Thursday, February 25, 2010

Social Contact Theory

This week we have been discussing contact theory and it's effects on our lives. In my group we talked a lot about how we were limited in our contact with people who are different from us. We go to a private Lutheran college which could leave out people of lower income and possibility people of other religious backgrounds. When reflecting on my contact list I noticed that most people I have contact with are almost mirror images of myself. In order to change this I am going to have to make conscious decisions about my actions. As a social worker you have to come to terms with your prejudices and try to change them. Having contact with various groups of people helps to do this. In our class PowerPoint we discussed the five circumstances prejudice can be reduced through contact. There must be equal status, pursuing common goals, have long enough contact to see humanity, have contact sanctioned by accepted institution and have the possibility for friendship (Allport, 1954 & Pettigrew, 1998). This was very helpful for me to learn and I will be able to use this to reduce prejudice in my life.

This week I had an interesting realization when volunteering at the East African Women's Center. On the way back to school I was able to debrief with a fellow classmate about the experience. I said how awkward I felt being the only one not understanding Somali and not being able to communicate. I often take my language for granted and in this situation I have been forced to realize that I am privileged in this country by speaking English. The way I feel for four hours of volunteering each week is how people might feel everyday in a country that does not understand them. I am able to leave the center and have signs written in my language and easily find a person that I can freely communicate with while they may not be able to do the same. I now have a little taste of how overwhelming and disheartening it is to be not understood and able to communicate. I think this is a really important to be understanding of people who do not speak the same language because they have the added stress of trying to get people to understand. As a social worker it would be important to figure out how they have been adjusting to the culture to be able to help them better. I am really glad I have been able to have this experience volunteering and would recommend others put themselves in this situation.

Elizabeth Patten

Allport, G. W. (1954). The Nature of Prejudice. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Pettigrew, T. F. (1998). Intergroup contact theory. Annual Review of Pstchology, (49), 65-86.


  1. Liz Jeska:
    I think you bring up an interesting point. We always expect people to be able to speak our language and we dont realize how stressful it is. I also think that it interesting that when we go to other countries we expect them to speak English as well (even if it isnt their native language). I feel like we do this because we dont want to have to go through the stress of not being able to speak the language and feeling out of place. Yet hundreds of people go through this every day in the United States.

  2. The relationship between Social Contact Theory and the experiences within a Mexican Context have many similarities. From a personal standpoint, being integrated in a new culture causes a lot of tension and possibly some prejudices toward an unknown experience. The idea of broadening our horizons, as social workers, will only increase our knowledge and understanding of those we are unfamiliar with, which in reality will better help our service users.

    Recently, I have discovered the realization of privilege, at least in my life and in my experiences so far in Mexico. My friends and I were planning on going out for the night and the place that we wanted to go to was backed up, with a line full of dark skinned Latinos. As soon as we walked up, the door man was willing to let us right in. This was the first of many situations where white privilege was put before others. To relate to Elizabeth’s experience with language, we are privileged in ways in which the rest of the world isn’t and it took this experience as such, for me to open my eyes a realize that Social Contact can be a beneficial tool when working with my service users.

  3. Kell Quill:
    “As a social worker you have to come to terms with your prejudices and try to change them. Having contact with various groups of people helps to do this.” I believe this is a perfect definition of the Social Contact Theory. This to me means, as a social worker, I must “come out of my shell” or “comfort level,” to be able to associate myself with not only people of my own race, background and ethnicity, but to branch out and meet others and give myself a variety of different experiences. I also found that the people I came in contact with most when completing the Social Contact exercise were people that were exactly like me, or had the same common interests as me. When analyzing my contact list, it made me realize that I have to broaden my horizon and push myself to meet new people with different characteristics than my own.