By expanding the geographical scope of the history of violence and war, this volume challenges both Western and state-centric narratives of the decline of violence and its relationship to modernity. It highlights instead similarities across early modernity in terms of representations, legitimations, applications of, and motivations for violence. It seeks to integrate methodologies of the study of violence into the history of war, thereby extending the historical significance of both fields of research. Thirteen case studies outline the myriad ways in which large-scale violence was understood and used by states and non-state actors throughout the early modern period across Africa, Asia, the Americas, the Atlantic, and Europe, demonstrating that it was far more complex than would be suggested by simple narratives of conquest and resistance. Moreover, key features of imperial violence apply equally to large-scale violence within societies. As the authors argue, violence was a continuum, ranging from small-scale, local actions to full-blown war. The latter was privileged legally and increasingly associated with states during early modernity, but its legitimacy was frequently contested and many of its violent forms, such as raiding and destruction of buildings and crops, could be found in activities not officially classed as war.
This volume brings together a series of pilot studies that collectively can be taken as a point of departure for exploring the striking pervasiveness of stereotypes in early modern England. Drawing on case studies of the period, it shows that stereotypes are more than cognitive shortcuts and distorted beliefs expressing the errors of people who are prejudiced, irrational and limited in their understanding. In these studies, historical actors are not passive agents waiting to be impressed by prejudices and preconceptions derived from popular culture or from dominant (yet often erroneous) ideologies. Rather, the opposite: the chapters collected here emphasise the contested and practical character of stereotyping as a key psychological and social practice in the making of history. Stereotypes, yesterday as today, are best understood in the context of argumentative social practices that underlie intergroup interactions, interests and representations of the world.
From the path-breaking historical research of Patrick Collinson, Alexandra Walsham, Mark Knights and Peter Lake, among others, we already know that stereotypes were often mobilised in early modern polemical and political contexts, where negotiations of power and identity were central driving processes.1 Thanks to this scholarship, we also know that stereotypes were not only depictions of the groups they were trying to represent but also, and importantly, rich descriptors of the people holding and using them. Yet such case studies have hitherto been undertaken in relative isolation. Perhaps it is due to this isolation and lack of comparison that stereotyping has been conceived mainly as a process inherently harmful to society and that appeals to reason would be sufficient to contain their escalation. Arguably, this has made it difficult to appreciate the striking persistence of stereotyping, indeed the near impossibility of removing stereotypes from social interactions.
This coda gives us the opportunity to emphasise how the historical evidence presented here sheds light on stereotyping processes themselves. It also offers a chance to take further our conversation on the synergies between social psychology and history.2 Social and cognitive psychologists have provided much of the ammunition for approaching stereotypes as ‘bad thinking’ – forms of rigid, over-generalised and therefore simplistic cognitions that are intrinsically linked to prejudice and other forms of intergroup bias.3 Most research in the field has been elusive about social and historical contexts, remaining firmly grounded in the assumption that stereotypes are based on individual cognitive processes that over-emphasise differences between and similarities within groups. From this perspective, stereotypes represent social groups as homogeneous and by the very same process erase the individuality of members – everyone in an out-group becomes ‘stereotypically’ the same.4 Yet, it was not always thus and it would be wrong to conclude that all social psychology has been reductive in its approach to stereotyping. If anything, historical evidence, as presented in this volume, will fuel the hope once expressed by Robert M. Farr that social psychologists will become more conscious of the historicity of social-psychological phenomena.5
The pilot studies in this volume contribute to a recasting of the analysis of stereotyping towards a wider understanding of the problem and its consequences. Starting from the ground up, these studies build a rich and thick description of stereotyping processes that offers a welcome opportunity to rethink the concept through social and historical lenses. These studies shift our point of departure from a focus on stereotypes as a form of erroneous representation of (and about) out-groups to practices of stereotyping in early modern England – how stereotypes were forged, ignored, disseminated, eventually contested and even co-opted, with far-reaching repercussions for the people and societies involved. In prompting this shift, they also enable a reappraisal of the theoretical fatalism that has conceived all categorisation and stereotyping as a direct and inevitable pathway to prejudice and discrimination towards out-groups.6 And given how much domestic and international politics in the twenty-first century has turned out to be profoundly affected by stereotypes, reappraising their impact in the early modern period may have unexpected political and practical resonances today.
