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Steve Reicher

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Stephen D Reicher (Steve Reicher) is Professor of Social Psychology and former Head of the School of Psychology at the University of St Andrews.

Reicher completed his undergraduate degree and PhD at the University of Bristol. At Bristol, Reicher worked closely with Henri Tajfel and John Turner (authors of social identity theory). He held positions at the University of Dundee and University of Exeter before moving to St Andrews in 1998. His research is in the area of social psychology, focusing on group processes such as crowd behaviour, tyranny and leadership. He is broadly interested in the issues of group behaviour and the individual-social relationship. His research interests can be grouped into three areas:

  • The first is an attempt to develop a model of crowd action that accounts for both social determination and social change.
  • The second concerns the construction of social categories through language and action.
  • The third concerns political rhetoric and mass mobilisation - especially around the issue of national identity.

Reicher's work on crowd psychology has been path-breaking. He challenged the dominant notion of crowd as site of Irrationality and deindividuation. His social identity model (SIM,1982, 1984, 1987) of crowd behaviour suggests that people are able to act as one in crowd events not because of ‘contagion’ or Social facilitation but because they share a common social identity. This common identity specifies what counts as normative conduct. Unlike the ‘classic’ theories, which tended to presume that collectivity was associated with uncontrolled violence (due to a regression to instinctive drives or a pre-existing ‘racial unconscious’), the social identity model explicitly acknowledges variety by suggesting that different identities have different norms – some peaceful, some conflictual – and that, even where crowds are conflictual, the targets will be only those specified by the social identity of the crowd.

Reicher’s (1984) St Pauls’ study was a powerful riposte to the whole ‘irrationalist’ tradition, from Gustav Le Bon to deindividuation. But the study and the social identity model left a number of unanswered questions and hence possible explanatory problems. The emphasis on social identity as the determinant of collective behaviour potentially led to a rather unidimensional reading of the nature of crowd conflict: conflict was ‘read off’ from the St Pauls’ social identity, as if the participants were already ‘violent’; yet this left unexplained how such conflict emerged and escalated over time during the riot. An unanswered question was therefore how an otherwise peaceful crowd might become conflictual. Without further specification, the model risked being read, like Allport’s account, as seeing conflict as a product of fixed and pre-given identities that were simply acted out. How could behavioural change in the crowd be grasped without falling back into something like the LeBonian account in which the peaceful, rational individual is simply subsumed by the (malign) influence of the crowd?

The analysis of the St Pauls’ riot was like a snap-shot, examining the nature of the crowd targets, without examining in detail how conflict actually emerged from relations with the police, and without including the perspective of the police as a possible contribution to the events. Subsequent studies of crowd events by Reicher and John Drury therefore began to address these absences. In each of a number of different type of crowd events, a similar pattern of interaction between crowd and police was identified. The observation of this pattern of interaction led to the Elaborated Social Identity Model (ESIM) of crowd conflict, which focuses on the emergence and development of crowd conflict.

Moreover, the ESIM provides the conceptual resources for understanding the possible articulation between social and psychological change. Thus the ESIM suggests that identity change is a function of changed context, brought about through the (often unintended) consequences of one’s own actions. The consequences are often unintended and unanticipated because crowd members’ actions may be interpreted in contrasting ways by outgroups such as the police. The wider significance of such change is in terms of future action. A limited ‘local’ protest becomes understood as part of a wider struggle against national or even global ‘injustice’ where participants are cast as part of a wider oppositional group, where such opposition becomes legitimized by illegitimate outgroup (police, state) action and where there is a perception of wider support and that the collective is indeed capable of translating its ideas into reality. Particular experiences in collective action can therefore be significant in their role of encouraging people to get involved in further actions, which might themselves be forces for social change. Put simply, crowd conflict is argued to be meaningful, but can be a locus of social and psychological change because that meaning may be contested.

Reicher collaborated with Professor Alex Haslam of the University of Exeter on the BBC television programme The Experiment, which examined conflict, order, rebellion and tyranny in the behaviour of a group of individuals held in a simulated prison environment. The experiment (which became known as the BBC Prison Study) re-examined issues raised by the Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE) and led to a number of publications in leading psychology journals. Amongst other things, these challenged the role account of tyranny associated with the SPE as well as broader ideas surrounding the Banality of evil, and advanced a social identity-based understanding of the dynamics of resistance.

He is a former Associate Editor of the Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology and Chief Editor (with Margaret Wetherell) of the British Journal of Social Psychology. Reicher is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and consultant editor for a number of journals including Scientific American Mind.

Most influential publicationsEdit


Turner, J. C., Hogg, M. A., Oakes, P. J., Reicher, S. D., & Wetherell, M. S. (1987). Rediscovering the social group: A self-categorization theory. Oxford: Blackwell.

Reicher, S. D. & Hopkins, N. (2001). Self and nation: Categorization, contestation and mobilisation. London: Sage.

Haslam, S.A; Reicher, S.D. & Platow, M.J. (2010) "The New Psychology Of Leadership: Identity, Influence And Power" New York: Psychology Press

Journal articles

Reicher, S. D. (1984). The St. Pauls riot: An explanation of the limits of crowd action in terms of a social identity model. European Journal of Social Psychology", "14, 1–21.

