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Title: Teaching Tolerance? Associational Diversity and Tolerance Formation

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POLITICAL STUDIES: 2015 VOL 63, 1031–1051
doi: 10.1111/1467-9248.12142

Teaching Tolerance? Associational Diversity and
Tolerance Formation
Carolin Rapp and Markus Freitag
University of Bern
Tolerance is a basic democratic principle that helps civil societies cope with rising levels of diversity stemming from
increased immigration and individualism. During the last decade the question of how tolerance may be fostered has
dominated debates in public and academic spheres. In this article, a closer look is taken at how associational diversity
relates to the formation of tolerance and the importance of associations as schools of tolerance are evaluated. The
main theoretical argument follows contact theory, wherein regular and enduring contact in diverse settings reduces
prejudice and thereby increases an individual’s tolerance toward objectionable groups. The empirical findings reveal
a positive relationship between associational diversity and tolerance. It is observed, however, that the duration of
active engagement in associations reduces this positive relation between diversity and tolerance. Accordingly, these
results challenge the notion that associations serve as schools of tolerance in the long run.

Keywords: tolerance; social networks; associational diversity; contact theory; Switzerland
Although the principle of tolerance dates back to the Enlightment era when diverging
religious views demanded toleration (Locke, 1996), it has only recently received increased
attention in the public sphere across modern civil societies. This new ‘call for tolerance’ is
based on emerging diversities within countries resulting from rising levels of immigration,
individualism and value changes (Flanagan and Lee, 2003; Inglehart and Baker, 2000). As
a result, these diverging lifestyles and beliefs generate an increased perception of threat to
civil society as they often lead to societal conflicts in the form of racism or limitation of
civil liberties. The necessity for tolerance in making civil society work is underlined by
these societal conflicts as tolerance is a means to cope with conflicting views and attitudes.
The main question is how is tolerance created?
Research on the origins of tolerance has shown that it is mainly fostered by mechanisms
that reduce individual threat perceptions through a learning process (Gibson, 1992; Gibson
and Gouws, 2000; Hooghe and Quintelier, 2013; Kirchner et al., 2011; Semyonov et al.,
2004; Sullivan et al., 1993). Tolerance is the reaction to an individually perceived threat
that is largely independent from the magnitude of the threat (Iglic, 2010, p. 718): ‘[P]eople
learn to react to social and political diversity, competition, and conflict within specific
social contexts in either a tolerant or intolerant way.’ Such interaction mainly occurs within
substructures like workplaces, schools, neighborhoods, circles of friends or civil society
organizations in which individuals are embedded. As people spend most of their everyday
lives within such substructures, they are where social encounters take place and relationships are formed (Cigler and Joslyn, 2002; Côté and Erickson, 2009; Ikeda and Richey,
2009; Mutz, 2002; Wagner et al., 2006).
We place associational networks at the center of our analysis of tolerance formation.
Our hypothesis states that associational networks contribute to the development of
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CAROLIN RAPP AND MARKUS FREITAG

tolerance. We argue that active involvement in volunteer associations positively relates to
tolerance, whereby this effect is enhanced by memberships in diverse and heterogeneous
associations. Referring to Gordon Allport’s (1954) contact hypothesis, we presume that
associational networks exhibit a positive effect on tolerance as they allow for regular and
enduring inter-group contacts in non-hierarchical situations (Rydgren and Sofi, 2011).
This kind of social interaction helps to diminish prejudice and anxiety toward objectionable groups through learning about diverse perspectives, ideas and lifestyles and through
encouraging perspective-taking.
Using a new dataset on social integration in Swiss municipalities, this article contributes
to the extant literature in three important ways. First, our conceptualization and measurement of tolerance follows its philosophical origins. Against the common public understanding of tolerance as a purely positive concept referring to respect, acceptance and
appreciation, we draw on the revisionist view which states that tolerance is the willingness
to ‘put up with’ objectionable ideas and groups (Mutz, 2002; Sniderman et al., 1989). In
this vein, we follow the most prominent insights by John Sullivan et al. (1993) as well as
James Gibson (1992; 2006) that tolerance is a sequential concept comprising both a rejection
and an acceptance component (Forst, 2003; Mondak and Sanders, 2003; Scanlon, 2003).
This definition allows us to differentiate tolerance and intolerance from neutrality or
indifference as the latter two principles do not contain the necessary condition of opposition (Forst, 2003; Sullivan et al., 1993).
Second, we take advantage of the detailed questions on associational life in our survey
to explore the relationship between active involvement in voluntary organizations and
pro-social attitudes. In particular, by focusing on the effect of associational diversity on
tolerance formation we enhance the existing literature on civic engagement and tolerance.
Previous works by Allan Cigler and Mark Joslyn (2002) and Rochelle Côté and Bonnie
Erickson (2009) only analyzed the effects of simple and multiple associational memberships
on tolerance formation. Multiple membership was interpreted as a proxy for contact with
diverse others. Moreover, most prior studies in this field (e.g. Hooghe and Quintelier,
2013; Iglic, 2010) focus on the effect of different kinds of association – that is, bridging
versus bonding associations – without considering the actual degree of diversity within
these associations. Although Côté and Erickson (2009) take a more nuanced approach by
examining network diversity based on the number of working-class and middle-class
contacts an individual has, they fail to include other diversity measures within associations.
We take a broader approach in measuring diversity within associations based on the
subjectively perceived composition of an association according to the cultural, socioeconomic and political attributes of its members.
And finally, we are able to disentangle a possible socialization effect from a pure
self-selection process for individuals preferring diverse associations given their present level
of tolerance by evaluating the hitherto neglected dimension of duration of associational
membership. In this regard our analyses demonstrate that associational diversity relates
positively to tolerance in the first place. We nevertheless observe that the duration of active
engagement in an association reduces this positive relationship between diversity and
tolerance. Against this background, our results challenge the notion that associations serve
as schools of tolerance in the long run. These findings contribute to the literature on
© 2014 The Authors. Political Studies © 2014 Political Studies Association
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1033

