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ANN ARBOR – A book exploring the factors that lead to cooperation between different political and social groups is drawing critical praise and awards.
Seeing Us in Them: Social Divisions and the Politics of Group Empathy has been recognized with four awards since its publication in the spring of 2021, three of which will be given this week at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA).
A collaborative work between Cigdem V. Sirin and José D. Villalobos of the University of Texas at El Paso and Nicholas Valentino of the University of Michigan’s Center for Political Studies, the book explores the nature of outgroup empathy in political divisions, examining the factors that push certain individuals to see past the divisions that others can’t overcome.
The book concludes that intergroup cooperation is possible, though it still demands work from all parties involved. That potential note of optimism wasn’t necessarily the goal of the book, but Valentino says he and his colleagues were happy to see that aspect resonating with readers.
“We identify a stable predisposition that encourages cooperation and reconciliation between groups whose interests may be at odds in a given place and time. It recognizes that not all political forces are centrifugal, pushing us away from each other with each passing day. In fact, to continue the physics metaphor, outgroup empathy is a centripetal influence that draws individuals together across lines of difference for mutual benefit,” he said. “Ours is not a naive story about how everything will be ok if we just learn to love each other. Instead, we would argue the tools we have already acquired in complex, multicultural societies are powerful enough to solve these problems if we only recognize and hone them more carefully.”
Reviewers echoed that sentiment, highlighting the book’s use of grounded research blended with personal perspectives as well as praising the book’s clarity and scope.
“This work showcases the benefits of writing a book to fully flesh out a novel theory in a way that no single article ever could,” wrote a member of the David O. Sears award panel. “It slowly and methodically tests its argument through creative experimentation that examines arguments and counter-arguments in different contexts and countries. The book is peppered with personal anecdotes and observations that make the book eminently readable.”
In total, the book has received the following four awards:
- David O. Sears Best Book in Political Psychology from the International Society for Political Psychology (ISPP)
- APSA Best Book
- Robert Lane Award, Political Psychology Section
- Best Book in Experimental Political Science
The attention has been a welcome surprise for Valentino, who says he and his co-authors didn’t anticipate this level of recognition.
“There are so many fantastic new books out recently about important topics such as the causes and consequences of threats to democracy here and around the world, the rise of affective polarization and political violence, and the politicization of public health threats like Covid and other diseases,” he said. “It is a real honor to be recognized among these other important works. We are of course very proud of book, and grateful to all those who gave us feedback in numerous presentations and lectures about the material in the years prior to its publication.”
Seeing Us in Them: Social Divisions and the Politics of Group Empathy was published by Cambridge University Press in March 2021.
Nicholas A. Valentino is Professor of Political Science and Research Professor in the Center for Political Studies at the University of Michigan. He studies political campaigns, racial attitudes, emotions, and social group cues in political communication.
Cigdem V. Sirin is Professor of Political Science at the University of Texas at El Paso. Her research interests center on examining the microfoundations of interstate and intrastate conflict processes and outcomes.
José D. Villalobos is Professor of Political Science at the University of Texas at El Paso. His research examines public opinion and policy making dynamics in the areas of the US presidency, race and ethnicity, and immigration.