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Title:The fragility of tolerance: rights, responsibilities, and the challenge of speaking up
Author(s):Williams, Tarah Foster
Director of Research:Mondak, Jeffery
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Mondak, Jeffery
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Kuklinski, James; Canache, Damarys; Wong, Cara
Department / Program:Political Science
Discipline:Political Science
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):American politics
Social influence
Political discussion
Abstract:Tolerating difference is politically consequential. If a society is intolerant, political and social minorities can be subject to consequences ranging from ridicule to the denial of civil liberties to violence. Because of these high stakes, this dissertation argues that tolerance requires more than “putting up with” disliked groups; it quite often requires active support for their rights. This active understanding of tolerance is at odds with the discipline’s typical passive understanding of tolerance. Although much is known about tolerance attitudes, relatively little is known about when people will act on these attitudes in the real world. This dissertation highlights factors that can impede or facilitate tolerant actions. For instance, when individuals must act on their tolerance, it is in a social context where they may perceive pressure from others in their networks and in their communities. Thus, the dissertation investigates whether and when individuals are willing to speak up on behalf of tolerance. I leverage a series of unique survey experiments that draw on theories from social psychology, political science and communication to demonstrate how social pressure not only alters the expression of politically tolerant beliefs, but also the transformation of these beliefs into behaviors. My empirical chapters find that individuals are unwilling to speak out against intolerance towards a variety of minority groups, including political groups, racial minorities, LGBT people, and the disabled. Furthermore, the more public or socially costly the action, the less willing individuals are to stand up for tolerance. Despite holding tolerant attitudes, I demonstrate that individuals are unprepared to voice their convictions or explain them to others. The reticence of allies to speak up for tolerance highlights a vexing problem for minority communities and pluralist democracies alike. However, my work also emphasizes characteristics that make some individuals resistant to social pressure and able to help change prevailing social dynamics. I argue that to create a tolerant society, silence in the face of intolerance is the most fundamental problem that we need to address.
Issue Date:2017-04-18
Rights Information:Copyright 2017 Tarah Foster Williams
Date Available in IDEALS:2017-08-10
Date Deposited:2017-05

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