tolerance and to the broader literature on the effects of associational life on civicmindedness, as well as the ongoing discussion about the ‘dark side’ of social capital (e.g.
Van Deth and Zmerli, 2010).
The remainder of the article is structured as follows. The conceptualization and measurement of tolerance is outlined and the theory linking active associational membership to the
formation of tolerance is presented. There is then an elaboration of the methodology used
to subject our main hypothesis to systematic empirical testing before the most important
findings are summarized and discussed. Finally, a conclusion completes the article.

The Conception of Tolerance
There are multiple ways to exercise tolerance: one may be tolerant toward groups, actions
or values. In the following, we will exclusively focus on tolerance toward objectionable
groups, which is the most common approach in existing tolerance research (Freitag and
Rapp, 2013; Gibson, 2013; Stouffer, 1955; Sullivan et al., 1993). Moreover, although the
concept of tolerance frequently appears in newspaper headlines and politicians often
underscore the need for tolerance within societies, the definition of the term is ‘in a state
of disarray’ (Ferrar, 1976, p. 63; Forst, 2003).1 This disarray is rooted in the discrepancy
between the two main tolerance interpretations in the public and academic sphere. On the
one hand, tolerance is mainly understood as a positive belief in terms of an absence of
prejudice, racism or ethnocentrism. In this sense, UNESCO declares tolerance as the
positive recognition of human rights and civil liberties (UNESCO, 1995), or even as
‘harmony in difference’. Paul Sniderman et al. (1989) refer to this approving kind of
tolerance as ‘principled tolerance’, which originates from the incorporation of democratic
principles and the application of them to all societal and political groups without any
exception.
On the other hand, and in contrast to this positive and approving view, the more
philosophical interpretation of tolerance states that it is the willingness to ‘put up with’
others who are different from oneself (e.g. Forst, 2003; Gibson, 1992; 2006; Mutz, 2001;
Stouffer, 1955; Sullivan et al., 1993) – or more precisely, ‘one is tolerant to the extent one
is prepared to extend freedoms to those whose ideas one rejects, whatever these might be’
(Mendus, 1999, p. 3; Mutz, 2001; Sullivan et al., 1979, p. 784). This definition implies that
disapproval or objection necessitate tolerance (Sullivan et al., 1993, p. 4). One can only be
tolerant if one first rejects a group and then grants them certain social and political rights
even though this group is objectionable. In this regard, tolerance is a sequential concept
(Ferrar, 1976; Sullivan et al., 1993) consisting of both a rejection component and an
acceptance component. Thomas Scanlon (2003, p. 187), for example, mentions that
‘tolerance is an attitude that is intermediate between wholehearted acceptance and
unrestrainable rejection’. More generally, this tolerance dimension incorporates accepting
the disagreeable, whereas the everyday dimension of tolerance is based on a positive belief
and approval without prior rejection.2 It is thus arguable whether this conflict-based
dimension of tolerance represents something positive (Forst, 2003; King, 1998), as a
country without any societal conflicts should be preferred to a completely tolerant society.
Moreover, and in an historical perspective, tolerance is especially concerned
withasymmetric relationships where the tolerated are in a passive position, such as serfs or
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CAROLIN RAPP AND MARKUS FREITAG

