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Project 5.5. Shared Values as a Means to Resolve Identity Conflicts


Aim of the project

To investigate whether and how abstract values – that are more likely to be shared than concrete ways of enacting them – can serve to resolve identity conflicts between groups in order to secure sustainable cooperation. 

Theoretical background

Justice and respect provide the foundation of liberal democracies. Thus, a liberal society is a fair system of cooperation that is tolerant regarding different identities(Rawls 1971). However, differences between group identities can create animosity and undermine cooperation. Hence, diversity can pose a threat both to respect and justice. Whereas it is often assumed that the state should resolve this threat, ordinary citizens are responsible for this as well (Cohen 1997). The current project examines these responsibilities as well as the role that values can play in meeting them in order to create and maintain toleration and justice between and within diverse groups.  

                  Finding common ground in the face of diversity is a pressing and challenging issue because diversity can give rise to conflict. Group norms are often celebrated and emphasized as a way to establish and protect a distinct group identity. Adherence to characteristic practices is then seen as a sign of group loyalty that tests and reveals the individual’s ‘true identity’. Yet it also makes it more difficult to connect different communities. Attempts to resolve value conflicts between groups as well as tensions experienced by individuals with dual identities may be thwarted by insisting that diverging practices must indicate incompatible underlying values. In such situations, emphasizing overarching shared values may be conducive to sustainable cooperation, while focusing on differences in enacting those values may be counterproductive. 

Thus, the current project examines (1) which responsibilities people have in treating those with other identities in a respectful and fair manner and (2) whether and how values can facilitate this by resolving intergroup conflicts, enhancing intergroup cooperation, and thereby contributing to a sustainable society. In doing so, it takes into account the comparative strength of people’s values (Schwartz 1992), and the impact of situational factors that make such values salient (Keizer, Lindenberg and Steg 2008). 

Research design

The project provides a philosophical analysis of the moral responsibilities that citizens with different identities have for promoting a just and tolerant society and investigates the roles that abstract values can play in achieving this. It features experimental studies to examine how conflicts between norms affect cooperative behaviour among different groups, and to test how shared values can serve to enhance sustainable cooperation across groups and through time.


Cohen, G. A. (1997). Where the Action Is: On the Site of Distributive Justice. Philosophy Public Affairs26(1), 3–30.

Hindriks, F. (2012)Team Reasoning and Group Identification’, Rationality and Society 24: 198-220.

Keizer K., Lindenberg S., Steg L. (2008) The Spreading of Disorder. Science 322: 1681–1685. 

Rawls, J. (1971) A Theory of Justice. Harvard University Press. 

Schwartz, S.H. (1992) ‘Universals in the Content and Structure of Values: Theory and Empirical Tests in 20 Countries’, in: M. Zanna (ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (pp. 89-211). Hillsdale, NJ: Academic Press.

Project initiators

Frank Hindriks, Linda Steg


Groningen University


Philosophy, Psychology

How to Apply

For background information on this vacancy and further instructions, click here (portal opens June 1).

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