Stereotypes and the discursive accomplishment of intergroup differentiation: Talking about ‘the other’ in a global business organization

Hans J. Ladegaard

Abstract

This article analyzes how employees in a global business organization talk about their colleagues in other countries. Employees were asked to discuss their work practices in focus group settings, and give examples of how they experience ‘the other’. Using Discursive Psychology and Politeness Theory as the analytic approaches, the article analyzes pieces of discourse to disclose social psychological phenomena such as group identity, intergroup differentiation, and stereotypes. The analyses show that talking about ‘the other’ is potentially face-threatening, and mitigating discourse features are used repeatedly to soften the criticism. We also see how uncovering stereotypes is a mutual accomplishment in the group, and how group members gradually move from relatively innocent to blatantly negative outgroup stereotypes. The analyses also show that participants engage in meta-reflections on the nature of stereotypes, which may serve as another mitigating device, and that talk about ‘the other’ is used to create intergroup differentiation. Finally, the article discusses the implications of these findings for cross-cultural communication and work practices in organizations.

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