members of a marginalized religious group (see, e.g. Locke, 1996). In contemporary
pluralistic and diverse societies the aim is to achieve the more positive dimension of
tolerance in terms of celebrating difference and achieving equal rights for all members of
the polity. In realistic terms, however, tolerance as the simple acknowledgment of another’s existence seems to be more applicable to these diverse societies. Perhaps the achievement of this kind of tolerance is the first step toward a warmer conception of tolerance
(Allport, 1954).
In this article, we will follow the philosophical interpretation of tolerance as a means of
accepting the objectionable. We apply this conceptualization for two reasons. First, we are
interested in why citizens permit or do not permit societal rights to groups they disapprove
of or even oppose and not in why they approve the acceptable (Ferrar, 1976, p. 64). Today’s
true societal challenge is to tolerate even those to whom one objects. This tolerance
dimension is a means to overcome societal conflicts of increasing diversity and diverging
values. Tolerance, in this sense, is the ability to bear something potentially difficult. Second,
by including the rejection component we are further able to distinguish tolerance from
other concepts such as indifference or affirmation. Individuals not stating any objection to a
group or attitude are considered to be mostly affirmative as they do not fulfill the necessary
condition of rejection. Moreover, the opposite of tolerance is intolerance – not indifference
(Forst, 2007; Orlenius, 2008). Only those who grant full societal rights without exception to
the groups to which they object can be characterized as tolerant (Mondak and Sanders,
2003). In contrast, those advocating restrictions on societal rights are considered to be
intolerant, although they may differ in terms of the depth of their intolerance. Intolerance
becomes deeper when the respondent denies more rights to his or her objectionable group.
The degree of tolerance is most commonly constituted of the number of societal rights a
group is guaranteed, despite general objections toward them (Nevitte, 1996, p. 59).

Theory and Hypothesis Regarding the Influence of Associational
Membership on Tolerance
There is remarkable consensus around Tocqueville’s view that democratic vitality depends
on the robustness of associational activity (Freitag, 2006; Freitag et al., 2009; Putnam, 2000;
Tocqueville, 1960; Warren, 2001, p. 3). On the one hand, voluntary associations are
considered to craft cross-cutting ties and social networks that bind a society together and
link citizens to the political system and its institutions (Putnam, 2000). Additionally, such
organizations aggregate and articulate interests, provide resistance to the political center,
and frame the range and variety of competing and cooperating groups that constitute a
pluralistic democratic society (Newton, 1999).3 On the other hand, voluntary associations
are a society’s major ‘school for democracy’ fostering democratic attitudes and civic skills.
Relative to non-members, for example, members of voluntary associations are more
politically active and more informed about politics. Moreover, within such organizations
citizens learn the skills of democratic discussion and organization that foster greater support
of democratic norms in general (Almond and Verba, 1965; Stolle, 1998).
Beyond this political realm, the social capital school argues that by pooling together a
mix of social types and backgrounds associations helps citizens to bridge contacts and learn
to accept otherness, reinforcing the ‘habits of the heart’ (Putnam, 1993, p. 11). Especially
© 2014 The Authors. Political Studies © 2014 Political Studies Association
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1035

within voluntary associations, the give-and-take of face-to-face internal group interaction,
coupled with the organizational imperative for cooperative undertakings, inspires the
development of norms such as reciprocity and trust. Compromise is often called for and
the willingness to respect others’ views and affiliations becomes a social necessity within the
group (Cigler and Joslyn, 2002, p. 9).
Since the diversity of contacts may stimulate the rise of tolerance, and given that
associational membership provides an opportunity for people to encounter others with
different lifestyles, identities, interests and political views, associational engagement should
also relate to more tolerant attitudes (Iglic, 2010, p. 719). In general, ‘tolerance requires
“perspective-taking”, which is the psychological ability to understand another person’s
feelings and desires’ (Ikeda and Richey, 2009, p. 657; see also Mead, 1934). This ability to
take another’s perspective is usually developed through social interaction (Mutz, 2002;
Pettigrew, 1998). In other words, social interaction with people of conflicting viewpoints
allows us to see where the other person is coming from and increases our knowledge of
societal diversity. Perspective-taking personalizes individuals of different views, attitudes or
moral norms so that they can understand the reasoning of the opposing side (Ikeda and
Richey, 2009, p. 657). Although this sensitizing will probably not overcome the general
disagreement of both sides, it may help in forming tolerance of opposing views without
considering them to be irrational or unreasonable. Associational interaction should thus
cultivate an atmosphere of empathy. It is this open-mindedness and the learning about
diverse perspectives, ideas and lifestyles that is followed by dismantling prejudice (Allport,
1954). As a consequence, positive attitudes toward the formerly rejected group may evolve
and more intense contact may be developed among diverse group members. Encouraging
people to engage and interact with others may be necessary in order for this ‘enhanced
intercultural understanding’ to be established (Dovidio et al., 2003, p. 10). Furthermore,
Herbert McClosky and Alida Brill (1983) argue that tolerance is not innate, as the
individual capacity for rendering norms of freedom and control to objectionable groups
must be learned through social interaction. According to this ‘learning model of tolerance’
(Iglic, 2010), our first research hypothesis is formulated as follows:
H1: Individuals actively engaged in diverse and heterogeneous associations are more likely to
be tolerant toward objectionable social and political groups.