Engaging with early modern case studies
Stereotypes in early modern England were never simply an amalgam of prejudice and ideology. As shown by Tim Harris (Chapter 1), stereotypes of the Scottish or the Irish were often invoked in polemical contexts in order, for example, to undermine a particular policy or isolate an opponent from moderate groups. In this tactical mobilisation, stereotypes were often ‘false composites’, mixing different characteristics (say, about Scots) that would never be found in a single individual. Harris shows that such polemical uses conditioned political debates and influenced the unfolding of political crises. Such false composites, fuelled by prejudice, could be invoked in order to promote and justify riots.7 In this context of political mobilisation, the ‘falseness’ of stereotypes was more than a false construction; rather, it was deployed creatively as a purposeful and meaningful move driven by political, economic and social interests.
In addition to the importance of polemical mobilisation in understanding their deployment, stereotypes went well beyond prejudice and the stigmatising of subordinate out-groups. As Peter Lake (Chapter 2) has revealed, they could be purposefully brought into being by an out-group. The stereotype of the puritan was in fact brought into print by the godly reformers themselves, who argued that if a thoroughgoing Protestant Reformation had not materialised, it was because their neighbours refused cooperation by accusing the godly of being hypocritical ‘puritaines’. Thus defenders of the ecclesiastical status quo and their attack dogs did not invent the term ‘puritan’ to stigmatise the religious minority. Rather, the character first appeared in print when puritan preacher George Gifford used it to explain the relative failure of his own camp’s reformist agenda and to type his critics as profane and ultimately crypto-papists. If we apply the language of social psychology, then the puritan stereotype was first used by the religious out-group to explain its own marginality. Only later was it co-opted by the in-group in order to stigmatise the out-group.
Stereotypes also had comic potential. In their analysis of the Jonsonian characters of the puritan and the projector, Peter Lake and Koji Yamamoto (Chapter 4) have demonstrated that post-Reformation England was profoundly affected by religious politics in response to puritans’ call for further reform and by the fiscal exactions perpetrated by projectors close to the royal court. To that extent, laughing at a puritan’s hypocrisy on stage and dismissing a projector’s scheme as mere fantasy driven by greed served as anxiety displacement for Jonson’s audience and offered comforting comic relief, which lessened the magnitude of the problems involved, even as it exposed their nature. Similar comic potential has been ably explored by William Cavert’s study of ‘sin and sea coal’ (Chapter 8). There we find that, instead of caricaturing the threat of metropolitan environmental hazard, those who accepted the anti-urban polemic and detested metropolitan ‘sin and sea coal’ were parodied as gullible country gentlemen so naive as to swallow other kinds of stereotype, such as those about popery and courtly life. These early modern contemporaries were thus capable of creatively using the power of stereotypes as satire to colour knowledge, shape value and influence behaviour (see also Chapters 7 and 10, by David Magliocco and William Bulman). Stereotypes performed a number of distinct, if related, functions, and their societal implications were not always negative.
What emerges from the evidence provided by the studies in this volume is that stereotypes were not monolithic signs of prejudice but instead had a variety of heuristic functions in the religious, political, social, economic and epistemic spheres. Stereotypes provided frames for discovering abuses and thereby offered a rallying point for participatory politics (see Yamamoto and Lake, Chapters 3 and 4). In addition, national and religious stereotypes profoundly shaped the construction of individual identity (as shown in Chapter 9 by Bridget Orr), and also the production of knowledge about non-Christian faiths (as demonstrated by Bulman in Chapter 10).
