Social Dominance & Varieties of Democracy

PS140O: Projecting Power

Prof Wasow



  • Attendance:


  • Movie poll:


  • Everyone is assigned a Wiki and a Video Essay group
    • I will email some larger groups to ask for volunteers to try and rebalance teams
  • Home page (Thanks Clara!)


  • Quizzes

    • Week 3, Tues 1/30
    • Week 6, Tues 2/20
    • Week 9, Tues 3/12
    • Week 12, Tues 4/9

How should we think about slurs, violence, etc?

  • What is the intent?
  • Is the use gratuitous?
  • What is the context?
  • It’s okay to be upset sometimes
  • Let’s talk

King & Smith

What is a social order?

  • Formal and informal institutions that structure society
    • Who is allowed to do what?
  • Formal
    • Laws, courts, police, military
    • Religious and educational institutions
  • Informal
    • Norms, codes of conduct, status hierarchies
  • Rules of the game

What is a “racial institutional order”?

  • “American politics has historically been constituted in part by two evolving orders”
    • “White supremacist” order
    • “Transformative egalitarian” order

K&S: Political Institutional Orders

  • “We see all political institutional orders as coalitions of state institutions and other political actors and organizations that seek to secure and exercise governing power in demographically, economically, and ideologically structured contexts that define the range of opportunities open to political actors.”

K&S: Political Institutional Orders

  • “We see all political institutional orders as coalitions of state institutions and other political actors and organizations that seek to secure and exercise governing power in demographically, economically, and ideologically structured contexts that define the range of opportunities open to political actors.”

Discuss: How is King and Smith’s framework helpful? What’s missing?

Let’s hear from: Dunyia, Renaissance, Allen, Dalia

Young & Meiser

Race and the Dual State

  • Builds on King & Smith (2005)

  • Conceptualize antebellum American society as a plural society: “in which distinct social orders live side by side, but separately, within the same political unit…held together by some force exerted from outside” (Furnivall, 1944)

  • “Inhabited the same country, but were socially and culturally divided and only integrated economically and politically through Anglo-American coercion”

Dual State: Predatory & Contract

  • Antebellum American state can be best described as a dual state:
    • a “predatory state” in its dealings with non-white Americans,
    • a “contract state” in respect to the internal governance of the dominant group, Anglo-American males
  • A prosperous, expanding, liberal democratic, Anglo-American society made possible by dispossession of Native Americans from their traditional lands and the enslavement of African Americans

Discuss: What do Young & Meiser add? Does one model fit the evidence better?

Let’s hear from: Luca, Zainab, Tristan, Daniel


Social Dominance

Schematic Overview of SDT

Institutional-level SDT

One Institutional Dynamic: Systematic Terror

  • Use of violence or threats of violence disproportionately directed against subordinates

  • Systematic terror functions to maintain expropriative relationships between dominants (ie, members of dominant groups) and subordinates (ie, members of subordinate groups)

  • Enforces the continued deference of subordinates toward dominants

Three Types of Systematic Terror

  • Official terror is the public and legally sanctioned violence and threat of violence perpetrated by the state

  • Semiofficial terror is the violence or intimidation directed against subordinates, carried out by officials of the state (eg, internal security forces, police, secret police, paramilitary organizations) but not publicly, overtly, officially, or legally sanctioned by the state

  • Unofficial terror is that violence or threat of violence perpetrated by private individuals from dominant groups against members of subordinate groups

Video Essay

Law and Order

  • With SDT, law is understood to be written and enforced so as to favor the interests of dominants

  • Order is often defined as those social conditions that disproportionately protect and maintain the interests of dominants

  • Many assume discrimination within criminal justice system is relatively rare and nonsystematic

  • SDT suggests that discrimination within the criminal justice system is quite systematic and comprehensive in its effects

“For my friends, anything; for my enemies, the law.”
— Oscar R. Benavides, President of Peru (1933-1939)

Behavioral Asymmetry

  • There will be differences in the behavioral repertoires of individuals belonging to groups at different levels of the social power continuum

  • Behavioral asymmetry will also be affected by socialization patterns, stereotypes, legitimizing ideologies, psychological biases, and the operation of systematic terror

Ideological-level SDT

Legitimizing Myths

  • Two functional types: Hierarchy Enhancing (HE) and Hierarchy Attenuating (HA)

  • Hierarchy Enhancing Legitimizing Myths (HE-LMs)

  • “What all these ideas and doctrines have in common is the notion that each individual occupies that position along the social status continuum that he or she has earned and therefore deserves. From these perspectives then, particular configurations of the hierarchical social system are fair, legitimate, natural, and perhaps even inevitable.”

