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Paranoia and the Structure of Powerlessness

John Mirowsky and Catherine E. Ross
American Sociological Review
Vol. 48, No. 2 (Apr., 1983), pp. 228-239
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2095107
Page Count: 12
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Paranoia and the Structure of Powerlessness
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Abstract

Paranoia is an alienation from others that has gone beyond a sense of disconnection to one of persecution. Very little is known about the relationship of paranoia to sociodemographic variables. However, prior theory and research provide a basis for inference. We argue that social positions characterized by powerlessness and by the threat of victimization and exploitation tend to produce paranoia. Powerlessness leads to the belief that important outcomes in one's life are controlled by external forces and other persons, rather than by one's own choice and effort. This belief in external control interacts with the threat of victimization or exploitation to produce mistrust, which may then develop into paranoia. Using data from a community mental health survey of persons living in El Paso, Texas, and Juarez, Mexico, we find that belief in external control is directly associated with low socioeconomic status, Mexican heritage, and being female. Belief in external control interacts with low current socioeconomic status to produce mistrust, which in turn is the major factor directly associated with paranoia.

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