SIETAR Japan Newsletter. Fall 2006. (p. 11-13).
March 3, 2006
Minoria-Majoria - Revisiting an Old Simulation
Presenters: Clyde Lewis and Tomoko Yoshida
In what ways do power differentials foster feelings of prejudice?
How can bigotry be reduced? These issues were explored through a simulation developed by Robert Kohls and John Knight known as Minoria-Majoria.
Like many cross-cultural simulations, it has four phases: (1) an introduction, (2) intra-group orientation, (3) inter-group interaction, and (4) a debriefing-reflection. This report briefly outlines each phase, then some participant reactions, and finally some classroom adaptations of this activity.
Participants received an overview of the famous Robber's Cave Experiment (Sherif, et al, 1961). The main point was that inter-group conflict could be reduced by cooperating on common goals. To reduce expectancy effects, little information about Minoria-Majoria was given at this point. The overall time schedule was mentioned, along with a brief historical note about the simulation.
(2) Intra-group orientation
Participants were then divided into two groups, meeting in separate rooms for about thirty minutes. Each group received a sheet of guidelines representing the norms of their culture. Based on those guidelines, participants had to figure out how to interact later with members of the other group.
The Minoria group members were instructed to revere a set of core values that included ethnic pride, personal integrity, preference for group consensus, and desire for self-sufficiency. By contrast, the Majoria group members were told to emulate a naïve sense of superiority based on their financial wealth and sophisticated technology. They were also exhorted to manifest a seemingly missionary compulsion to "help" cultures they deemed less fortunate.
Like many cross-cultural simulations, these two cultures were diametrically constructed to provide ample opportunities for conflict.
Had both groups adhered to their roles inflexibly, a piquant flambé would have ensued.
(3) Inter-group interaction
At this stage participants were instructed to interact with each other. When this simulation is used with undergraduate students, bewilderment and frustration are common. Visitors from Majoria often feel perplexed by the lack of trust Minorians exhibit. By contrast, Minorians often resent having to interact with outsiders ignorant of their cultural norms. Though this did not happen in this particular interaction, it was soon apparent there were deep gaps between both groups. A basic choice participants faced was whether to interact tightly in their original roles or not. Many Majorians seemed to switch almost unconsciously from techno-missionaries to cautious ethnographers. After being asked to leave Minoria following a hesitant first visit, Majorians were reinvited back a dozen minutes later. It soon became evident Minoria was not a monoculture. Whereas some Minorians had little desire to mingle with outsiders, others were curious to learn about 'foreign' ways of life.
At the end of this phase, three monuments to Minoria culture were constructed. Majorians offered various resources to help build the artifacts, but in the end the Minorians chose their own materials, with Majorians simply observing the process.
After thirty minutes or so, a short debriefing session was held. The classic simulation questions were raised: "What did it feel like to be in X-culture?" and "How did you perceive Y-culture?" Varied responses were noted and possible adaptations of this simulation were discussed. Some participants expressed ambivalence about the name "Minoria-Majoria". The facilitators wrote down participant comments on a whiteboard without exegesis. Though a handful of persons from each culture were vocal, many preferred to be quiet and simply observe. Before we knew it, time was up. A list of video resources for teaching about racism and discrimination was distributed at the end of this simulation.
(5) Participant reactions
There were diverse reactions to this simulation. As a participant in the Majoria group, I felt two reactions: (1) a desire for more ownership in formulating the mission of my culture, and (2) a desire for more time to carry that mission out. Each will be briefly addressed.
In this simulation, the mission of each culture was invisibly preordained: participants received sheets of paper telling them what to believe and what to do the moment their intra-group orientation began. The chance to rescript imperatives or modify the mission seemed limited.
"since the 'Majoria Manifesto' espoused pure altruism, a crucial element of credibility seemed lacking."
The missions for both cultures were eloquently surreal, impossibly simplistic, and admirably Kafkaesque. In the Majoria culture, for instance, participants were exhorted to share their technological prowess for entirely altruistic motives. Though expansionistic missions are often sugared with altruistic rhetoric, Johnson (2005) suggests that economic imperatives are at the root of avowedly benign foreign excursions. In short, it is questionable whether solely unselfish human behavior exists, particularly at the macro-organizational level. What unstated reason did Majoria have for dispatching volunteers overseas? Had it been to colonize the local population, prop up a specific regime, obtain petroleum, or win religious converts, the simulation would have seemed plausible. However, since the 'Majoria Manifesto' espoused pure altruism, a crucial element of credibility seemed lacking. In short, it was hard to feel a sense of ownership for a mission I couldn't imagine actually occurring.
A second concern was about time. The Robbers Cave experiment, cited earlier, took three weeks to progress through. We had less than 30 minutes of inter-group engagement. Though the respective groups were beginning to understand the rudiments of how their respective cultures functioned, human bonding seems to take more time than intellectual understanding. To reach any significant degree of mutual respect or understanding, ample time is required. A problem inherent with many simulations is that a consequence of shaving time so closely, what sometimes results is a sort of simulacra of rapport and watered-down, ersatz consensus.
(6) Participant reactions
Three variations of this simulation that might be useful for university-level contexts will be mentioned.