Legitimizing Myths

  • Hierarchy Attenuating Legitimizing Myths (HA-LMs)

  • HE-LMs serve to exacerbate and maintain group-based social inequality

  • HA-LMs serve to promote greater levels of group-based social egalitarianism

What are examples of legitimizing myths in 12 Years a Slave?

Let’s hear from: Aissata, Anata, Rasheeda, Olivia

Individual-level SDT

Social Dominance Orientation (SDO)

  • SDO is defined as the degree to which individuals desire and support group-based hierarchy and the domination of “inferior” groups by “superior” groups

SDO Scale

Social Organization with Primates

  • All primates within hominoid clade (ie, chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and baboons) have systems of social dominance

  • Further, there is a group-based nature to these systems

  • Trimorphic structure similar to humans with social status a function of:

    • age (older animals dominating younger animals)
    • sex (males dominating females, with major exception)
    • position in kinship and friendship groups, eg, rudimentary arbitrary-set systems

What are some Key Compositional Choices?

  • Pace
  • Diegetic vs non-diegetic sound
  • Characters
    • Overseer, children, woman with water, wife
    • Acts of resistance, acts of acceptance

Diegetic vs non-diegetic

  • Diegetic: Sound whose source is visible on the screen or whose source is implied to be present by the action of the film such as
    • voices of characters
    • sounds made by objects in the story
    • music represented as coming from instruments in the story

Diegetic vs non-diegetic

  • Non-diegetic: Sound whose source is neither visible on the screen nor has been implied to be present in the action:
    • narrator’s commentary
    • sound effects which is added for the dramatic effect
    • mood music

Discuss: Why shift to diegetic sound?

Let’s hear from: Marianna, Cielo, Layla, Jovana


Worgs: “Beware of the Frustrated…”

“As American as Apple Pie”

  • Violence is central to founding of America

  • African Americans have engaged in an ongoing struggle for liberation—from slavery, discrimination, and the various manifestations of racial oppression

  • In this struggle for liberation, African Americans have often used violence as a tactic or strategy

  • Worgs “examines the phenomenon of fantasies about violent revolt to expand the understanding of why such incidences occur”

Four Themes of Violent Revolt

  • Violent revolt is understood by many as both instrumental (a means to a desired end—usually freedom) and cathartic

  • Themes:

    1. a justification of violence
    2. need to fight to gain the “respect” of the oppressor
    3. the rage of the oppressed as well as yearning for retribution
    4. the humanizing or transformative effect of participating in a violent revolt against an oppressor. Move from object to subject

History of Violent Revolt

  • Evidence of hundreds of incidents where enslaved Africans engaged in or plotted to engage in violent uprisings

  • Including “plots of Gabriel Prosser in 1800 and Denmark Vesey in 1822, as well as extensive violent clashes such as Stono Rebellion of 1739 or Nat Turner–led uprising in 1831”

  • Enslaved Africans seizing control of slave ships

  • Under Jim Crow, African Americans often took up arms to defend themselves, friends, elected officials, schools, churches

  • “Most familiar form of Black violent revolt is the mass riot”

Theme 1: Justification of Violence

  • Concept of self-defense as the primary justification

  • Douglass (1853/1993), for example, locates the slave revolt within the “American” tradition of using violence to obtain freedom as he equates the violence of the slave revolt with that of the American Revolution

  • Robert F Williams in 1960s argued Blacks were in a circumstance in which the law offered no protection against White attacks. As such, they had to defend themselves

Theme 2: Respect

  • Martin Delaney’s (1859/1993) work best expresses the notion that the oppressed must fight to gain the respect of the oppressor.

  • An Indian chief tells the story’s hero, Blake, who escaped slavery and commenced to organize insurrections throughout the South and Cuba, that “If you want white man to love you, you must fight ‘im!’”

  • “The quest for respect is not a desire for sensitivity or inclusion. It is a yearning for a respect for Black life, for Black humanity”

Theme 3: Rage and Retribution

  • Communicate anger

  • In William Wells Brown’s work (1864/1993) the character Glen, an enslaved African who uses violence to seize his freedom, tells of the “volcano pent up in the hearts of the slaves of these Southern states that will burst forth ere long. When that day comes, woe to those whom its unpitying fury may devour!”

Theme 4: Humanizing Power

  • Idea that violent action in response to oppression can have a humanizing power

  • “When the oppressed strike a blow for freedom, they in a sense seize back their humanity.”

  • Jean Paul Sartre and Frantz Fanon tell us that the violence of the oppressed against the oppressors is “man recreating himself” (Sartre, 1963).

  • Fanon (1963) argues oppressed find “freedom in and through violence,” it is “a cleansing force”

  • “They move from object to subject.”

What are examples of violent revolt (real or imagined) in 12 Years a Slave?

Let’s hear from: Megha, Jonn, Elyana, Felicia