A Short Note on Scapegoat Theory/ Scapegoating and Examples

Scapegoating is a social and psychological process by which one shift blame on others, who he may find vulnerable, for his/her problems, failures, misdeeds.

The origin of this theory can be found with reference to the bible where the ‘goat’ – an animal- is burdened with all the sins of the human race and is punished for these sins. It was found that the goat was burdened with the sins of the people of Israel. The goat is used as an escape from one’s own situation and the consequences that follow.

Scapegoating helps in maintaining a positive self-image while creating a feeling of prejudice and negative attitudes towards the group or person that is being scapegoated. By placing blame on other people are able to avoid facing their own weaknesses.

Scapegoating may be one on one, most commonly seen among children. They use this as a method to shift blame to avoid the punishment that may follow, can be done

in the case of something as simple as breaking a vase and blaming it on their siblings. However, scapegoating is usually found among groups and forms one of the major causes of intergroup conflict. People may blame the others and show hostility towards them leading to tensions among groups. We often find that scapegoating finds a basis in one’s socioeconomic standing.

E.g. in the United States in the period post Affirmative Action, government initiatives availed jobs to the black and gave them better educational opportunities due to their prevailing socio-economic conditions and exploitation, however during this period we find that the whites have blamed the blacks for ‘stealing’ their jobs. Here we find that the anger and frustration that was directed towards the government was being taken out on the other group leading to discrimination towards that particular group.

From this we can also notice another characteristic is that there are times when the anger and frustration are towards the person who has higher authority, thus cannot be opposed. In such a situation a person usually uses a scapegoat lesser to them in power. Thus a weaker group or person. This ensures that the scapegoated cannot respond to the blame or person by opposing them or by fighting back, rather, is likely to just simply take the blame.

We see ‘displacement’ and ‘projection’ consistent with the scapegoat theory. These are defense mechanisms that are given by Sigmund Freud. The former is observed when the feelings of anger and frustration are taken out on objects or persons less threatening. As in the case of the United States mentioned above. To look at the most simple example we can see one from our daily lives when after a bad day at work the frustration towards the boss will be taken out on the family members.  Projection is also found in incidents of scapegoating, through this we are able to take our own unacceptable feelings and qualities and ascribe them to others. The most simple example is again one from our life, we may not like someone and instead of accepting that we do not like them.

By using scapegoating we are able to escape the negative feelings we have simply by advocating them on others.





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Aishani Menon, a sociologist, communicates her thoughts through words. She values learning, seeing it as the catalyst for growth, and believes that the best writing stems from continuous knowledge