Identity, influence, and change: Rediscovering John Turner's vision for social psychology.
ABSTRACT John Turner, whose pioneering work on social identity and self-categorization theories changed the face of modern social psychology, died in July 2011. This unique virtual special issue celebrates Turner's life and work by reproducing a number of key articles that were published in the British Journal of Social Psychology and the European Journal of Social Psychology over the course of his career. These articles are of three types: first, key position papers, on which Turner was the leading or sole author; second, papers that he published with collaborators (typically PhD students) that explored key theoretical propositions; third, short commentary papers, in which Turner engaged in debate around key issues within social psychology. Together, these papers map out a clear and compelling vision. This seeks to explain the distinctly social nature of the human mind by showing how all important forms of social behaviour - and in particular, the propensity for social influence and social change -are grounded in the sense of social identity that people derive from their group memberships. As we discuss in this editorial, Turner's great contribution was to formalize this understanding in terms of testable hypotheses and generative theory and then to work intensively but imaginatively with others to take this vision forward.
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ABSTRACT: Social identity research was pioneered as a distinctive theoretical approach to the analysis of intergroup relations but over the last two decades it has increasingly been used to shed light on applied issues. One early application of insights from social identity and self-categorization theories was to the organizational domain (with a particular focus on leadership), but more recently there has been a surge of interest in applications to the realm of health and clinical topics. This article charts the development of this Applied Social Identity Approach, and abstracts five core lessons from the research that has taken this forward. (1) Groups and social identities matter because they have a critical role to play in organizational and health outcomes. (2) Self-categorizations matter because it is people's self-understandings in a given context that shape their psychology and behaviour. (3) The power of groups is unlocked by working with social identities not across or against them. (4) Social identities need to be made to matter in deed not just in word. (5) Psychological intervention is always political because it always involves some form of social identity management. Programmes that seek to incorporate these principles are reviewed and important challenges and opportunities for the future are identified.British Journal of Social Psychology 03/2014; 53(1). · 1.76 Impact Factor
British Journal of Social Psychology (2012), 51, 201–218
C ?2012 The British Psychological Society
Virtual Special Issue Editorial†
Identity, influence, and change: Rediscovering
John Turner’s vision for social psychology
S. Alexander Haslam1∗, Stephen D. Reicher2and Katherine J.
1University of Exeter, Devon, UK
2University of St. Andrews, Fife, Scotland, UK
3Australian National University, Australian Capital Territory, Australia
John Turner, whose pioneering work on social identity and self-categorization theories
changed the face of modern social psychology, died in July 2011. This unique virtual
special issue celebrates Turner’s life and work by reproducing a number of key articles
that were published in the British Journal of Social Psychology and the European Journal
of Social Psychology over the course of his career. These articles are of three types:
first, key position papers, on which Turner was the leading or sole author; second,
papers that he published with collaborators (typically PhD students) that explored key
theoretical propositions; third, short commentary papers, in which Turner engaged in
debate around key issues within social psychology. Together, these papers map out a
clear and compelling vision. This seeks to explain the distinctly social nature of the
human mind by showing how all important forms of social behaviour – and in particular,
the propensity for social influence and social change –are grounded in the sense of
social identity that people derive from their group memberships. As we discuss in this
editorial, Turner’s great contribution was to formalize this understanding in terms of
testable hypotheses and generative theory and then to work intensively but imaginatively
with others to take this vision forward.
John Turner: An introduction to his life and work
in groups and, through this, are collaborative architects of the social world we inhabit.
But what role does human psychology play in this process? What is the relationship
between individual minds, groups, and society? In many ways these questions define
∗Correspondence should be addressed to S. Alexander Haslam, School of Psychology, The University of Exeter, EX4 4QG, UK
†This serves as an introduction to a Virtual Issue drawn from both the British Journal of Social Psychology and
the European Journal of Social Psychology. To read the Virtual Issue, please go to:
S. Alexander Haslam et al.
the field of social psychology. They were questions that John Turner devoted himself
to addressing in the 37-year period between starting his PhD at Bristol in 1971 and his
retirement in 2008.
