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Doing unjust things in a “just” society: The moral justification of structural violence


This dissertation examines the relationship between how moral or immoral a group is perceived to be and people’s acceptance of harm towards members of that group. The ways in which political elites and lay people make distinctions between groups along moral basis was examined in a series of studies employing qualitative and survey designs using Internet-based samples. Findings revealed that political elites and lay people utilized an expansive moral domain comprised of the dimensions specified in Moral Foundations Theory when distinguishing members of a target group from others. Participants who perceived members of a target group as typically less moral than most other people were more likely to accept structural violence towards that group. Those perceived to be less moral than others were also perceived to be less human and have more negative emotions directed towards them (e.g., anger, contempt). The findings of this dissertation lay the foundation for a moral psychology of intergroup relations, which seeks to examine the inextricable relationship among morality, social identity, and intergroup violence.

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