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In-Groups and Out –Groups

I recently took part in arranging a sports and games day in a small town. The town has about 3,000 inhabitants from several ethic and social groups and it was interesting to see how this affected the games. After the opening ceremony we had some all inclusive round games in which people of any age and ability could join. The only ones who were excluded were those who chose to be so. This group consisted only of the grandparents and older parents, but these probably felt that they were participating just by watching.

Later the children were divided up by age categories into teams. At this point I noticed one boy being herded by his mother into a group rather younger than his height would suggest. It was discovered that he was somewhat deaf and so she felt the need to keep him safe. However, before she arrived he had been playing with boys of his own age who seemed on the whole to accept him. So it was his mother who made this choice. In the afternoon there was opportunity for the older children to play sports such as football and volleyball competitively.

The girls in particular wanted to play volleyball. This involves only 12 players as there was only one net, but there were perhaps double this number present. What happened was that only those of the dominant ( i. e. largest by number) group played. The remaining members of this group stayed on the side lines and cheered and the others wandered away, or joined in different games. Two girls in particular sat on a nearby bench and seemed rather envious of those playing. But they were excluded by a number of factors – One, they didn’t speak the same language.

Two, their clothing and shoes were far too expensive and unsuitable for playing games, even though it had been announced that this was to be a sports day. Three , they had no parents present to stick up for them and say ‘Let them play’ . Four, they didn’t go to the same school. So it seems that even wealth won’t get you into the in crowd on certain occasions. The excluded had one thing in common – they were all different from the majority in some way, whether because of age, suitability, language used or handicap. But when inclusive games were played as many as wanted to could be included.

They would feel equal and at one with the whole group. We can see from this example that in-groups give preferential treatment to their members i. e. they were allowed to play in order that the group could achieve their goal. Also that we can exclude ourselves by not conforming to the norm i. e. the two girls who chose to wear clothing and shoes that was unsuitable. Belonging to a different social class can mean that you aren’t included, and this works both ways, not just the exclusion of the poor. Being disabled means that you can be excluded, in this case because of well meaning coddling.

Sometimes we may disagree with a group norm, but don’t do anything about it – i. e. no one insisted that the girls play a game where more people could be included. The in-group can be a very powerful unit in society and most of us would prefer to belong, but there are occasions when we are forced, or choose, to do otherwise. Also there are times when the group will include us, but only as long as our behaviour is suitable i. e. the two girls could join in the inclusive games, but were excluded when sports clothing and shoes were needed.

Sources

Theories about Groups, found at http://changingminds.org/explanations/theories/a_group.htm

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