Historically, social psychology has tended to distort the complex interplay between
the individual and society. As Turner outlined in the introduction to his early book
Intergroup Behaviour with Howard Giles (Turner & Giles, 1981), this has taken two
forms. On the one hand, individualistic psychologies, originating with Floyd Allport’s
seminal 1924 text on Social Psychology, have privileged the individual over society and
the role of the social group is merely to accentuate our individuality. As Allport famously
put it ‘there is no psychology of groups which is not essentially and entirely a psychology
of individuals’ (1924, p. 4).
On the other hand, idealist psychologies (idealist in the philosophical as opposed
to the political sense), originating with Gustave Le Bon’s seminar 1895 text The Crowd
(the first significant text on inter group behaviour according to Turner and Giles), have
privileged the social over the individual and treat people in collective settings as mere
mind’ separate from the minds of individuals.
he endorsed the interactionist approach of Kurt Lewin, Solomon Asch, and Muzafer
Sherif. Rather than reducing the individual–society relationship to one or other of the
elements, here the focus is on understanding how the psychological field within the
individualissociallystructured.This requiresattentiontothe natureofthe psychological
political dynamics. Specifically, given that our everyday realities are structured by group
memberships, this involves an examination of the way in which psychological processes
make group life possible and an elaboration of the implications for our understanding of
mind and behaviour.
What set John Turner’s contribution apart from others was that he did far more than
pay lip service to this interactionist meta-theory. Rather – through the development
of integrated theory – he pioneered the development of a compelling, systematic, and
testable account of the irreducibly social nature of individual minds. This meant that
Turner left us with much more than just an account of particular social psychological
processes or an explanation of particular phenomena. He provided us with a lucid vision
of the discipline as a whole. His core insight was that it is through our self-definitions
as group members that social influence occurs and that social belief systems come to
shape what we think, what we care about, and what we do. As John would often say, if
you want to understand the individual in the group, you need to understand the group
in the individual. Social identities, that is, are the crucial pivot between the individual
and the social.
Before we go on to outline Turner’s ideas in a little more detail, it is important to
say something about his background and about the experiences that framed his interest
in social psychology. This history allows us to understand the key issues and the key
themes that run as a unifying thread through all his work. John did not come from
an academic background. He was one of eight children raised in a small Council flat.
Although intellectually he was brilliant (winning a scholarship to Wilson’s School in
Camberwell and then going on to Sussex University), he never felt at home in the
academic world. He dropped out of Sussex several times, and took 6 years (from 1965
to 1971) to complete his undergraduate degree.
Rediscovering John Turner
During some of these interruptions, John would work with his father, installing
window frames in high-rise buildings. But on one occasion, he got a job in a Fleet Street
printing factory and gained experience as a Trades Union organizer. It was a formative
experience. It impressed upon him the importance of groups, particularly in terms of
of those who are ordinarily in subordinate positions, comes from the combination of
people as group members. Finally, it made him aware of the extent to which attacks
on group rationality and group decision making are coded rationales for dismantling the
sole source of power available to the powerless.
The political and intellectual dimensions of studying groups were, from that time,
project in the sense of rejecting all the various ways in which social psychology tells
us that groups are bad for us, subverting our reason and our morality, and our agency.
More importantly, it was also a proactive project in the sense of understanding the
bases of group processes, combined action, of collective power and hence of social
change. These overarching concerns were there from the first day to the last of Turner’s
career. And they provide a unity that binds together - and provides an important basis for
understanding - the more detailed propositions that he expounded across the breadth of
his theoretical work.
1971–1981: Systematizing social identity theory
The foundations of Turner’s understanding of the social nature of mind were laid in
the years that he spent at the University of Bristol between 1971 and 1981. Arriving
there shortly after Tajfel and colleagues had published the findings of their minimal
group studies (Tajfel, Flament, Billig, & Bundy, 1971), he set to work on his PhD under
Tajfel’s supervision. Famously, in the minimal group studies, members of previously
meaningless experimenter-created groups were found to preferentially favour members
of their own in-group over a comparison out-group even when this has a cost in terms of
absolute levels of in-group reward. Through his work with Mick Billig, Tajfel had come
to recognize that social categorization and social comparison (rather than just a sense
of similarity) were central to these findings (Billig & Tajfel, 1973) and also, critically,
that the effects were underpinned by social identity: ‘the individual’s knowledge that he
belongs to certain social groups together with some emotional and value significance to
him of this group membership’ (Tajfel, 1972, p. 292).
