On the Pacific Meeting on the Psychology of Social Change in Santiago, Chile
Yasin Koc (University of Groningen)
On 13-14 December 2018, I attended the Pacific Meeting on the Psychology of Social Change in Santiago, Chile. The meeting was co-organised by Roberto Gonzalez, Anna Wlodarcyzk, and Craig McGarty, hosted at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (UC), and financially supported by ISPP, UC, and COES (Centre for Social Conflict and Cohesion Studies). The purpose of the meeting was to bring together political and social psychologists from around the Pacific Rim and beyond to discuss current research including peace, protest, contact, immigration, inequality, globalization, diversity, indigenous rights, and reconciliation.
The meeting was organised as a small group meeting. There were no keynote speakers, nor were there any parallel sessions. This allowed the participation of all participants in the same room, longer presentations (20 mins) and longer discussion time (10 mins) enabling indepth conversations about the empirical research presented as well as further discussions on theory and societal applications. In total, there were 21 talks thematically organised in relation to the dynamics of social change, its relation to history, class, religion, ethnicity, and migration, and more… The presentations included diverse methodologies from qualitative interviews to longitudinal multi-level studies. The discussions were friendly. As far as I could tell, everyone in the room appreciated the value of the research presented and were curious to understand more rather than solely focusing on limitations and downsides of the presentations.
At the end of both days, we had plenary sessions to wrap up the day. The first one focused on a discussion of the common underlying themes behind the presentations of the day. Craig McGarty started the discussion with a reference to Kurt Lewin’s famous quote: “There is nothing as practical as a good theory.” Everybody contributed to the discussion by sharing their impressions of the first day’s talks, and how our works can be brought together for us to develop collaborations. I could already tell quite a few people winked at one another during each other’s’ presentations as they noticed they were pretty much doing similar things at different contexts or from differing theoretical backgrounds. This allowed a number of smaller group conversations at the dinner for setting up new collaborations. At the end of second day, the plenary focused on how we define and what we understand from “social change”, and how we each believe it is possible. Especially Craig McGarty’s talk on polarization and populism made me become aware that what we think is unique and happening today was also happening 40 years ago. Therefore, I believe when studying social change, (again as Kurt Lewin would argue), we need to take simultaneously into account the meaning of group memberships for individuals and its interaction with the social context in which individuals are embedded.
Personally, I enjoyed a lot of talks focusing on the research in the Pacific countries. It was fascinating to hear about different intergroup contexts (beyond our WEIRD samples studies). My favorite talk was by Anna Wlodarczyk titled “Pro-social rituals: How to produce social change from the community?” Anna’s work made me think of some other work I was familiar with in cross-cultural field by Ron Fischer on extreme rituals and prosociality, and also helped me think of developing some new activities for a Master course I am teaching on group dynamics. I presented some of my work on the (in)compatibility of the Muslim and feminist identities in Turkey and its relation to collective action. I conducted this work with my Erasmus+ Intern Bengisu Akkurt, and with Russell Spears last summer. I received very nice feedback on this work, which I found really useful as I was at the writing stage of the project. This presentation also initiated a chat and a possible collaboration opportunity with Aleksandra Chicocka from University of Kent on feminist and Catholic identities thanks to her rigorous comments on my talk. I am sure we will follow this up.
In terms of getting to see Santiago and enjoying delicious Chilean cuisine, we had the greatest time. The organizers helped us taste various beauties of Chilean cuisine at every lunch and dinner. And of course, the finest wine! In smaller groups, we also had our own tours of Santiago and nearby cities like Valparaiso. The neighborhood of the conference was the perfect area to enjoy the artsy hipster vibe of the city as well!
Overall, together with fine discussions on social change and a selection of vibrant research presentations, this conference brought together a number of amazing scholars interested in learning from each other and developing a sense of community. After the general conference in Edinburgh and this meeting, I have decided to become a full member of ISPP. I believe there are many other similar opportunities awaiting me.
Yasin Koc, Assistant Professor of Social Psychology, University of Groningen