Levels of categorism

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Categorism operate through facets. These facets of categorism can operate on different levels. Ranging from personal micro scale to the global macro scales, as well as ranging from being a matter of how people speak about something to being a matter of structural patterns for how people behave.

One distinction that can be made is into the following six categories: Individual, group, systemic, structural, discursive and dogmatic. Through the facets, the various foci and abstractions of categorism also operate on these six different levels. However, other levels such as law and international treaties should also be recognized.

Failing to distinguish between such different levels, one is likely to proverbially “compare apples and oranges”. Thus making it harder to communicate but easier to invisibilize or incomprehensibilize various expressions of categorism. Two persons are unlikely to have a fruitful conversation about racism or any other foci of categorism if one of them is talking exclusively about the individual level while the other is talking exclusively about the structural level.

Note that the levels are only levels "of categorism" because categorism is the topic being discussed here: The same levels can also be applied to completely different things.

The six levels in the thesis

  • 1. Individual level refers to the internal reality of what happens within a person. And also to how this is expressed by the individual. This level includes categorism against others as well as internalized categorism.
  • 2. Group level refer to how people interact with each other. Social dynamics on a micro level. Such group-dynamics may for better and worse include building social norms for what views, feelings and acts are socially appropriate, encouraged or even mandatory in the group, and which ones are not. These norms may or may not differ significantly from mainstream society.
  • 3. Systemic level refers to something happening over and over in a pattern that is sufficiently coherent to have effects of its own. Patterns of prejudices, bigotries and discriminatory practices that are common in a culture, subculture or similar. Lots of little things that wouldn't matter if they were isolated incidents but that adds up very quickly.
  • 4. Structural level refers to a facet of categorism being built-in into a social structure of some kind. Discriminatory laws, customs, self-reinforcing social expectations, and so on.
  • 5. Discursive level refers to a facet of categorism having been built into how we talk and think about concepts. How the language turns into dichotomism that bends our thoughts, feelings and acts in certain directions, limiting our understanding and locking people in linguistic cages.
  • 6. Dogmatic level refers to a facet of categorism that has been systematized in such a way that it has been built into a cateity or great narrative. Which may be conceptualized as a political ideology, a theological position, a scientific paradigm, or simply “the common sense”. Narrativization can turn into narrativism, and thus narratives can turn into destructive dogmatism that fuels categorism.

The law level and international treaties levels

  • 7. Law Level refers to a facet of categorism being included in the law itself. May refer to national laws, as well as the bylaws of a local region within a nation.


These eight levels are constantly interacting with each other, affecting each other in various ways. For example, a person who holds an certain prejudice or bigotry on an individual level may feel more at home in a social context where this particular categorism is also systemic and structural. He may also feel more at ease with discourses and narratives that reinforces his categorism rather than opposes it.

Even when two cases of the same facet of categorism operate at the same level they may still differ greatly in how deeply entrenched they are in the mindset of the person or social conventions of the group. It may also vary with power relationships: The same categorism may be more damaging when done by the many against the few, or by the powerful against the comparatively powerless.

Other divisions

As eight levels may be a bit much, here are two alternative divisions. (Note that these ways of categorizingthe levels are thus far unpublished work in progress.)

It might be a good idea to group the levels into four categories (which are studied through very different academical disciplines):

  • A. Individual level. (Psychology, neuro-psychology and social psychology.)
  • B. Interaction levels. Contains the group level and systemic levels. (Mainly social psychology.)
  • C. Structural levels. Contains discursive, dogmatic and unspecified-structural levels. Levels such as "normative" could be added to this category. (Mainly sociology.)
  • D. Legal levels. Contains the law level and the international treaties level. (Mainly law and international relations.)

It may also be a good idea to group the levels into two categories, being different kinds of levels:

  • Interpersonal
    • Individual sender (mental reality of person doing categorism)
    • Individual target (mental reality of person being subjected to categorism)
    • Individual Situation (meeting between sender and target)
    • Group
    • Systemic
  • Structural
    • Systemic (included in both interpersonal and structural?)
    • Discursive
    • Dogmatic/Normative (should dogmatic and normative level be separated or co-defined?)
    • Law
    • International agreement

Levels versus Category Agency

The different levels of categorism should not be mistaken for categories having agency. In fact, Category Agency is squarely a matter of prejudice, a misconception about how the world works: It is actually individual human beings who do things, not categories of people. This does not negate the different levels. The group level is individuals doing things together. The systemic level is about many individuals doing things. The structural level is about people being expected to do things, and so on, based on how they are categorized. The discursive level is how we talk and think about people who are categorized in a certain way. The dogmatic level is proclamations of how people who are categorized in a certain way should be or truly are. The law level and international treaties level is about how people categorized in a certain way are treated by local or global legal documents or similar.

