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Mediterranean Quarterly 12.1 (2001) 115-120

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Book Review

The Outsider:
Prejudice and Politics in Italy

Paul M. Sniderman, Pierangelo Peri, Rui J. P. de Figueiredo Jr., and Thomas Piazza: The Outsider: Prejudice and Politics in Italy. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000. 218 pages. ISBN 0-691-04839-8. $29.95.

Prejudice against immigrants is as old as human history. Whether one reads from the Bible or today's newspapers, there are numerous accounts of hostility on the part of insiders directed toward newly arrived outsiders, as well as calls for tolerance. The Outsider is a path-breaking new study of prejudice against immigrants and its political implications in Italy, conducted by a team of political scientists and social statisticians led by Paul M. Sniderman of Stanford University and including Pierangelo Peri (University of Trento), Rui J. P. de Figueiredo Jr. (University of California, Berkeley), and Thomas Piazza (University of California, Berkeley). The group embarked on its project just after the 1994 Italian parliamentary elections using sophisticated, computer-assisted survey methods and conducted two thousand extensive telephone interviews throughout the country.

Most of the book is a detailed discussion of the development of the survey models and of the analysis of the results. A first point of departure for the team was to test its belief, based on experience and study in the United States, that the basic cleavage between insiders and outsiders was race--especially differences between black and white. This was a major reason that the group selected Italy for its study, since recent immigration into Italy could be separated into three basic groups--Eastern Europeans (Poles, other Slavs, and Albanians), North Africans (Moroccans, Tunisians, and Algerians), and sub-Saharan Africans (Senegalese and Somalis). To test its hypothesis about race, the team devised what it called the "Switch" experiment. Survey participants were queried concerning their views on immigrants' responsibility for social problems [End Page 115] and personal characteristics. Questions regarding social ills included responsibility for higher crime rates, health and housing problems, higher taxes, and increased unemployment for Italians. Personal-characteristics questions included whether the respondent felt that most of the group were honest, selfish, intrusive, violent, law abiding, slackers, complainers, or by nature inferior. Participants at random were asked (1) both sets of questions concerning Africans, (2) both sets of questions regarding Eastern Europeans, (3) the social-problems questions concerning Africans and the personal-characteristics questions concerning Eastern Europeans, or (4) the social-problems questions concerning Eastern Europeans and the personal-characteristics questions regarding Africans. Also, as noted, those respondents asked about Africans were subdivided at random into those asked about Northern and those asked about sub-Saharan Africans. Contrary to the team's expectations, it found no significant overall differences in the negative evaluations of the three groups. General hostility toward members of an outgroup rather than race, the team concluded, was the key factor in Italian prejudice against immigrants.

The next effort of Sniderman's group was to try to develop a theory of the underlying causes of prejudice. Past efforts in this field have been divided sharply into two schools of thought: those who felt that personality was the root source of prejudice and those who believed that prejudice was due to "realistic conflict." Adherents to the latter school located prejudice in the objective conditions of social life, especially in competition for scarce resources. Sniderman and his colleagues saw an opportunity to use their survey to develop a causal model, which they dubbed the "Two Flavors" model to see if they could integrate these two schools of thought. The team's basic hypothesis to be tested was "whatever increases the likelihood of categorizing others as belonging to a group other than one's own increases the likelihood of hostility towards them."

The team tested this hypothesis through statistical manipulation of their survey data. They found that categorization was a function of both economic insecurity and mistrust of people in general. While the economic insecurity variable tracked the realistic conflict explanation of prejudice, the mistrust variable was psychologically oriented. Underlying these two key variables...