(i) A two-session scenario
Instead of attempting to do the whole simulation in one 90-minute class, some facilitators might consider stretching it over two classes. I would suggest that the introduction and intra-group orientation be conducted during the first class. After introducing the theme of the simulation to the class as a whole, half of the class could watch a movie 40-minute segment of a film about racism or prejudice in one room, while the other half met in a different room with the teacher-facilitator to hammer out what the rules of that culture were. After forty minutes or so, the groups could be switched. In the remaining class time, the teacher should outline the schedule for the next class and emphasize that students from the different groups not discuss their group rules with out-group members until Phase 4 in the next class.
"A problem inherent with many simulations is that a consequence of shaving time so closely, what sometimes results is a
sort of simulacra of rapport and watered-down, ersatz consensus."
The inter-group interaction and debriefing could take place in the next class. Students who were absent during the previous class would automatically be placed in a group of non-interactive observers. This formula would allow nearly 60 minutes for inter-group interaction and about 30 minutes for final debriefing. I've used this formula several times with various simulations successfully, but found it necessary to allow participants with marginal English ability to use their native tongues.
(ii) Increasing "ownership" in the activity
Instead of having all aspects of a culture determined in advance, student participation might be enhanced by giving them a voice in shaping the rules of their own culture. With this view in mind, I've suggested that students formulate about half a dozen rules of their culture based on the questions listed in Table 1 during Phase 2 of the simulation. The specific questions can be changed from simulation to simulation, but it seems that more than six questions would be hard to cover in 40 minutes. Students also need to remember what the rules of their pseudo-culture are until the next class, so creating more than six rules can place an unnecessary memory burden on the participants.
Table 1. Questions enabling participants to define some simplified guidelines
for their pseudo-cultures in a cross-cultural simulation
Having participants decide their own cultural rules will not make their cultures free of incongruity or contradiction,
but at least people will be more apt to "own" what's happening to them. My experience is that participants will also be more involved
in the discussion if they had a voice in shaping the simulation.
- What do you want to name your culture? (Decide on a name for your group.)
- How should people greet each other? (Create a unique greeting
with at least one gesture and two words for your group.)
- What do you value most in your culture? (Decide one abstract value and
at least one concrete way it should be expressed.)
- How do you regard people from other cultures? (What for you think of
outsiders? Do you view as them as equals, inferiors, or simply strange?)
- Who has the most status in your culture? (Choose a concrete object such as
long hair, silver jewelry, eyeglasses, etc. to determine status in your group.)
- What's taboo in your culture? (Select any two things that are okay in Japanese
society, but not your group.)
- What punishment, if any, should there be for breaking a taboo? (Decide what
should happen to those who violate any rule mentioned in #5.)
(iii) Obtaining systematic feedback
Not all participants feel comfortable expressing feedback vocally during most simulations. To get some idea of what participants are actually thinking about a simulation, I believe a short questionnaire should be completed. Newfields (2001, p. 129) provides an example of a written questionnaire that can be used with college students.
To encourage all participants to process the material more deeply, facilitators might also want to ask them to write about the experiences. Questions might include "What did this simulation mean to you?" or "What does this simulation suggest about prejudice?" Sometimes participants who hesitate to speak will nonetheless express opinions in writing.
"The paradox of simulations is that they seek to represent some facet of social reality by employing unreal conditions."
The Minoria-Majoria raises a number of fascinating questions about how simulations can (or can not) heighten awareness about cross-cultural issues. One final point worth considering is the difference between role-plays, simulations, and discussions. Yoshida noted that Japanese university students were often unable to discuss issues such prejudice or discrimination since many had limited cross-cultural experiences. The Minoria-Majoria simulation was designed to get participants to experience what discrimination and rejection felt like first-hand. It deals with raw emotions and sometimes not all participants are able to handle the ensuing anger or frustration effectively.
Shirts (1975) maintains that simulations should have a higher degree of abstraction than role-plays. Whereas role-plays are often based on real life situations, Shirts suggests that simulations should avoid adhering too closely to real life situations or being "straight-jacketed by reality". At the same time, it seems that the human motives behind any simulation should seem plausible.
The paradox of simulations is that they seek to represent some facet of social reality by employing unreal conditions. This simulacrum works best if participants are able to feel engaged in the inter-group interaction phase of the activity, then disassociate from their roles in the final phase. Not all participants can switch roles easily. In this sense, simulations are a good way to stimulate lateral thinking because they require participants to process information in different ways.
- Reviewed by T Newfields
Johnson, C. (2005). The sorrows of empire: Militarism, secrecy, and the end of the republic.
New York: Henry Holt & Company.
Kohls, R. L., Knight, J. M. (1994). Developing intercultural awareness. 2nd Edition.
Boston, MA: Intercultural Press.
Newfields, T. (2001, December). The NaZa NaZa Cross-Cultural Simulation: Appendix 4.
Journal of Nanzan Junior College, 29, 107 - 129. Available online at:
http://www.tnewfields.info/Articles/nazaAp4.htm. [24 March 2006].
Sherif, M., Harvey, O. J., White, B. J., Hood, W. R., and Sherif, C. W. (1961).
Intergroup conflict and cooperation: The robbers cave experiment. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.
Shirts, R. G. (1975). Ten 'mistakes' commonly made by persons designing educational simulations and games.
Available online at: http://www.stsintl.com/articles/ten_mistakes.html. [22 March 2006].
Weseiis, M. (n.d.). Robber's cave experiment. London: Peace Pledge Union.
Available online at http://www.ppu.org.uk/learn/peaceed/pe_robbers_cave.html. [22 March 2006].
Copyright (c) 2006 by Tim Newfields