Underlying these various uses of stereotypes is the question of agency, a topic which has been most fully explored by Kate Peters and Adam Morton in their discussion of responses to stereotyping (Chapters 5 and 6). Through Peters’s case study of Ranters and Quakers, we have learned about the remarkably wide range of coping strategies in response to the threat of being stereotyped, such as mounting coordinated responses, demanding concrete proof, avoiding stereotyped behaviours and challenging stereotypes in face-to-face debates. These are historical examples that could be readily compared to the strategies deployed today by Muslim women in Scotland or young Black youth living in the favelas of Brazil.8 As in Morton’s discussion, even Sir Roger L’Estrange’s appeal to his readers’ reason and impartiality was an integral part of his polemics against the nascent Whig party intent upon excluding the Catholic heir from the English throne. As Harris has noted in Chapter 1, counter-stereotyping has a long pedigree. Results of modern fieldworks suggest that counter-stereotyping continues to this day, fuelling the responses of contemporary actors dealing with issues as diverse as urban marginalisation and contradictory stigmatised identities.9
Substantive findings from these studies are threefold. First, they show the linkage between the symbolic content of stereotypes and their social realisation. Thus when specific notions are invoked in polemic contexts, their symbolic content is activated to galvanise support and denigrate enemies (see Chapters 1, 5 and 6 by Harris, Peters and Morton). It is in the context of highly charged religious and political debates that we find appeals to readers’ reason and impartial judgement. If readers were to use their reason as expected, they would be taking a clear side, say in the battle against the succession of the Catholic James II. The symbolic appeal to reason is not a matter of precise or imprecise cognition, but instead is deeply connected to argumentative and polemical intergroup interactions that betray their own political, socially purposive reason.
Second, stereotypes do not easily go away because even those denying and contesting particular stereotypes use them, often drawing on the same and/or other stereotypes. Once activated, stereotypes become ideas circulating and used in the public sphere, as reservoirs of meaning that can be mobilised to produce an effect that is not only psychological but also social and political. Thus, and significantly, the effort to contest stereotypes and even bring them under control did not cause stereotyping to cease. Instead, Chapters 6 and 1 by Morton and Harris show that contestation over stereotypes often accelerated, rather than attenuated, the circulation of related stereotypes, which accounts for their resilience and continuous endurance in minds and society.
Third, and linked to the above, the collective engagement with stereotypes did not lead to their reduction because of their multiple heuristic functions. Stereotypes were deployed to incite laughter and displace anxiety, but they could also be taken up and turned around to facilitate political judgement, promote civil political participation and even escalate conflicts. These findings take us back to what makes stereotypes a plural, polyphasic and contested cognitive form, expressive of the flexibility and openness of the human cognitive toolkit, and of their vital role in the social and political life of given communities. Stereotypes are representations integral to the dynamics of social life and contestations over power and knowledge, which explains why they do not easily go away.10
Implications for social psychology and sociology
The studied attention to historical instantiations of stereotyping as a relational and dynamic process recasts and expands psychologists’ understanding of stereotypes in substantive ways. First, it debunks the standard assumption that stereotypes are a direct pathway to prejudice, a shortcut deviating from rational and precise social thinking, an excessive generalisation or, as Gordon Allport originally put it in 1954, ‘an exaggerated belief associated with a category’.11 These findings combine to show that stereotypes are not just perceptions gone amiss, but rather a relational process of sense-making and meaning development through which social actors act purposefully in social fields. Seen as a battle over representations, there is nothing of the ‘cognitive miser’ in either historical or contemporary practices of stereotyping.12 These socio-cognitive practices are integral to processes of social representation, condensing and by the same token expanding social categories, symbolically creating and transforming people, relations and objects in time and context.13 This volume has documented the remarkable extent to which early modern men and women, far from being irrational, were capable of mobilising stereotypes and disputing their validity in a variety of contexts. This not only debunks commonly held assumptions (among social scientists) that social thinking in pre-modern Europe was riddled by irrational and homogeneous beliefs that went uncontested, but also contributes to a reappraisal of the elements of agency and mobilisation that pertain to the dynamics of stereotyping in other historical periods.14
An exploration of the wide variety of mobilisation strategies, as well as the broad consequences that follow such mobilisations, emphasises the social mode of the realisation of stereotypes and lends support to long-standing arguments that sought to decouple stereotyping from the inevitability of prejudice.15 Most psychology research on categorisation, stereotypes and prejudice assumed that if stereotyping is integral to categorisation and all stereotyping is prejudiced, then human thinking is by definition prejudiced and therefore misguided and deficient. The evidence presented here unsettles such direct and linear equalisations and the reduction of stereotypes to prejudice. It points instead to a variety of functions stereotypes fulfil in social life, corroborating understandings that emphasise the view of stereotypes as rhetorical, polyphasic and argumentative representations, dependent on the concrete uses to which they are put.16
Of course, it would be both incorrect and politically undesirable to deny that stereotypes can lead to prejudice towards out-groups and create falseness in representing people and events. But if we want to understand why this type of symbolic content was and still is produced, then it is vital that we unpack its underlying societal processes rather than relying on a reductive psychological approach that naturalises deficit and irrationality in human cognition. Seen as only prejudice, the cognitive, social and historical dynamics of stereotypes are reduced to a deficit, which trickles all the way backwards to the understanding of social thinking itself and exonerates social psychologists from the more arduous task of investigating stereotypes as they are embedded in social and historical contexts.
