The Link Between Social Class and Dehumanization

January 26, 2019
Do people dehumanize the rich? Does the same happen with poor people? Let's find out!

Dehumanizing consists of negating that other people have human traits. In other words, to dehumanize is to consider someone “less of a person”. In general, people dehumanize members of certain groups. This means that they consider some people “less human” because they’re part of a certain group. In this article, we discuss the link between social class and dehumanization.

Although there are certain differences that “divide” humans into various groups, one of the most important ones are social classes. Social classes are a kind of social stratification. Social classes are composed of people who share common social or financial characteristics. Broadly speaking, we can identify two social classes: rich and poor. And regardless of their own class, some people dehumanize one of these groups or even both.

Narcissistic man who believes in dehumanization.

What does dehumanization consist of?

Dehumanizing consists of believing that someone isn’t “human enough”. However, there are different ways of dehumanizing: animalization and mechanization.

According to Haslam’s dual model, there are two forms of animalization (when someone feels like another person lacks the typical human traits). Depending on which traits the person “lacks” according to the dehumanizer, it’s called either animalization or mechanization.

“Dehumanization, although a concrete historical fact, is not a given destiny but the result of an unjust order that engenders violence in the oppressors, which in turn dehumanizes the oppressed.”

-Paulo Freire-

On one hand, animalizing consists of negating that someone has traits that are exclusively human. These traits are the ones that differentiate us from animals. For example, cognitive ability, refinement, and being civil.

On the other hand, mechanizing is negating the typical traits of human nature that aren’t necessarily unique in comparison to other animals, such as having emotions or being kind. Thus, groups who “don’t have” the typical human traits are compared to animals, whereas those who “don’t have” human-nature traits are compared to inanimate objects such as robots.

Why does dehumanization exist?

You may be asking yourself what’s the use of dehumanization. There are three reasons why people dehumanize others.

First of all, dehumanizing another group justifies violence against said group. When people consider that members of a group are less human, it’s easier for them to think that they have a right over its members. Thus, they justify the use of violence when this group behaves like they shouldn’t, according to their expectations.

Secondly, dehumanization maintains their “status quo”. There are groups with higher status and others with lower status. If another group is dehumanized, it’ll have a lower status. And the other will be superior.

“He was so terrible that he was no longer terrible, only dehumanized.”

-F. Scott Fitzgerald-

Finally, dehumanizing ignores ethics. We all have moral values that control our behavior, such as deeming murder wrong. However, these values only apply to humans. So, if someone doesn’t consider a person human, it’ll be easier to use violence against that person, even if their values say otherwise. This is why Nazis believed Jewish people were “cockroaches”.

Boys looking at girl collecting clean clothes.

The link between social class and dehumanization

Classism is the series of attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors which target people according to their social class/financial status. The targets are usually the rich or poor.

In other words, classism is prejudice against the rich and poor. Dehumanization is a consequence of classism.

Poor people tend to be animalized. Dehumanizers consider them animals and not humans. Some of the typical traits that dehumanizers say poor people don’t have are civility, reasoning, and refinement. They’re considered incapable of overcoming their precarious situation.

When it comes to the rich, dehumanizers don’t animalize them. Instead, they mechanize them. It’s not common to think of the rich as uncivil or unrefined. However, it’s possible to deny their kindness and their ability to have emotions. Thus, they consider rich people cold and incapable of feeling empathy, just like machines.

In short, to dehumanizers the rich are machines and the poor are animals. This way, middle-class groups maintain their status. They treat the poor with contempt, like animalsand treat the rich with distance, fear, and respect because they believe that people with higher status are capable of doing anything to get what they want.

  • Sainz Martínez, M. (2018). Consecuencias de la animalización de los pobres y la mecanización de los ricos en el mantenimiento de las diferencias socioeconómicas (tesis doctoral). Universidad de Granada. Recuperada de http://digibug.ugr.es/bitstream/handle/10481/52432/29111924.pdf?sequence=4&;isAllowed=y
  • Sainz, M., Martínez, R., Moya, M., & Rodríguez-Bailón, R. (2018). Animalizing the disadvantaged, mechanizing the wealthy: The convergence of socioeconomic status and humanity attributions. International Journal of Psychology. doi:10.1002/ijop.12485