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.
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