Friday, April 29, 2011

Social Contact Theory

Celia SWK280

Earlier this semester I got a position as coordinator of Paso Doble, a culture and language exchange program, at Pangea World Theater. The objective of the Paso Doble component is:
1) To connect the Latina/o immigrant community and potential allies
2) To strengthen those relationships through bilingual and cross-cultural conversation exchanges; English and Spanish language-learning support; and gatherings focused on social justice and immigration issues.

I found myself applying many of the theories we learned in class to this project. The one that I found most relevant was Gordon Allport’s Social Contact Theory, which states that prejudices is reduced when people of diverse backgrounds communicate under equal status, are potential friends and have shared goals and activities (Rothenberg, 2010).

In Paso Doble this is put to the test when we pair one member of the Latina/o immigrant community and one person who self-identifies as an ally, for Spanish-English conversation exchanges. This dialogue and cultural exchange is further facilitated through monthly meetings in which all pairs come together for social justice and language workshops. At the beginning of the program the participants were a little intimidated by each other, but now it seems they are already on the path of making lifelong friendships. I believe that if we all make an effort to get someone we don’t know a lot about, we will begin to reduce prejudices and respect each other as humans.

Rothenborg, N. (2011). Continuum of Cultural Traits. Social Work 280


  1. Celia,
    Thanks for your thoughtful post. It does sound like the social contact theory relates very well with Paso Doble. For me, the social contact theory relates with my study abroad experience in Mexico. I believe that I would have not had the same experience by learning about the Mexican culture and migration anywhere other than Mexico. Being immersed and in contact with it has really been a great experience.

    At first glance, this theory seems like it proposes positive outcomes by only social contact but there are conditions that have to be met. The contact must also be between people of equal contact and common goals and there needs to be institutional support, and no competition (Rothenberg, 2010). When these are all accomplished, the theory works (like for you at Paso Doble). But there are many times when there is not equal status and it is very common for groups to spend time with groups similar to them.

  2. Celia,

    Thank you for your blog post. I also agree that this blog post relates to my experience in Mexico. We have also learned about social contact theory and what its implications are for diverse communities. Being in Mexico and participating in exchanges with Mexican friends and family has helped me confront some of the own stereotypes I may have had without even knowing. One of the things I find problematic is the basis of ‘equal status, common goals, and institutional support’. What does it mean to have 'equal status' and is that always possible? Does it mean I cannot have meaningful interaction with those of different status? Much like Paso Doble, I am also a participant in the Jane Addams School Circles through the Center for Democracy and Citizenship. The goal of this program is to bring together community members to create dialogue and share culture. The circles are organized into the three largest immigrant communities of Saint Paul’s West Side: a Spanish circle serving the Latino and Hispanic community, East African circle, Hmong circle, and youth circle. In the different circles members discuss different topics, and help each other study or share resources. Twice a month, there are celebrations that bring together the circles. I think that this program allows for diverse conversation and social contact. This participation has helped me to prepare for my time in Mexico, not only through Spanish language but also how to open up dialogue to learn more about a culture different from my own.