Theses Doctoral

The Burden of Suspicion: A Grounded Theory Study on the Psychological and Interpersonal Consequences of Criminalizing Stereotypes

Skolnik, Avy

This purpose of this study was to understand the immediate and cumulative impact of experiencing a form of stereotyping, which characterizes an individual as suspicious - dangerous, aggressive, criminal, or otherwise threatening. Stereotypes are cognitive schema that contains the perceiver's beliefs and expectations about a particular group (Niemann, Jennings, Rozelle, Baxter, & Sullivan, 1994). While the specific stereotype content may vary across groups, criminal stereotypes affect multiple marginalized communities and play a central role in the historical oppression and disenfranchisement of people of color, immigrants, LGBT people, and poor people, among others, in the United States.
While much is known about the social and political consequences of criminalization, less is known about the psychological and interpersonal consequences. Racial, class, and sexual and other disparities permeate many institutions in the United States, but perhaps nowhere is it more glaring and more destructive than within the criminal legal system. Racial disparities in incarceration rates, length of sentencing, profiling, police brutality, and penalty enhancements, are just some of the macro and measurable consequences of criminalizing stereotypes. This study specifically sought to explore the consequences on the individual and interpersonal levels. Interviews with nineteen participants and grounded theory data analysis reveal six core themes that emerged that appear to present across all groups, though the manifestations differ depending on the specific criminal archetype evoked. From these themes, an emergent theory was developed that attempts to explain both the immediate and long-term psychological and interpersonal consequences of this form of stereotyping. The model also reveals the process by which participants come to understand, survive, and resist this form of oppression in their lives. Implications of the findings are discussed.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Smith, Laura
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 7, 2014