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Scapegoating is a form of social punishment. The scapegoat was a goat that was driven off into the wilderness as part of the ceremonies of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, in Judaism during the times of the Temple in Jerusalem. The rite is described in Leviticus 16. The word also refers, in metaphor, to one who is blamed for misfortunes, often as a way of distracting attention from the real causes.
Scapegoating (from the verb "to scapegoat") is the practice of singling out any party for unmerited negative treatment or blame as a scapegoat. Scapegoating may be conducted by individuals against individuals (e.g. "Hattie Francis did it, not me!"), individuals against groups (e.g., "I failed because our school favors girls"), groups against individuals (e.g., "Jane was the reason our team didn't win"), and groups against groups (e.g., "Immigrants are taking all of the jobs").
At the individual levelEdit
A medical definition of scapegoating is:
- "Process in which the mechanisms of projection or displacement are utilized in focusing feelings of aggression, hostility, frustration, etc., upon another individual or group; the amount of blame being unwarranted."
Scapegoating is a tactic often employed to characterize an entire group of individuals according to the unethical or immoral conduct of a small number of individuals belonging to that group. Scapegoating relates to guilt by association and stereotyping.
Scapegoated groups throughout history have included almost every imaginable group of people: genders, religions, people of different races or nations, people with different political beliefs, or people differing in behaviour from the majority. However, scapegoating may also be applied to organizations, such as governments, corporations, or various political groups.
Projection: Unwanted thoughts and feelings can be unconsciously projected onto another who becomes a scapegoat for one's own problems. This concept can be extended to projection by groups. In this case the chosen individual, or group, becomes the scapegoat for the group's problems. "Political agitation in all countries is full of such projections, just as much as the backyard gossip of little groups and individuals." Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung considered indeed that "there must be some people who behave in the wrong way; they act as scapegoats and objects of interest for the normal ones".
- antisocial personality disorder
- borderline personality disorder
- narcissistic personality disorder
- paranoid personality disorder
At the group levelEdit
The scapegoat theory of inter-group conflict provides an explanation for the correlation between times of relative economic despair and increases in prejudice and violence toward outgroups. For example, studies of anti-black violence in the southern US between 1882 and 1930 show a correlation between poor economic conditions and outbreaks of violence (e.g., lynchings) against blacks. The correlation between the price of cotton (the principal product of the area at that time) and the number of lynchings of black men by whites ranged from -0.63 to -0.72, suggesting that a poor economy induced white people to take out their frustrations by attacking an outgroup.
Scapegoating as a group however, requires that ingroup members settle on a specific target to blame for their problems. Scapegoating is also more likely to appear when a group has experienced difficult, prolonged negative experiences (as opposed to minor annoyances). When negative conditions frustrate a group's attempts at successful acquisition of its most essential needs (e.g., food, shelter), groups may develop a compelling, shared ideology that - when combined with social and political pressures - may lead to the most extreme form of scapegoating: genocide.
Scapegoating can also cause oppressed groups to lash out at other oppressed groups. Even when injustices are committed against a minority group by the majority group, minorities sometimes lash out against a different minority group in lieu of confronting the more powerful majority.
In management: Scapegoating is a known practice in management where a lower staff employee is blamed for the mistakes of senior executives. This is often due to lack of accountability in upper management.
For example, a teacher who constantly gets blamed or accused of wrongdoing could be a scapegoat if said teacher is only guilty of doing her job so well that she makes her coworkers and supervisory administration look bad. This could result in letters being placed in permanent files, condescending remarks from co-workers and constant blame finding from administration.
Political/sociological scapegoating Edit
Scapegoating is often more devastating when applied to a minority group as they are inherently less able to defend themselves. A tactic often employed is to characterize an entire group of individuals according to the unethical or immoral conduct of a small number of individuals belonging to that group, also known as guilt by association.
"Scapegoated" groups throughout history have included almost every imaginable group of people: adherents of different religion, people of different race or nation or political belief, people differing in behaviour of majority. However, scapegoating may also be applied to organizations, such as governments, corporations, or various political groups.
In industrialised societies, scapegoating of traditional minority groups is increasingly frowned upon. In the extreme, this may result in socially-enforced rules regarding speech, as in political correctness.
Scapegoating in sportsEdit
In sports, scapegoats are common. In baseball, Bill Buckner is blamed for losing the 1986 World Series due to a critical error. In American football, Scott Norwood is blamed for losing the Super Bowl for the Buffalo Bills during Super Bowl XXV by missing a key field goal. Andrés Escobar, a Colombian football (soccer) player, was shot dead after he scored an own goal that knocked his team out of the 1994 World Cup.
Scapegoating in psychoanalytic theory Edit
Psychoanalytic theory holds that unwanted thoughts and feelings can be unconsciously projected onto another who becomes a scapegoat for one's own problems. This concept can be extended to projection by groups. In this case the chosen individual, or group, becomes the scapegoat for the group's problems.
The "scapegoat mechanism" in philosophical anthropologyEdit
Literary critic and philosopher Kenneth Burke first coined and described the expression "scapegoat mechanism" in his books Permanence and Change (1935), and A Grammar of Motives (1945). These works influenced some philosophical anthropologists, such as Ernest Becker and René Girard.
Girard developed the concept much more extensively as an interpretation of human culture. In Girard's view, it is humankind, not God, who has the problem with violence. Humans are driven by desire for that which another has or wants (mimetic desire). This causes a triangulation of desire and results in conflict between the desiring parties. This mimetic contagion increases to a point where society is at risk; it is at this point that the scapegoat mechanism is triggered. This is the point where one person is singled out as the cause of the trouble and is expelled or killed by the group. This person is the scapegoat. Social order is restored as people are contented that they have solved the cause of their problems by removing the scapegoated individual, and the cycle begins again. The keyword here is "content", scapegoating serves as a psychological relief for a group of people. Girard contends that this is what happened in the case of Jesus. The difference in this case, Girard believes, is that he was resurrected from the dead and shown to be innocent; humanity is thus made aware of its violent tendencies and the cycle is broken. Thus Girard's work is significant as a re-construction of the Christus Victor atonement theory.
- 'The Scapegoat' (1854), painting by William Holman Hunt
- Scapegoating in Group Analytic Theory (PDF files)
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