Norms prescribe culturally appropriate behaviors and proscribe inappropriate ones (see Chapter 4, this volume), but why do individuals follow cultural norms? One answer to this question, informed by the theory of lay epistemic (Kruglanski, 2004), holds that people adhere to cultural norms because norms are closure providers; they are widely accepted behavior standards within a given culture (Chao, Zhang, & Chiu, 2009; Chiu, Morris, Hong, & Menon, 2000; Fu, Morris, Lee, et al., 2007). According to the lay epistemic theory (Kruglanski, 2004), the need for cognitive closure (NFCC) is a basic epistemic motive. Individuals who have high NFCC have the need to reduce uncertainty and to hold on to firm answers for questions. Because cultural norms are consensually validated social knowledge, they help reduce uncertainty and provide firm answers to otherwise ambiguous issues. In the present chapter, we will discuss the epistemic functions of culture, focusing on how cultural knowledge can serve as closure providers that confer epistemic security.
Epistemic need: NFCC
The lay epistemic theory (Kruglanski, 2004) posits that individuals have a basic desire for cognitive closure (the need for order, predictability, and certainty). People differ in how much they desire cognitive closure. Thus, NFCC can be measured as a chronic individual difference (Webster & Kruglanski, 1994). Individuals with high NFCC are characterized by a felt urgency to seize a firm answer in the face of uncertainty and freeze on the answer once they have found it (Kruglanski & Webster, 1996).
Increased intercultural contacts within and across national boundaries have raised pressing questions for individuals and societies such as: How do individuals make sense of themselves as multicultural beings? How can societies cultivate the benefits of increased heterogeneity within its populace (e.g., creativity and productivity) and simultaneously resolve possible intergroup tensions? How can social policies be formulated to foster an overarching inclusive identity for all members from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds? Consider the fact that the 2005 riots in France (along with a shorter-lived repeat in 2007), and the terrorist attacks in Britain during the summers of 2005 and 2007, can be partially attributed to ethnic minority youths’ perceived exclusion from the mainstream society (Sciolino, 2007; Smith, 2005). There is no doubt that high rates of unemployment due to racial and religious discrimination, along with perceptions of police insensitivity, combined to fuel weeks of violence and car burnings across France. The anger and frustration felt by French-born and France-identified youth and by young adults of Arab and African ancestry regarding belonging and acceptance had long preceded these events, however. A Time Europe Magazine special report on the cause of the riots provided insight into the tensions behind identity and exclusion: “The young men behind the violence ‘are rioting, not because they hate the Republic,’ says Dounia Bouzar, an anthropologist who has worked extensively with [public housing project] delinquents, ‘but because they want to be included in it’ ” (Geary & Graff, 2005).
Incidents such as the French riots underscore the pressing need to understand identity negotiations within multicultural settings. Although there have been attempts to examine these processes from a psychological standpoint, these issues have yet to be adequately addressed, and the available research is widely scattered within topics such as immigration, mixed-race peoples, ethnic identity, and intercultural communication. In this chapter, we propose a framework for examining bicultural identity negotiation processes, which we consider to be a subset of multicultural identity negotiation. Our objective in introducing this framework is to stimulate further research on this timely topic in the current era of hyperconnectivity within and across national boundaries. Through our model, we also aim to direct attention to the view of bicultural identities as continuously unfolding coconstructions linked to personal resources, situation-embedded goals, and even specific interaction partners.
Norms, spoken or implicit, regulate much of our social life. They are social control devices evolved to coordinate human activities in collective living (Fiske, 2000; Heylighen & Campbell, 1995). In this chapter, focusing on the social regulatory functions of cultural norms and using collective responsibility attribution as an example, we will discuss the role of norms, which are major components of knowledge tradition, in cultural processes.
Culture as shared representations
Similar to other forms of knowledge representations (such as lay theories, see Chapter 2, this volume; and intersubjective values, see Chapter 3, this volume), social norms are knowledge representations that are shared among individuals within a collective. They provide premises in normative social inferences (e.g., inferences about whether a certain action should be carried out) and define the normative standards of behavior (e.g., determine whether a certain behavior is punishable or forgivable in the eyes of the public).
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