Kyriarchy + misogyny as an example of levels

The intersection between the facet kyriarchy and the focus misogyny is sometimes known as "patriarchy", and here called by that name. (Note that while some people instead use the word in different ways, such as being a catch all term for all forms of structural misogyny, the word is here used simply as the intersexction between kyriarchy and misogyny.)

  • Individual level and group level: While patriarchy itself is too abstract for these levels, patriarchal structures, discourses, dogmas and so on can empower facets such as male supremacism and infantilization of women at the individual and group levels. Thus being "patriarchal" (inspired by patriarchy) rather than being patriarchy itself.
  • Systemic level: In a society where people systematically encounter almost exclusively men in positions of validated/unquestioned authority, their minds are likely to associate maleness with power and femaleness with lack of power.
  • Structural level: A society can have many kinds of structures holding women back. Such as social norms that blame women for having children or for not having children, disqualifying them from careers on the basis of having children or for perhaps maybe having children at some point in the future. Or for being "abnormal" by not having children or for not staying home with them.
  • Discursive level: Constructing the language so that it constructs women/femininity as being inferior and constructs the same behavior as being cool when a man does it but shameful when a woman does it. For example, constructing the same behavior as a boy being "assertive" and a girl being "bossy".
  • Dogmatic level: Religious theology or political ideology positioning women as being inherently inferior and/or inherently assigned to a subordinate position.
  • Law level: Most countries used to have laws that enshrined male dominance, such as allowing only men to vote or to run for office.
  • International treaties level: If two or more nations have ever entered a treaty where they promised each other to hold women back and help each other to ensure male dominance, please send information about it!

Malpractice + homophobia/paraphobia as an example of levels

Lets say that a guy named Mark visits a therapist namned Carl. Mark's boss is forcing him to work overtime almost every day, and his mother just died. Mark is getting more and more frustrated with his life. However, Mark also happens to be gay. Or a fetishist, in which case this example is about paraphobia rather than homophobia. The therapist takes Mark's money, but refuses to address his actual problems in a serious manner. Instead, Carl keeps droning on about Mark's sexuality. Carl expects Mark (who payed a lot of money to Carl, not the other way around) to spend the therapy time educating Carl about the minority group Mark belongs to. Carl also keeps trying to make a connection between Mark's sexuality and the death of Mark's mother, ignoring Mark's testimony that these events are unrelated. This malpractice works on many levels...

  • Individual Level: Carl is prejudiced against the sexual minority Mark belongs to. Maybe he has no positive role models for that group, getting all his "knowledge" on the subject from bigoted theories.
  • Group Level: Carl's co-workers at the clinic are willing to back him up. If Mark complains to them, they will simply tell him that he should accept Carl as the authority and put the blame on himself.
  • Systemic Level: Homophobia and paraphobia is so wide-spread that Mark may have a hard time finding a good therapist anywhere. He may give up trying to find one at all. Or simply get a new therapist and try to evade the subject of sexuality. This therapist is very likely to correctly see that Mark is having a problem with sexuality, but far less likely to realize that this is because of how Mark has been mistreated by another therapist in the past.
  • Structural Level: Homophobia and paraphobia is deeply entrenched in the mainstream of the culture in which Mark and Carl (as well as other therapists Mark may encounter) lives, thus creating a foundation for the malpractice.
  • Discursive Level: Language which belittles homosexuals and other sexual minorities is widespread. Calling them "sick" or "sexual deviance", thus creating a false impression that they are something a therapist should treat. The concept of sexual deviance doesn't make any distinction between what is done alone or with a consenting adult partner and what is done as sexual abuse against a child, thus creating a false sense of urgency.
  • Dogmatic Level: Outdated scientific hypotheses turned into pseudoscience dogma, there's a lot of psychology literature defining various versions of the alleged "true nature" of sexual minorities. Carl and his colleagues are likely to have read some of this during their education to become therapists.
  • Law Level: If this story takes place in Russia 2015 or any similar place & time, Carl may worry that he might be breaking the law against gay propaganda unless he cracks down on Mark.
  • International Treaties Level: If Mark is gay and the encounter between Mark and Carl happened in the sixties, then we must realize that Carl's reaction was rooted in the WHO's ICD (World Health Organization's International Classification of Diseases), which still included homosexuality at this time. If the encounter takes place in 2015 but Mark is a fetishist, then the same problem is still true. While several countries has removed fetishism from their local ICD lists, the international list from WHO still includes fetishism.