Humans are naturally designed to make binary comparisons and classify almost everything. However, even though such classification developed naturally and is essential to cognitive development, such classification may result in binary thinking which pits two opposites against each other thus forming an assumption that one is better and more valuable than the other (Bourdillon, Meichsner, & Imoh, 2019). Typical examples of binaries include male-female, genes-choice, ability-disability and welfare takers vs. middle class contributors. These binary categorizations distort relationships between people in the society. This binary classification covers up the fact that there is social inequality in the society whereby the society is characterized by unequal opportunities and rewards based on people’s social positions or status with a particular group or society. Social inequality has developed to become a crucial problem in the society whereby some people face extreme discrimination and prejudice on social grounds (Coffey, Deshpande, Hammer, & Spears, 2019). Binary thinking plays a leading role in fueling social inequality and discrimination in the society because according to binary thinking, one group of people is more important or valuable than the other group. The world today is unequal, unfair and full of prejudice when examined from multiple perspectives. Most inequality is socio-economic meaning it is measured based on income. Thus, it is either you are economically stable or economically deprived. These two categorizations reflect the binary thinking common among people in most societies.
When people fall into binary thinking, prejudice and polarization follows which is often devastating especially for the less valued group or people. Binary thinking pits two groups against each other. The concept is based on a hypothetical fixed hierarchical arrangements advocated for by structuralist theory. Classes of things that are true binary opposites have to be mutually exclusive. This concept has been favored and supported in natural sciences where there are true opposites such as north vs. south or hot vs. cold. However, in social sciences and settings, these binary thinking concept results in gradients that lies between these opposite extremes. Acceptance and reliance on binary opposites creates boundaries between groups of people especially between the groups in the two extremes. In such instances, the group that benefits a lot is the groups that are considered superior than the other (Robbins, 2015). In this equation, the prejudiced and discriminated group often suffers a lot from the binary thinking. Binary thinking tends to benefit the group perceived as superior than the other between the two groups. This is why binary thinking easily leads to prejudice and oppressive policies and practices especially towards the less favored group. Most of these binary opposites have permeated people’s thinking and research in attempts to classify different groups of people. Binary thinking not only applies to how we categorize and perceive people but also critical to opposing ideas. With continued binary thinking, people will continue to segregate and discriminate each other.
Bourdillon, M., Meichsner, S., & Imoh, A. T. D. (2019). Reflections on Binary Thinking. In Global Childhoods beyond the North-South Divide (pp. 255-263). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.
Coffey, D., Deshpande, A., Hammer, J., & Spears, D. (2019). Local Social Inequality, Economic Inequality, and Disparities in Child Height in India. Demography, 56(4), 1427-1452.
Robbins, S. P. (2015). From the editor—The red pill or the blue pill? Transcending binary thinking. Journal of Social Work Education,