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Apr 30 2019 - 11:12 AM
The Five Laws of Embedded Intergroup Relations Theory



Alderfer's five laws of embedded intergroup relations theory proposes to understand , explain, and predict the affect, cognition, and behavior of groups and group representatives in organizational setting.

You choose a "focal group" to received analysis under this framework, but you consider them embedded within a larger suprasystem as well as made up of subgroups.

Law 1

LAW 1: The Inverse Square Law of Boundary Permeability

Boundaries hold a system together

They also allow exchanges with a system and its environment

They have a push/pull effect

Boundary permeability reflects the balance between the closing and opening forces on a unit

Survival depends on an entity's ability to survive (by being closed enough) and then to thrive (by being open enough)

Balance between forces depends the state of the entity’s environment

In safe, supportive environments it pays to be more open

In dangerous, hostile environments, it’s much better to be closed off

There are three main states:



Optimally bounded

What does an underbounded system look like?

An underbounded group has boundaries that are more permeable than what is needed for that environment.

Features of such a group include:

  • Multiple competing goals
  • Authority is fragmented
  • Multiple theories operate without ways to resolve differences
  • Roles are conflicting
  • Leadership transition is bottom-up
  • Communication is impeded by the inability for relevant parties to meet
  • Negative feelings pervade inside and outside the focal group
  • Energy is exhausted
  • Time span is short term
  • Economic condition is insecure
  • Unconscious basic assumption is fight or flight
  • Primary identification is with subgroups of the focal entity

What does an overbounded system look like?

An overbounded group has boundaries are not as permeable as they should be for the best functioning

Features of such a group include:

  • Goals are singular
  • Authority is monolithic
  • Thinking is restricted to a single mode
  • Roles are constricting
  • Leader transition is top-down
  • Communication limits information and requires a positive sland
  • Attitudes toward other groups are ethnocentric
  • Human energy is inhibited
  • Time span is long
  • Economic conditions secure
  • Unconscious basic assumption is dependency
  • Primary identification is with the focal group

Identity Group Membership

Happens by virtue of birth

E.g. family, generation, gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation

These group identities are present with you wherever you go, but only become salient depending on the conditions of the interaction.

Organizational Group Membership

Happens by negotiations between themselves and the groups

Determined by type of work and place in hierarchy

Concrete membership occurs by names appearing in  official member list

Usually voluntary, but in cases of incarceration isn’t

Subjective membership is about how feeling attached to your group

LAW 2 - Persons as Multiple Group Representatives

Whether they intend to or not,individuals serve as representatives of multiple groups during interactions with others

But it’s not a static thing - the group(s) they represent depend on who they are interacting with

In the theory there are:

Identity group membership

Organization group membership

LAW 3 - The Experience of Persons as Multiple Group Representatives


LAW 4 - Tensions between Subgroup and Focal Group Boundaries


LAW 5 - Parallel Processes during Group and Intergroup Transaction

|By: Ching-Fu Lan|1468 Reads