Workshop Series: Alex Haslam

2 November, 2012 - 10:00 to 12:00
Room 430 Joyce Ackroyd Building #37


Classic studies by Milgram and Zimbardo have been used to advance arguments that normal decent people will behave barbarically (a) when ordered to do so by their superiors, and (b) when placed in groups and given power over others. This evidence has been particularly influential in embedding the 'banality of evil' thesis within the public consciousness - appearing to indicate that ordinary people behave tyrannically without awareness, care or choice. This seminar argues against this view on the basis of a reappraisal of relevant historical and psychological evidence. This indicates that bureaucrats who perpetrate evil on behalf of tyrannical regimes act thoughtfully, creatively, and with conviction. Drawing from this evidence and the BBC Prison Study (Reicher & Haslam, 2006), the case is made for an interactionist approach which explains the emergence of tyranny and evil in terms of three dynamics that (a) initially draw particular people to extreme and oppressive groups, (b) transform them through membership in those groups, and (c) allow them to gain influence over others and hence normalize oppression. These dynamics suggest that when people oppress others they typically do so willingly - not because they do not know they are doing wrong, but rather because they believe that what they are doing is right.

Alex Haslam, Professor of Social and Organisational Psychology, University of Exeter

Professor Alex Haslam recently began an ARC Laureate Fellowship in the School of Psychology at the University of Queensland. He is a former Commonwealth Scholar at Macquarie University (Sydney) and Jones Scholar at Emory University (Atlanta), who previously held positions at the Australian National University (1991-2001) and the University of Exeter (2001-2012). He was Associate Editor of the British Journal of Social Psychology from 1999 to 2001 and Chief Editor of the European Journal of Social Psychology from 2001 to 2005. He is currently on the editorial board of eight journals including EJSP, PSPB, BJSP, and Scientific American Mind. In 2005 he received a Kurt Lewin award from the European Association of Experimental Social Psychology for outstanding contribution to research in social psychology. He is a fellow of the Canadian Institute of Advanced Research and of the Association for Psychological Science. He is renowned for his influential work on social identity theory, which is setting the international agenda for understanding group dynamics and the way they shape human behaviour. Alex has about 100 publications and 10,000 Google scholar citations, with an H-index of 53 (53 publications with at least 53 citations). He is also known for his recent work on the BBC Prison Study, which replicated and extended the Stanford Prison Study as part of an extended BBC documentary; it is this work which he will share with us at this special inter-departmental seminar.