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 SPSSI in the International Arena


     Colette van Laar, Leiden University, the Netherlands;
     Co-Chair SPSSI Internationalization Committee
     Chair SPSSI-EAESP conferences


Upcoming Conferences And Social Issues Around The World

The coming year brings a number of interesting SPSSI activities in the international arena. The first is the General Meeting of the European Association for Experimental Social Psychology (EAESP, June 10-14, This large meeting is in essence the European ‘SPSP’ and takes place once every three years, bringing in all the major researchers from Europe, as well as scholars from other parts of the world. Next year it will be held in Opatjia, Croatia, at a beautiful location on the Adriatic Sea. Opatija lies in Istria, a region well known for its wonderful climate, beautiful sea, and excellent food and wine. The setting is in easy reach of both other parts of Croatia and Italy. The meeting takes place a few weeks before the SPSSI biannual meeting in Chicago (June 27-29).

Later in the summer, SPSSI is joining forces with EAESP in supporting a small group meeting on contact processes (Intergroup Contact: Recent Advancements in Basic and Applied Research) to be held in Marburg, Germany. Oliver Christ, Miles Hewstone, Linda Tropp, and Ulrich Wagner have organized the meeting with funding from both SPSSI and EAESP (part of our joint small group conferences program). The deadline for submissions is February 29, 2008.

Other international meetings are also coming up, including the annual meeting of the Society of Australasian Social Psychologists (SASP) in Wellington, New Zealand (March 27-30). Further away, but good to keep in mind, are large international meetings coming up in future years, including the 39th International Congress of Psychology, which will be held in South African in 2012 and draws in delegates from many countries. So, here are a couple of opportunities to meet colleagues from all over the world, and see some interesting places all at the same time. At the same time, you may also wish to investigate some research opportunities or collaborations in different countries.

Social issues with Psychological Content around the world. I asked our SPSSI Internationalization Committee (Rupert Brown - UK, Gillian Finchilescu - South Africa, Roberto Gonzales - Chili, Matthew Hornsey - Australia, Minoru Karasawa - Japan, Dahlia Moore - Israel, Michael Zarate - USA) what issues are ongoing in their region of the world that may be of interest to SPSSI members. This leads to quite diverse set of issues. For example, Roberto Gonzales in Chili reports interesting immigration issues developing in Latin and South America. He notes that interregional immigration has increased significantly in the region (more than in the traditional countries on which research has tended to focus, such as North America and Europe). For example, whereas in 1970 the percentage of intraregional migration in Latin-America was close to 22% (with the remainder targeting North American, European and Asian countries) this pattern has changed significantly during the last 30 years and now 59% of migration in Latin-America involves migration between countries within the region. Roberto notes that this has led to changes in the social structure of the nations involved, with movement towards more heterogeneous and diverse societies. As a result, there are interesting questions with regard to policy issues, and challenges to people's beliefs and intergroup attitudes toward the groups involved. The region thus forms a particularly interesting and realistic context in which to analyze a number of social psychological processes, including contact, prejudice, affect, stereotyping, and national identity.

Roberto Gonzales also notes that the region is of interest for various efforts to strengthen democracy. Indeed the Organization of American States - which include all countries across the Americas - has recently created a program to contribute to this task ( Roberto reports that, as part of this initiative, a number of scholars are about to launch the International Journal of Education for Democracy ( The new online journal targets scholars interested in empirical research and review essays on the topics of citizenship, democracy values and tolerance.

Gillian Finchilescu (South Africa) reports on a large number of continuing issues of particular interest in her region, including HIV and AIDS, crime, corruption, transformation and race/ethnicity. These will be familiar to most SPSSI members. She also notes some lesser-known issues that are developing in South Africa, including a new legislative bill that was set up allegedly to prevent pornography, but which some journalists and newspapers fear will interfere with freedom of speech in other areas in the media. Gillian also gives an example of an area in which the race/ethnicity issue is continuing to play out, this time in the racial transformation of rugby. Rugby has become particularly topical since South Africa won the world cup a couple of months ago. However, many see the team as too white, and there is an emerging battle about the best way to transform the team to be more representative of the different population groups, with some calling for a quota system.

In Europe a major issue of interest to SPSSI members continues to be the increasing antipathy against Islam and the minority groups associated with Islam (e.g., Moroccans, Turks). The Netherlands, for example -often noted for its liberal climate- has changed its social norms with regard to the expression of prejudice substantially in recent years. Furthermore, intergroup attitudes - especially towards Moroccans - have become openly negative. Complex conflicts have arisen also, with anti-gay violence on the increase, and newspapers focusing especially on Moroccan teenage boys as a source of this increase in antipathy against gays. Gay and lesbian issues have also been in the spotlight in recent months as the most recent coalition government includes a Christian party opposed to gay and lesbian marriage, legal throughout the Netherlands.

Poverty is also an issue that has raised substantial attention in the Netherlands in the past few years, with more and more individuals (in what is generally known as a relatively rich country) joining ‘food banks’ in which free food is distributed once a week. Here, we see attention moving towards the causes of this poverty highlighting the roles of the government and concerned citizens in preventing it. The most recent coalition government has targeted 40 “problem areas” that will receive extra investments in the coming years to address ongoing social, environmental and economic issues. In recent years, the Netherlands has moved away form a somewhat ‘softer’ social approach for which it has been known towards a more hard-line economic approach in which the discussion is increasingly about ‘individual responsibility’.

Another long term but continuing issue in the Netherlands is gender. The Netherlands has low participation of females in the work force (54% as compared to 72% of males, with the majority of women who do work working part-time (68%). The Netherlands also has very few women working in higher positions. For example, of the 100 largest companies, only 3% of the boards of management and 8.5% of supervisory board members are female. At universities, currently less than 10% of full professors are female. The representation of females in the workforce in the Netherlands on all these fronts is slower than its adopted target figures, and increasing attention to this issue suggest economic projections predicting a labor shortage in the coming years. Interestingly, among women there is much opposition towards more female representation in the workplace, as is evidenced in discussion surrounding the issues in women’s and parental magazines, with women arguing that they have the right to choose to be at home full time or part-time with their children. For many years now, the Netherlands has provided the right of part-time work to both men and women, but with only women making use of the opportunity to combine family and work. In fact, mothers who do choose to work full-time often face substantial opposition from those around them and who question the women’s devotion to their families. 

In summary, there are many interesting issues for SPSSI members to apply theory, research and practice, as well as, to obtain inspiration for the development of theory and research. A run down of these issues shows that that is exactly what is already happening. SPSSI members in and outside these regions are working on - or being stimulated by - these issues in terms of theory development and in the generation of empirical research devoted to understanding the psychological aspects of these important social issues.  

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