Nevertheless, the relationship between these processes and their broader relevance
for social behaviour were still poorly understood and had not yet been translated into
a fully coherent body of theory. It was here that Turner’s contribution proved critical.
As he wrote in the seminal European Journal of Social Psychology (EJSP) paper that
emerged from this work:
The aim is to develop Tajfel’s interpretation in applying it to the more recent data and
perhaps to develop some guidelines for reconstructing what at the moment is an analytic
approach more along the lines of a systematic predictive theory. (Turner, 1975, p. 6)
The specific contribution of the PhD research reported in the 1975 paper is to show
that social identity and social comparison are inextricably interlinked and that it is the
desire to resolve social comparison in ways that favour the in-group that drives social
competition (e.g., of the form displayed in the minimal group studies). This explains
why conflict need not have a realistic basis (e.g., in competition for scarce resources
S. Alexander Haslam et al.
or negative interdependence, as predicted by Sherif, 1966) and also led Turner to a
formal consideration of the factors that motivate the resolution of social comparison
through competition – one of which is explicit self-categorization in terms of social
identity (p. 22). The social, comparative, and categorical nature of the self as the
psychological underpinning of core social processes (such as conflict) is the starting
point for everything that followed.
More generally, the 1975 paper gives some insight into John’s single-mindedness,
ambition, and audacity as a theorist. It also says much for the quality of the working
relationship between supervisor and student that Tajfel was open to these developments
and quickly recognized their importance. Thus, after he finished his PhD, Turner stayed
on in Bristol to work with Tajfel on the task of integrating their ideas within the
formal set of hypotheses that came to be known as social identity theory (noting that,
partly in recognition of Turner’s contribution, this was initially referred to as ‘social
that individuals strive to define themselves positively and that where sense of self derives
from group membership, they seek to do this by defining their in-group as positively
distinct from comparison out-groups.
Many have treated this start as an ending. They have viewed social identity theory
as a psychological explanation of differentiation and even discrimination between
groups. But this view is wrong and it misunderstands not only the theory but also
the interactionist meta-theory out of which the social identity approach arose. For while
Tajfel and Turner posited that people desire positive distinctiveness, they were well
aware that we live in an unequal world, where many are ascribed to negatively valued
groups. Their concern, then, was to understand how contextual factors impact on
the way people respond to this predicament: whether they adapt to this inequality or
whether they challenge it. According to social identity theory, which path they go down
depends on people’s experience of the permeability of group boundaries and of the
security of intergroup relations (the degree to which they are legitimate and stable).
In brief, the theory suggests that if members of low-status groups believe that group
boundaries are permeable, then they should attempt to deal with negative intergroup
comparisons through strategies of individual mobility that lead them to try to dissociate
are understood to be impermeable. Here, if social relations are seen to be secure (i.e.,
both stable and legitimate) members of low-status groups will tend to engage in social
creativity, whereby they try to improve the group’s standing without challenging higher
status out-groups. However, if relations are seen to be impermeable and insecure (i.e.,
seen to be unstable and/or illegitimate), then members of low-status groups are more
likely to engage in social competition with out-groups with a view to achieving social
change. This is the true endpoint of the theory.
Social identity theory is self-evidently about the importance of groups to social life.
But it is also about the centrality of social identification and group co-action to social
change, and, implicitly at least, it is about the way that co-action provides members
of subordinate groups with the power to mount a challenge to dominant groups. It is
also recognized that these same processes can allow members of advantaged groups to
at the core of social identity theory and it is this combined focus that still makes the
theory stand out today (where others so often see power as operating only to preserve
the status quo).
Rediscovering John Turner
But what has made the theory truly path-breaking – and what again marks out
John Turner’s distinctive contribution – is the combination of this broad vision
with conceptual detail. The importance of most of the elements in the theory had
been clearly anticipated in Tajfel’s earlier writings on social identity (e.g., 1972,
1974). However, relative to these, the hallmark of Tajfel and Turner’s joint work –
specifically as realized in their 1979 chapter ‘An integrative theory of intergroup
conflict’ – was that it formalized social identity theory in terms of a set of detailed
hypotheses that forensically delineated it from alternative models of group process
and conflict. This provided the framework for a ‘grand theory’ with greater explana-
tory power than its competitors (Ellemers & Haslam, 2011; Taylor & Moghaddam,
In short, together, Tajfel and Turner gave social identity theory a distinctive and
powerful social identity. This then served as a platform for a broad range of research
collaborations that allowed researchers collectively to challenge conventional wisdom
across a whole range of subjects – from psycholinguistics and gender studies to social
geography and management.