There are, however, two necessary refinements to this hypothesis. First, according to the
self-selection model it could be argued that not all actors will have the same propensity
to join heterogeneous associations. Those with more intolerant attitudes will most likely
not feel inclined to interact all too often with diverse others. Simply put, it is not clear
whether a person actively involved in diverse associations develops higher levels of
tolerance or whether more tolerant persons are more likely to be actively engaged in
these associations. In other words, individuals with tolerant attitudes self-select themselves into heterogeneous associations according to their open-minded personalities
(Hooghe and Quintelier, 2013). To disentangle these questions of endogeneity, one
might adopt a longitudinal perspective. Second, it has to be noted that certain conditions
must be fulfilled before contact between individuals can lead to diminished prejudice
and a better understanding of opposing views (Allport, 1954). To begin with, contacts
© 2014 The Authors. Political Studies © 2014 Political Studies Association
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CAROLIN RAPP AND MARKUS FREITAG

have to be symmetrical, such that interacting parties are of approximate identical status
in the encounter situation (see also Pettigrew, 1998; Rydgren and Sofi, 2011). In this
regard, social interactions within voluntary associations provide a means to promote
inter-group contact, as a fundamental principle of associations is the equal status of its
members (Immerfall, 1997, p. 150).4 Contact must be of such frequency, closeness and
duration that it has the potential to lead to meaningful relationships between individuals.
We must therefore distinguish between casual contacts and true personal relations
(Rydgren and Sofi, 2011). Thomas Pettigrew (1998) further argues that institutionalized
contact in particular, which takes place on a regular basis, offers the possibility of personal relations between individuals, independent of their ethnic, political or religious
backgrounds, and may even provide the foundation for possible friendships across diverse
groups. This indicates that more formal networks, such as civil associations, are a breeding ground for generating contact, reducing threat perceptions and, ultimately, crafting
tolerance (Côté and Erickson, 2009). The organizational setting within voluntary associations guarantees that individuals interact on a continuing and enduring basis. Formal
association involvement typically lasts a relatively long time and structures people’s
activities in a recurrent and institutionalized manner, increasing the chance that casual
contact will develop into true acquaintance contacts – a precondition to overcoming
prejudice toward diverse groupings, perspectives and values.5 In our context this means
that the longer one is exposed to the opinions of others, the more one learns to become
more tolerant of these opinions. An enduring active associational membership will consolidate the process of perspective-taking. Moreover, long-term memberships will
further foster deeper commitment to an association and its members (socialization or
adaption hypothesis).
In contrast to this socialization or adaption process (Hooghe and Quintelier, 2013), one
could also suggest a negative relationship between the duration of active involvement in
diverse associations and the development of tolerance. One could imagine that the longer
one is an active member of a diverse association, the more one grows accustomed to the
diversity within it. By establishing common goals and a common group identity, initial
differences concerning socio-economic background, ethnicity or political ideology may
became less acute due to familiarization. In this vein, it is expected that contact within
diverse associations has the strongest effect on members in the beginning and that the
processes of perspective-taking and prejudice-reducing deliver the greatest rates of return
on tolerance building. Yet this effect may decline over time (familiarization hypothesis).
Finally, besides both the increasing and decreasing effects of associational long-term
commitment, it is possible that the duration of active membership does not leave its
imprint on the relationship between active engagement in diverse associations and the
depth of tolerance. Here, long-term commitment should exhibit no decisive effect on the
relationship between associational diversity and tolerance – that is, there is no underlying
learning process (no associational effect hypothesis).
To sum up, we formulate three additional hypotheses concerning the interactive effect
of the duration of active associational membership on the relationship between active
associational engagement in diverse and heterogeneously composed associations and the
depth of tolerance (see Figure 1):
© 2014 The Authors. Political Studies © 2014 Political Studies Association
POLITICAL STUDIES: 2015, 63(5)

TEACHING TOLERANCE?

