Pressure to Conform, Self-Censorship, and the Concealment of Discriminatory Attitudes in the Everyday Life of Authorities

Research question/goal: 

A central challenge both in empirical research and in the practical fight against ethnic and racial discrimination lies in the problem of social desirability. First, this poses a methodological problem: because there is a normative expectation not to discriminate or make racist remarks, respondents have a strong incentive to conform to norms, to self-censor, and to conceal any discriminatory attitudes. Conventional survey-based instruments thus risk underestimating the actual extent of discriminatory attitudes in everyday life in public authorities and only reflect them in a biased way. However, conformity pressure, self-censorship, and the concealment of discriminatory attitudes in public authorities are also an important substantive problem, because they perpetuate undesirable social conditions (e.g. ethnic discrimination), distort necessary knowledge about critical issues (e.g. difficulties with certain population groups), and create unintended problems (e.g. in the effectiveness of anti-discriminatory measures).

The aim of the project is to provide new experimental evidence on the nature and extent of conformity pressure, self-censorship, and the concealment of discriminatory attitudes in customer-facing public agencies, and to explain these with reference to specific structures and cultures of agencies. Two central questions are at the heart of analytical interest: (1) To what extent do public employees face social pressure (e.g. from colleagues or superiors) to remain silent about existing grievances such as discriminatory or racist practices in public agencies? What groups of public agency employees are most affected by this and what are their specific grievances?  (2) Conversely, to what extent does a widespread culture of anti-discrimination in government contribute to the fact that government employees do not speak out about actual challenges in the multicultural everyday life of government agencies for fear of being called "racist"? What groups of public employees are most affected by this and what specific problems are therefore not addressed?

Current stage: 

The project team is currently pretesting the questionnaire used to survey employees of federal authorities. Next to securing the field access to all planned federal agencies (Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, Federal Employment Agency, Customs and Federal Police), we are currently finalizing the analysis plans to be preregistered before the actual data collection starts.

Fact sheet

2021 to 2023
Data Sources: 
Survey data, experimental evidence
Geographic Space: