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Prejudiced and Discriminatory Communication

Janet B. Ruscher and Devin L. Wallace


Prejudiced and discriminatory communication is studied in a wide range of social science disciplines, including communication, sociology, anthropology, and social psychology. Some forms, such as hate speech, are explicit, and they are recognized easily by an audience as reflecting prejudiced viewpoints. Other forms are more implicit: neither the speaker nor the audience may be aware that the speaker holds prejudiced views, even though independent evidence demonstrates that such views indeed are held. The conditions under which prejudiced views are expressed, as well as the forms that these communications take, are the subject of this entry (→  Social Stereotyping and Communication ; stereotypes ). Discriminatory language is insidious because of the myriad functions that it serves. Drawing upon the extant literature on prejudice, Ruscher (2001) identifies five types of functions : economy of expression, group enhancement/ego defense, social functions, ingroup dominance, and impression management. These functions are not mutually exclusive, and can have similar surface features. For instance, two individuals may have similar stereotypes of lower income individuals and both call them “trailer trash,” but one may use the term when his or her own middle income group is threatened (i.e., ego defense) and the other simply may use the term as a quickly understood social reference (i.e., ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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