Figure 1: Hypothesized Interaction Effects for Duration of Active Associational
Engagement on the Depth of Tolerance
(a) Adaption Hypothesis
(b) Familiarization Hypothesis

© 2014 The Authors. Political Studies © 2014 Political Studies Association
POLITICAL STUDIES: 2015, 63(5)

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CAROLIN RAPP AND MARKUS FREITAG

Figure 1: (c) No Associational Effect Hypothesis

H2a: The positive effect of active engagement in heterogeneous associations is strengthened
the longer an individual is engaged with this kind of association (increasing marginal effect).
H2b: The positive effect of active engagement in heterogeneous associations diminishes the
longer an individual is engaged with this kind of association (decreasing marginal effect).
H2c: The positive effect of active engagement in heterogeneous associations does not change
the longer an individual is engaged with this kind of association (no change in marginal effect).

Data, Operationalization and Method
In order to test our hypotheses we base our analysis on ‘Volunteering in Swiss Municipalities 2010’ (Swiss Volunteering Society, 2011). This survey contains respondents from
60 municipalities ranging in size from 2,000 to 20,000 inhabitants. The individuals in the
communes were randomly chosen and questioned by means of CATI (Computer Assisted
Telephone Interview). The communes also meet certain criteria (with respect to size,
cultural-linguistic region, urban versus rural) so as to represent the variety found among
Swiss communes. The response rate was 41 percent with a total number of 4,955
respondents. Our final sample including tolerance is reduced because we only consider
those respondents who stated that they found a group objectionable and because there were
missing values for the main explanatory and control variables. Moreover, the sample is
further minimized because we only include respondents who are actively engaged in civic
associations. Due to this comprehensive tolerance measurement and the limitation to active
associational members, our sample varies in size between 853 and 497 respondents. This
© 2014 The Authors. Political Studies © 2014 Political Studies Association
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TEACHING TOLERANCE?

Table 1: Depth of Tolerance in 60 Swiss Municipalities
Depth of tolerance
All activities denied
Two activities denied
One activity denied
All activities permitted

Frequency

Percentage

283
180
185
205

33.18
21.10
21.69
24.03

Source: Swiss Volunteering Society (2011).

smaller sample does not differ from the overall sample in socio-economic terms and is thus
representative of the larger sample.
Our dependent variable is the degree of individual tolerance measured according to the
rejection and acceptance components. Our multidimensional tolerance definition bears
certain consequences for the measurement. To translate this twofold concept into something measurable, we implement two separate steps following the well-established leastliked measurement, which best captures our tolerance concept (Gibson, 1992; 2013;
Sullivan et al., 1993). First, a respondent’s rejection is captured by asking if there is any
group within society to which she or he objects.6 As soon as the respondent mentions a
group, the necessary condition for measuring tolerance is fulfilled. Our dataset shows that
around 42 per cent of the respondents did not mention a single group they found
objectionable, while 58 per cent expressed objection to a group. In the following analysis
we only consider the 58 per cent who stated an objection. In the second step, we capture
the depth of tolerance with an additive index covering three questions on the societal rights
the respondent would be willing to guarantee the objectionable group. These three
questions ask whether a person from the stated group should be allowed to be a teacher at
a local school or hold public office and if the respondent would like to have a person of
the objectionable group as neighbor (see the online Appendix for the exact wording of the
questions).7 Our final additive index ranges from 0 to 3, where 3 indicates that the
respondent would grant all three rights. This is identified as ‘deep tolerance’ in that
although the respondent objects to a group, he or she nevertheless thinks its members
should be granted equal rights (see Gibson, 2005; Mondak and Sanders, 2003). In contrast,
a value of 0 indicates denial of all three activities. In other words, higher index values imply
deeper tolerance.8 Table 1 displays the distribution of the depth of tolerance in 60 Swiss
municipalities. It can be seen that 24 per cent of the respondents that mentioned a group
as being objectionable would bestow all three rights to the mentioned groups, and 33 per
cent reject all three privileges. Intolerance thus seems to be higher than tolerance in Swiss
municipalities.
Our main explanatory variable is active engagement in diverse associations. Although
extensive literature has shown that individuals primarily engage in loose ties, informal
engagements, checkbook or passive memberships, we only consider active civic engagement based on our argument that regular and active interactions trigger a learning process
leading to enhanced tolerance. To test H2a, H2b and H2c we implement the duration of
© 2014 The Authors. Political Studies © 2014 Political Studies Association
POLITICAL STUDIES: 2015, 63(5)


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