested political issues and unchecked information, we examine the psychological tricks and the quirks of neuroscience which often lead us to believe untruths and ignore the facts.

The broadcast finished with this explanation:

One of the things I’d like to see is that we approach solutions to these problems with the same scientific rigour that we approach everything else in health and medicine science and social science, so that we don’t just assume, for instance, that we are going to change people’s minds by doing some kind of public service announcement or commercial that’s scary, that says don’t smoke or get your vaccines, but that are actually really committed to testing those ideas to see if they really do change people’s minds, and that we are committed to testing them in a highly scientific way because that`s really the essence of our profession, and we owe that to everyone and to ourselves as well.

I have written before about “Dominant Theories” and how they are maintained in academia, political parties, and in industrial operations.  Their main function is to prevent change.  The old saying, “If it was good enough for my father, it’s good enough for me.” is one way of putting it.

One of the problems with getting the rejection of an old or incorrect idea with the development of new data or a different approach is that it challenges the emotional investment, and any financial investment people have made in the one idea.  When someone has formed a belief, it is very hard to change their mind.  In some situations this can be a good thing but in others it can be very bad, not only for the rejecter but also for anyone in their care.

However, rejecters usually form hierarchical groups which keep any waverers in line.  The reason social hierarchies exist in human societies is that they were necessary for survival of villages or nations during conflict over resources.  The biggest example of this today is politics.  Essentially, groups organised in hierarchies are more efficient at combat than groups who were organised in other ways, giving a competitive advantage to groups disposed towards social hierarchies.

Social Dominant Theory explains the mechanisms of group hierarchical oppression: with discrimination practised by individuals, (They are not our sort of people.  We don’t mix with those people.).  Then there is discrimination by government, business organisations and some social institutions, which can be identified in the media daily.  This gains momentum as status increases, legitimising and/or enhancing the strength of the current social hierarchy.  Lastly, there is ideological dominance; as status increases so does the legitimising of their expounded beliefs.  These can be paternalistic myths like “we give money to big business, which will bring higher wages,” or that “political parties serve society and look after incapable minorities”, or they can be sacred myths like “the Divine right of Kings” or any other religion-approved mandates for authority to govern.  Understanding what dominant theories do as opposed to other ideas is one of sociology’s tasks.

Further reading:

Gorman, Sara and Gorman, Jack, M. (2016), Denying to the grave., Oxford University Press.

Wilson, Marc Stewart; Liu, James H. (2010-12-16). “Social dominance orientation and gender: The moderating role of gender identity”. British Journal of Social Psychology. 42 (2): 187–198.

Coppens, Philip (2013), “The lost Civilization Enigma”  New Page Books NJ.