Social representations of history and the legitimation of social inequality: the form and function of historical negation

Three studies examined the form and function of ideologies that negate (versus recognise) the historical basis of claims for reparation for past injustices. Historical negation (a) predicted opposition towards the resource-specific aspects of social policy and (b) functioned as the mechanism though which majority group members high in a threat-driven security-cohesion motivation (indexed by right-wing authoritarianism (RWA)) legitimated policy opposition in both undergraduate student (Study 1) and general population (Study 2) samples of the majority group (New Zealand Europeans/Pakeha). Study 3 experimentally manipulated historical negation in a general population sample using extracts adapted from political speeches, and demonstrated that historical negation increased opposition among liberal voters towards the resource-specific aspects of bicultural policy. These results suggest that history serves an important symbolic function in mobilising support for public policies regarding intergroup relations because temporal continuity is central to claims of legitimacy, especially where resources are involved. Research in this area is important for any nation with a history of intergroup conflict, as it aids not only in understanding the form and function of historical narratives that legitimate social inequality, but also provides insight into the ways in which such discourses can be countered and re-formulated in order to promote social equality. Copyright © 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.