Institutional status roles and implicit bias


Status Roles and Implicit Bias

The effects of implicit bias on institutional functioning challenge the view of institutions as networks of status roles connected by interlocking commitments of the agents who occupy them, who also agree to the institutional arrangement, and who are accepted by others as meeting the corresponding membership conditions (Kirk Ludwig 2017, From Plural to Institutional Agency: Collective Action II. Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Drawing on the findings from recent studies in political science, psychology, economics, and higher education concerning the effects of implicit bias on women’s institutional status, I demonstrate that implicit bias regularly prevents minority members’ actions from being collectively accepted as performed properly even if the minority agents follow the rules exactly as prescribed. That is, minority group members’ intentions in action would match collectively accepted conditional intentions for the exercise of one’s agency in performing their status roles, but the group’s collective acceptance of their performance, due to implicit bias triggered by stereotypes originating in the history of the institution in which minorities have been underrepresented, would establish the meaning of their performance as not (fully) fitting the collectively accepted institutional plan. A variant of this is not being credited for a performance outcome that is fully utilized by the group.

Thus, minorities’ formally granted relation of membership is often not properly validated. Collective acceptance of their institutional performance doesn’t engender an appropriate connection between these agents and the collectively accepted conditional we-intentions tied to the constitutive rules in accordance with which the agents who sustain the institution should act.

Moreover, if they counteract (consciously or non-consciously) the bias-tainted acceptance of their performance to retain their position at the institution or advance, minorities often play by the rules different from those prescribed by their official role.

This undermines the possibility of joint intentional action that Ludwig considers to be at the heart of institutional functioning: minority actors frequently cannot share a plan at the time of acting with the rest of the group because (1) their status role performance is constructed, via collective acceptance by the rest of the group, as not corresponding to the description given in the shared plan, and/or (2) they are possibly playing by different rules, and/or (3) they are not properly accepted as group members. These systemic occurrences affecting minorities make we-intentions in group actions hard to realize.

Ludwig’s theory of institutional functioning relies on institutional status-role performers’ being normally credited with the outcomes of their actions and included in the web of interlocking commitments in accordance with their exhibited agential capacity, which is often not the case in the environments affected by implicit bias that causes a non-uniform reception of equivalent status role performances by minorities and the majority. To address the disruptions to joint intentional actions introduced by implicit bias, I outline how incorporating the notion of ‘we-part awareness’ (connected in a joint action to the shared sense of group membership) into Ludwig’s theory may enhance it for theorizing non-ideal institutional environments.


5 thoughts on “Institutional status roles and implicit bias

  1. Hi Anna!

    I really enjoyed your talk and the way you weave together (1) implicit and explicit attitudes and (2)(a) being a member of the group while not completely being recognized / (2)(b) not being recognized while fulfilling the conditions to be a member.
    A question popped up while you were linking these ideas to Kirk Ludwig’s work. Do you think that 2a and 2b pose the same threat to his theory about the nature of institutions / sharing we-intentions?

    See you at your life session!

    1. Moltchanova, Anna says:

      Hi Judith,
      thank you very much for the comments and for joining the discussion session!

      I think that both 2a and 2b would interfere with a minority agent’s having a we-intention, as the agent is both constructed as not a full member and as not acting according to the plan in implicit bias.
      Here is how I would approach this via the classic view of status functions:
      Three components of “X counts as Y in C” should be distinguished:
      (0) What X counts as conditionally collectively accepted
      (1) what X counts as in being incorporated in the institutional functioning and
      (2) what X counts as when attributed to the agent.

      So we can have the outcome incorporated as Y and the agent not getting the outcome attributed as Y, but Y- or not-Y (I think it is your 2b, and the inconsistency between (1) and (2) above), we can also have the agent viewed as not up to the task overall, so what is attributed also makes them not really a member of the group on the terms they thought obtained and according to which they have acted (your 2a and the inconsistency between (0) and (1). Let me know if I misinterpret your 2a and 2b.

      Hence, there is a set of group members whose particular status role performances are collectively accepted as matching the conditionally collectively accepted constitutive rules for the types of actions required in these status roles
      a set of agents affected by implicit bias who are not viewed as fully/competent members even if the outcome of their action is incorporated (but their contribution is devalued as attributed or attributed to another agent). The latter are MADE (A) to not act according to the group plan and (B) to not really be members on the terms upon which they have intended to act and acted, so they cannot form a we-intention.

      Does this answer your question or did I misunderstand it?

    2. It does, this is very helpful! Thanks Anna

      I think it is very interesting that you argue that the same bias can cause the same effect (exclusion from the we-intention), but through two different routes.

  2. Roth, Abe says:

    Hi Anna,

    Thanks for the talk; I really enjoyed it.

    I think I agree with your point that implicit bias might undermine the sort of collective intentions Kirk Ludwig takes to be relevant for status functions and membership in a group. One upshot might be that we need to be careful to counter implicit bias and other forms of discrimination. And no doubt that is something to work on. But I take it from your concluding slide that you also mean to be criticizing Kirk’s view about institutions. Is the criticism something like this: The individual discriminated against might nevertheless be playing an important role and be a part of the institution. If the strict conditions for playing a role in the institutions are not met because of implicit bias (e.g. it’s impossible for everyone to be sharing the very same plan), then maybe those conditions need to be loosened. Because the social reality is such that the discriminated individual is nevertheless acting as part of the institution. The worry with Kirk’s view, then, would be that it doesn’t capture the reality of a social institution in non-ideal situations.

    I’m asking because it seems at points throughout the talk that you agree with the implication that the individual being discriminated against is prevented from actually sharing the relevant we-intentions. And it seems that as a consequence the individual’s membership in the group is in doubt. But if this is meant as a criticism of Kirk, then the individual needs to be a part of group. Otherwise it’s not a counterexample.

    So is the point to challenge Kirk’s theory about the nature of institutions? Or is the point to identify a problem that implicit bias poses for the inclusivity of institutions and to suggest ways to address that problem?

    1. Moltchanova, Anna says:

      Hi Abe,
      thank you for the comments!

      I agree that the ideal theory like Kirk’s doesn’t capture non-ideal situations.

      But the point about the individual not being really a member is complicated, because the bias is implicit and officially, they do count as a member. In the conditional collective acceptance of the terms of membership and who belongs they do belong, they are made to not fully belong only in the de facto acceptance of their particular actions and this is not open to introspection since the bias is implicit.
      I also think that because the outcome of their action is incorporated, we cannot say they are not a member on Kirk’s view. I see what you are saying concerning this not being a counterexample but simply a claim that Kirk’s view is narrowly theorizing the majority only, but the agent seems to be partially a member on the terms Kirk introduces because they do contribute to the interlocking commitments of individuals performing their status roles.

      Your question is very helpful to me for the framing of the discussion, thank you. My initial focus with this material was that there is more to institutions than what the ideal theory captures. I will have to think more, due to your question, whether there is a sense in which the affected by implicit bias minority is still a member on Kirk’s view and separate the two lines of discussion.

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