This research investigates differential attitudes towards institutional social control, referred to as disciplinary attitudes. Based on secondary analyses of national and international survey data, its goal is to examine, on the one hand, the social foundations of perceived public legitimacy of disciplinary institutions such as the police and the legal system and, on the other hand, the factors which shape public attitudes towards punitive, repressive, and “tough” policies enacted by these institutions. Thereby, the project aims to show that disciplinary attitudes are symbolic tools regulating social relations and justifying the social order.
The project addresses public sentiments about the “punitive turn” which has marked the development of Western societies during the last two or three decades. Punishment, repression and social control are increasingly used as public responses to address crime and social conflict. By studying disciplinary attitudes, the project thus speaks to highly mediatised issues such as widespread feelings of urban insecurity, fear of youth violence, and the experience of social exclusion.
Two major processes are predicted to explain perceived legitimacy of authorities and support for disciplinary action:
•Support for disciplinary action should be a strategy to enhance negative social identities associated with low status and socially excluded groups, because support for disciplinary action allows differentiating one-self positively from subjectively inferior groups. High-status groups, in turn, are more motivated to support the institutions which maintain their superior position in the social hierarchy.
•Support for disciplinary action should reflect coping with perceived, plural threats to the social order. The project tests the hypothesis that disciplinary action is viewed as a response to groups perceived and constructed as threatening the social order, that is, to “bad” people (e.g., criminals), to free riders (e.g., welfare beneficiaries), to outgroups (e.g., immigrants) and to low-status groups (e.g., the poor).
Data analysis will be based on existing national and international surveys, including Vox, Selects, SHP, MosaiCH for the Swiss context, and ISSP, ESS, and Eurobarometer databases for the European context. The project will evolve in four phases: (1) An exhaustive search of national and international databases; (2) construction of indicators comparable across surveys; (3) analyses of Swiss data, and (4) analyses of international data. Advanced statistical techniques, including Structural Equation Modelling and multilevel analyses, will be performed.