Reicher, S. & Potter, J. (1985). Psychological theory as intergroup perspective: A comparative analysis of ‘scientific’ and ‘lay’ accounts of crowd events. Human Relations, 38, 167-189.

Reicher S. D., & Hopkins, N. (1996). Seeking influence through characterizing self-categories: An analysis of anti-abortionist rhetoric. British Journal of Social Psychology", "35, 297-311.

Reicher, S. (1996). The Crowd century: Reconciling practical success with theoretical failure. British Journal of Social Psychology, 35, 535-53.

Reicher S. D., & Hopkins, N. (1996). Self-category constructions in political rhetoric; An analysis of Thatcher's and Kinnock's speeches concerning the British miners' strike (1984-5) European Journal of Social Psychology", "26 353-371.

Reicher, S. D., & Haslam, S. A. (2006). Rethinking the psychology of tyranny: The BBC Prison Experiment. British Journal of Social Psychology, 45, 1–40. [1]

Reicher, S. D., Haslam, S. A., & Hopkins, N. (2005). Social identity and the dynamics of leadership: Leaders and followers as collaborative agents in the transformation of social reality. Leadership Quarterly. 16, 547–568.

Reicher, S.D. (1982). The determination of collective behaviour (pp. 41-83). In H. Tajfel (ed.), Social identity and intergroup relations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Reicher, S.D. (1984b). The St Pauls’ riot: An explanation of the limits of crowd action in terms of a social identity model. European Journal of Social Psychology, 14, 1-21. Also in: Murphy, J., John, M. & Brown, H. (1984), (eds.). Dialogues and debates in social psychology (pp. 187–205). London: Lawrence Erlbaum/Open University

Reicher, S.D. (1987). Crowd behaviour as social action. In J.C. Turner, M.A. Hogg, P.J. Oakes, S.D. Reicher & M.S. Wetherell, Rediscovering the social group: A self-categorization theory (pp. 171–202). Oxford: Blackwell.[2]

Reicher, S., Spears, R. & Postmes, T. (1995). A social identity model of deindividuation phenomena. In W. Stroebe & M. Hewstone (eds.), European Review of Social Psychology, 6, 161-98.

Reicher, S. (1996) Social identity and social change: Rethinking the context of social psychology. In W.P. Robinson (Ed.) Social groups and identities: Developing the legacy of Henri Tajfel (pp. 317–336). London: Butterworth.

Reicher, S. (1996). ‘The Battle of Westminster’: Developing the social identity model of crowd behaviour in order to explain the initiation and development of collective conflict. European Journal of Social Psychology, 26, 115-34. [3]

Reicher, S. (2001). The psychology of crowd dynamics. In M.A. Hogg and R.S. Tindale (Eds.), Blackwell handbook of social psychology: Group processes (pp. 182–208). Oxford: Blackwell. [4]

Stott, C., Hutchison, P. & Drury, J. (2001). ‘Hooligans’ abroad? Inter-group dynamics, social identity and participation in collective ‘disorder’ at the 1998 World Cup Finals. British Journal of Social Psychology, 40, 359-384.

Stott, C. & Reicher, S. (1998a). Crowd action as inter-group process: Introducing the police perspective. European Journal of Social Psychology, 28, 509-529.

Stott, C. & Reicher, S. (1998b). How conflict escalates: The inter-group dynamics of collective football crowd ‘violence’. Sociology, 32, 353-77.[5]

Drury, J., Cocking, C., Beale, J., Hanson, C. & Rapley, F. (2005). The phenomenology of empowerment in collective action. British Journal of Social Psychology, 44, 309-328.

Reicher, S. (2001). Studying psychology, studying racism. In M. Augoustinos & K. J. Reynolds. (Eds.), Understanding prejudice, Racism, and Social conflict. London: Sage.

Drury, J. & Reicher, S. (1999). The intergroup dynamics of collective empowerment: Substantiating the social identity model of crowd behaviour. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, 2, 381-402.

Drury J. & Reicher S. (2000) Collective action and psychological change: The emergence of new social identities. British Journal of Social Psychology, 39, 579 -604. [6]

Drury, J. & Reicher, S. (2005). Explaining enduring empowerment: A comparative study of collective action and psychological outcomes. European Journal of Social Psychology, 35, 35-58.[7]

Drury, J., Reicher, S. & Stott, C. (2003) Transforming the boundaries of collective identity: From the ‘local’ anti-road campaign to ‘global’ resistance? Social Movement Studies, 2, 191-212.

Reicher, S. Haslam, S.A. & Rath, R. (2008) “Making a virtue of evil: A five step social identity model of development of collective hate” Social and Personality Psychology Compass 2/3 (2008): 1313–1344, 10.1111/j.1751-9004.2008.00113.x [8]

External linksEdit

The official website of the BBC Prison Study:



Talks: Beyond the Banality of Evil, London School of Economics, February, 2008. This lecture critically addresses Hannah Arendt's hypothesis on the banality of evil arguing that those who commit extreme acts are not aware of the consequences of their actions: rather, they celebrate these consequences as moral.


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