A second key contribution of this volume is to demonstrate the futility of trying to eradicate stereotypes. Instead, the essays collectively show the importance of understanding how and why they come about and documenting in detail how they present in a different era, so that this knowledge can also inform the present. This careful historiography shows that stereotypes are better understood as symbolic and social processes collectively mobilised and negotiated. Such collective capacity to engage with stereotypes hardly freed actors (and society) from stereotyping. Rather, efforts to cope with stereotypes (say, of popery or urban degeneration) paradoxically ensured greater currency for the very same stereotype and/or ended in circulating another set of stereotypical representations (e.g. of those ignorant country gentlemen who hated the urban vices rampant in London to such a point that it became comic). These early modern case studies reveal the profound difficulties that society encounters when seeking to control, contain or eradicate stereotypes. This is not surprising given the centrality of stereotypes to human thinking, society and culture. In his classic work on the topic, Henri Tajfel suggested that stereotypes lie at the centre of common sense, everyday knowledge and understanding.17 For Serge Moscovici, they are a function of social representations and equally central to the symbolic environments humans construct to organise and make sense of the world, events and people.18 Because they are extended from the mind and body into practices of communication and intergroup relations, they are embedded in both micro-scale contestations of power and macro-processes of institutional and historical development.
The historical analysis presented in this volume enables us to highlight important social psychological insights that continue to be elusive to many strands of social psychology and more broadly social science research. The first is that stereotypes are cultural and symbolic tools circulating in the social world; they live and grow in the interactions between minds, anchored and objectified in narratives, artefacts and social practice. Once produced, they become available as relatively stable templates of signification (stereo+types) that permeate social fields carried by a diversity of cultural and commercial media; these, however, make them susceptible to the dynamics of representational change.19 Thus, very often combating particular stereotypes – whether intentionally or unintentionally – leads to the production and mobilisation of the same or other stereotypes, which entangles relative stability in social change. Even if modern political activists combat one stereotype and its adverse impacts – say, those about immigrants or religious minorities – the very same effort might reinforce other stereotypes (about bigotry and homophobia) and in the process reinforce the stereotype of (say) working-class people as ill-educated consumers of biased news. As symbolic tools and relational practices, stereotypes pertain to a collective dynamic that goes beyond individual minds. They circulate in social worlds to be used, contested and transformed by everyone and everywhere.
