Social change is negotiated in part through contentious societal debate, such as debates about immigration, gun control, and abortion. Social-psychological research in those contexts often focus on the extremes on either side of the debate, but we focus on the group of people in society who experience ambivalence about their position within this debate. This is important because understanding the experience and sources of ambivalence within this group helps understand how this group can potentially help or hinder social change in such contexts.
Specifically, we conducted extensive interviews (n = 15) with Dutch students experiencing ambivalence about the Dutch tradition of Zwarte Piet. We aimed to validate and explore an integration of insights from different literatures (on ambivalence, social identity and system justification) to provide a better understanding of the experience and sources of ambivalence in contentious societal debates. Thematic analysis of the interview transcripts, resulted in an account of different relevant aspects of the experience- and role of ambivalence in the societal debate concerning Zwarte Piet. Along with, central themes concerning potential sources of ambivalence in this topic, suggesting that key sources for ambivalence are conflict within and between personal-, as well as interpersonal-, group- and societal factors.