Violent instances of intergroup conflict in recent memory have usually involved cultural groups, but theory and research on the psychology of intergroup relations is largely culture free. The two most prominent theories, realistic group conflict theory (RGCT) and social identity/self-categorization theory (SIT/SCT) provide fundamental insight into basic processes in intergroup relations: (1) that behavior in intergroup situations is qualitatively different than that involved in interpersonal situations (including transformations of the self and relationships with others), (2) competition over material resources is the driver for intergroup conflict, but psychological identification with a group is sufficient to produce ingroup favoritism, and (3) social comparisons between groups provide psychological fuel for intergroup conflict. Social representations of history, encompassing shared knowledge about history and its meaning distributed across different groups, can be used to derive a more culture-specific approach to understanding intergroup relations. Empirical results show that popular history is a story about politics and war, and that historical symbols are part of cultural narratives that can be used to mobilize public opinion and construct national identity. Universal processes of intergroup relations and social identity are constrained by societal belief structures, which in turn are responsive to the identity and generational processes involved in collective remembering.
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