Also worth highlighting is that stereotypes express our human, all-too-human emotions, interests and passions. The social science literature – relating to ill-health, disability, race and stigma – often discusses how to cope with and ultimately reduce stereotypes.20 However, as resources for sense-making, stereotypes are guided by emotional and social motivations, as documented throughout this volume. They draw on reasons of which accuracy in cognition is but one and not always the most important. Negative motivations are part of human psychology and a permanent possibility inscribed both in our development and our modalities of relating to each other. The complete eradication of stereotypes, and even prejudice, is more desire than factual possibility.21
Since stereotyping has been studied nevertheless as the opposite of reasoned cognition, it is not unfair to ask whether this was psychology’s attempt to accomplish the project of modernity. (Here, Steven Pinker’s work serves as an exemplary demonstration of psychology’s infatuation with the modern dream of a pure and cold cognition.)22 Much psychology saw the ‘education of reason’ just as modernity did: a journey towards a cognition free of irrationality, the distortions, prejudices and ‘religious superstitions’ that were supposedly typical of the pre-modern world.23 In this project, the role of psychologists would be to detect and diagnose residual errors so that the world becomes a better place. However, psychology itself has demonstrated that reason has never quite managed to free itself from the embodied and emotional mind homo sapiens evolved or from the social, cultural and historical contexts in which this mind is always already located.24
Finally, an important third expansion suggested by the essays in this volume is the theoretical contribution to the dynamics of intergroup relations that will be of interest to social scientists, especially sociologists and social psychologists. Most works in social psychology discuss how stereotypes help dominant ‘in-groups’ to forge their group identity by creating stereotypes of lesser ‘out-groups’. Early modern case studies enable us to broaden our perspective through careful documentation of how stereotyping divided, as much as united, communities. This is most clearly seen in the case of religious stereotypes such as anti-puritanism and anti-popery. Anti-popery could be used by insurgent minorities to assault and change the structures of power in church and state. Crucially, those accused of popery could also return the accusation, denouncing those minorities to be acting on popish principles. The same might also be said to be true of anti-puritanism because, in the hands of the defenders of the ecclesiastical status quo, it enabled them to defend the current power structure and their own places within it, while more locally it enabled subordinate groups to critique and ridicule those puritan elites who had seized local power and were using it to impose various types of further reformation.
Stereotyping has played a vital role not only in areas such as religious disputes and political crises, but also in the pursuit of enlightened knowledge and natural philosophy. Not only do stereotypes reflect cultural assumptions, but also they actively shape culture, condition political conduct and influence debates and the course of events. In this sense, they offer a set of shared references that operate as social representations building common ground.25 How exactly this common ground was used depended on the dynamics of the immediate situation; on who was doing what to whom, and why. The mobilisation of stereotypes was then, as now, a rich and dynamic relational process in which both tactical actions and emotive experiences were at stake. Such processes of stereotyping and ensuing contestation have the power to draw and redraw the boundaries between ‘us’ and ‘them’, creating, dividing and re-creating communities. The historical evidence on the ways in which all social groups use stereotyping to divide as well as unite communities unsettles conceptions of neat and clear-cut boundaries between in-groups and out-groups as well as the assumed homogeneity of any one in-group.
This is a question that lies at the core of social psychological investigation, but which has only partially been addressed in the classical literature on stereotypes. As Michael Billig rightly observes, Tajfel’s theory of intergroup relations was above all a theory of group freedom because at its centre we can find an examination of the pathways through which social groups construct and escape social identities, using agency to resist and transform negative representations held by others.26 Arguably, social creativity in the reconstruction of stereotypes and prejudiced representations was perhaps more important for Tajfel than conforming to the in-group and adjusting one’s own identity accordingly, which is not entirely surprising in a man who survived the horrors of the Second World War. Stereotypes are not just cognitive generalisations of out-groups, but contain in themselves powerful particularisations of subgroups within the in-group.27 Research in social psychology today has robustly corroborated these insights, showing how identity negotiations appropriate and subvert stereotypical representations so as to reposition groups and individuals in social fields.28 This can be seen for example in the ways young Muslim Scottish women use stereotypes of the veil to redefine not only what the veil itself is but also who they are, appropriating representations built by out-groups to recast their Muslim identity and to project what they want to be in the public sphere.29 Manipulating stereotypes creatively can serve the purposes of those being stereotyped and, through the subtle appropriation of representations of others, redefine power imbalances and misrecognised identities.30 Here, stereotypes are meaningful symbolic constructions, devices for sense-making and regulating both the presentation and social representation of selves in everyday life and contested political arenas, as Erving Goffman once studied.31 Early modern historical actors did not simply lump together a group of people around a homogeneous group signifier but used stereotypes as reservoirs of meaning to be deployed within and across social groups. Just as it was with our early modern predecessors, human communities today continue to draw on particular stereotypes in order to redefine and creatively transform them.
