When does a generalization become a stereotype? What are the differences between generalizations and stereotypes? Do they have different origins? Different functions? Different effects?
All statements of fact or truth require generalization. A generalization is a statement based on a finite set of observations and experiences and yet which claims to hold true for the larger set, even for those cases that have not been seen or experienced. All generalizations, then, can be said to be theoretical. They offer a theory about how things are in general. Thus the statement "All trees have leaves" is a useful generalization, though no one person has ever been able to validate it by inspecting every tree on earth or every tree that has ever existed, and no one knows what trees will be like in the future. And of course most trees do not have leaves at various times of the year, and some trees are evergreens with needles instead of leaves. The generalization originates in a rational effort to categorize, not in an irrational effort to oppress. The function of the generalization is to allow people to work better with trees, not to harm trees. The effect of the generalization, however, is to increase people's ability to manipulate nature to human ends, and so like all acts of knowledge this one affects the power balance between knower and thing known.
A stereotype is a particular kind of generalization, a subset of generalization. Stereotypes: