American Journal of Cultural Sociology

, Volume 6, Issue 2, pp 296–321 | Cite as

Why there is less supportive evidence for contact theory than they say there is: A quantitative cultural–sociological critique

  • Katerina Manevska
  • Peter Achterberg
  • Dick Houtman
Original Article


The finding that ethnic prejudice is particularly weakly developed among those with interethnic friendships is often construed as confirming the so-called ‘contact theory,’ which holds that interethnic contact reduces racial prejudice. This theory raises cultural–sociological suspicions, however, because of its tendency to reduce culture to an allegedly ‘more fundamental’ realm of social interaction. Analyzing data from the first wave of the European Social Survey, we therefore test the theory alongside an alternative cultural–sociological theory about culturally driven processes of contact selection. We find that whereas interethnic friendships are indeed culturally driven, which confirms our cultural–sociological theory, contacts with neighbors and colleagues do indeed affect ethnic prejudice. They do so in a manner that is more complex and more culturally sensitive than contact theory suggests, however: while positive cultural stances vis-à-vis ethnic diversity lead interethnic contact to decrease ethnic prejudice, negative ones rather lead the former to increase the latter.


interethnic contact ethnic prejudice contact theory cultural framing quantitative methods 



This research was funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) within the framework of the Mosaic Programme (Grant Number 017.006.085). The authors wish to thank the Members of LOBOCOP – a discussion group for cultural sociologists at the Erasmus University, Rotterdam – for their valuable comments and suggestions. The authors are indebted to the anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and suggestions on earlier versions of the manuscript.


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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Katerina Manevska
    • 1
  • Peter Achterberg
    • 2
  • Dick Houtman
    • 3
  1. 1.Institute for Management ResearchRadboud UniversityNijmegenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Department of Sociology, Tilburg School of Social and Behavioral SciencesTilburg UniversityTilburgThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Center for Sociological ResearchUniversity of LeuvenLeuvenBelgium

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