By documenting practices of stereotyping and studying their repercussions, we are invited to reappraise both the surprising human agency over particular stereotypes, and simultaneously the disturbing resilience of stereotyping as a mode of human interaction across centuries. This is what this volume has tentatively called the dialectics of stereotyping. Documented here in detail are individual and collective efforts to control stereotypes – by asking for concrete proof, disputing the validity of what was being attributed to them, contesting the validity of stereotypes and more. Yet in this agentic process of resistance and contestation early modern men and women often found themselves mobilising and reproducing stereotypes themselves, thereby perpetuating practices of stereotyping as modes of divisive social interaction. As the debates over Brexit and the 2016 elections in the United States have shown in the early twenty-first century, we have scarcely been able to overcome the trap of this dialectical process. Future studies of stereotyping in past and present societies can now take this work as a point of departure and start raising new questions.
We would like to end the volume by reflecting on implications for civil societies on both sides of the Atlantic and in Eurasia. Contributions to this volume do point to the sheer difficulty of eradicating stereotyping itself. These implications, we suggest, are not trivial. In the politics of the present, the politics of stereotyping has been pursued in all directions and can easily get out of control. Many forms of gender-, race- and age-based stereotype are being developed and deployed today as prejudice to stigmatise and discriminate against, not merely bodies of opinion, attitudes or policies, but social groups who are identified as the main carriers or supporters of those opinions, attitudes and policies. As attempts to understand, explain or act upon reality, these twenty-first-century stereotypes display disturbing similarities to the politics of stereotyping found in early modern case studies.
Unless we choose to learn from history and try to think and act differently, it seems that political debates today risk becoming (as they did in the early modern past) a peculiarly vicious form of identity politics played out on highly commercialised platforms, driven by a series of claims and counter-claims about whose stereotypes are true and whose false, whose are malign and whose benign. Given the contemporary format of the virtual public sphere, it may be the case that the dialectics of stereotyping identified in early modern England have set in with a vengeance. The growth of the participatory Web 2.0 and new media signals a new psychology in the contemporary public sphere, where connectivity and interconnectedness have become widespread and individuals and organised communities hold a new freedom to produce and distribute content. This unbounded and hyper-connected public space has also become more fragmented, lonely and paradoxically homogeneous. As the recent term ‘echo chamber’ reminds us, the new self-centred controls of the networked public sphere are conducive to rigidifying the boundaries of in-groups while at the same time decreasing the exchanges and exposure to different opinions that enable differences to be negotiated and overcome.32 The speed and immediacy of online communications, facilitated by powerful corporations with as-yet under-regulated global influence – Google, Facebook, Twitter and Tik Tok among others – make the politics of stereotyping particularly acute and the possibility of containing and controlling its prejudiced forms much more elusive than previously expected.
While the significance of modern technologies cannot be overplayed, the dangers of repeating and accelerating a divisive politics of stereotyping are also to be found at the very core of our human psychology and social relations. The work reported here shows that stereotypes can be more than prejudice and discriminatory cognition; and that they endure and persist in our public spheres. Working through what they mean and learning from the past is essential for avoiding what has been frequently described as the ‘return of the repressed’, a resurgence of those darker, divisive, prejudiced motivations that do not go away and remain with us as a past that does not pass, a compulsion to repeat. Only a wiser, wider and dialogical rationality will be able to treat these undercurrents as part of itself. If anything, the capacity of rational individuals or society to contain and control the other side of reason relies on a more nuanced and historical understanding of the stereotyping process and a commitment to just and inclusive public spheres. Like democracy, the reduction and management of negative stereotypes seems to be one of the unfinished projects of our time. This requires expanded theory and proper understanding of the collective mobilisations that make and unmake all stereotyping, including prejudiced ones. Anyone committed to such a project has much to learn from the past.