(un)common ground

a commonplace book

How Stereotyping Works

Cameron explains that [the construction of gendered language ideologies] happens because of the tendency of all people to rely at least in part on stereotyping when processing information. It is not just ignorant or prejudiced people who stereotype, Cameron states, but everyone because stereotyping provides us with convenient shortcuts in determining what people are like and how we should treat them. The downside, however, is that such stereotypes ‘can reinforce unjust prejudices, and make us prone to seeing only what we expect or want to see.’

Laura M. Ahearn, Living Language (2012)

The implications of Ahearn’s discussion of Cameron concerning the gendering of language (and broadly, language ideologies) seem to resolve in the human tendency to react to a cognitive shortcut (that is, a naturally occurring psychological phenomenon) by attributing it not to internal but external causes. An example that came to mind was the scenario of a person having trouble remembering names of foreign coworkers or clients in an office, and concluding that people from so-and-so have such weird names–when in reality it may be a cognitive effect having to do with pattern recognition or memory/association. This may only be part of the greater ideological phenomenon, however.

In any case, the idea that ideology tends to distort how we perceive typicality and exception is compelling. Ahearn goes on: “When we see someone who fits our preconceptions…we easily ‘supply the cultural script that makes them meaningful and “typical.”’ When we encounter someone who does not fit a particular stereotype, however, we tend either not to notice or to explain the case away as an aberration.” This dynamic only supports the need for critical inquiry and metacognition.


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This entry was posted on July 28, 2015 by and tagged , , , , .
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