Staggeringly successful, the result is that over 30 years later, social identity theory
has become the dominant framework for understanding the psychology of intergroup
relations and one that stands as a cornerstone of contemporary social psychology
(Postmes & Branscombe, 2010).
1982–1990: Developing self-categorization theory
Having played his part in the specification of one of his field’s great theories, at the age of
35, Turner had already achieved more than most researchers do in their lifetime. Indeed,
at this point, one assumes that most academics would take the many laurels that were
on offer and rest complacently upon them. But Turner was made restless by two things:
his dissatisfaction with the way in which universities (and Britain in general) were being
ravaged by the Thatcher government and his awareness that there was much more to
social identity than social identity theory suggested.
in Sydney – took advantage of a year as a visiting scholar in the Institute of Advanced
Studies at Princeton to refine an understanding of the processes that were bound up
in the articulation of social identity and their implications for social behaviour more
generally. This ultimately resulted in a series of papers [one being the 1986 paper
published with Penny Oakes in the British Journal of Social Psychology (BJSP)] that
served to spell out self-categorization theory: an integrated set of hypotheses, in which
the emergence and impact of social identity were conceptualized as the workings of a
dynamic self-process. While Turner worked on the theory’s core specifications, he also
worked closely with four PhD students to build up empirical scaffolding that would
support its core tenets and demonstrate their applicability to both micro and macro
problems in the discipline. With Mike Hogg he showed that attraction to individual
group members is an outcome rather than simply a determinant of group identity; with
Penny Oakes he showed that the salience of self-categories is an interactive product
of fit and accessibility; with Margaret Wetherell he showed that group polarization is
the product of group members’ conformity to an extremitized group prototype; with
Steve Reicher he showed that crowd behaviour reflects the situational elaboration of
group norms and the power of members to act on them. The result of this collective
effort was the landmark text Rediscovering the Social Group (1987) in which Turner’s
S. Alexander Haslam et al.
five theoretical chapters were fleshed out with four that documented the fruits of these
Whereas social identity theory is primarily a theory of intergroup relations, self-
categorization theory thus probes much broader questions concerning the interface
between self and society. It asks how and when we define ourselves as group
members rather than as individuals (and vice versa) and what determines which group
context. The findings that emerged from precise and systematic investigation of these
questions challenged many hitherto dominant understandings in social psychology and
Self-categorization theory provides three key insights. The first and most critical of
these is that social identity is what allows group behaviour to occur at all. As Turner
(1982) put it in possibly the most important sentence in the entire corpus of social
identity work ’social identity is the cognitive mechanism that makes group behaviour
possible’ (p. 21). A second core insight is that the self system reflects the operation
of a context-sensitive categorization process, in which people see themselves as either
sharing category membership with others (i.e., in terms of a shared social identity, ‘us’),
or not (seeing those others either as ‘them’ (vs. us) or ‘you’ (vs. me); Turner, 1985).
These processes speak to the dynamic nature of the self-process that is necessary to
represent and respond to both individual and group life and the ever-changing nature
of social reality. This same categorization process also determines which individuals are
most representative (or prototypical) of the group, and hence best able to represent
its meaning. Following up on these ideas, a third profound insight is that shared social
identity is the basis for mutual social influence, a point that Turner elaborated in his
next book, Social Influence (1991). When people perceive themselves to share group
membership with other people (to be similar) in a given context, they are motivated
to strive actively to reach agreement with them and to co-ordinate their behaviour in
ways that are relevant to that identity. It is with those considered to be similar to self (in-
group members) that people develop and vary their working theories about the world,
(re)establish what is appropriate and inappropriate (i.e., develop social norms), and act
together to realize their shared vision. For this reason, shared social identity can be seen
as the basis for all forms of productive social interaction between people – and three in
(Turner & Haslam, 2001).
There are those who have sought to contrast self-categorization theory with social
identity theory, to argue that it underplays the affective dimension of social identity
processes and concentrates narrowly on cognitive and perceptual issues. However,
once again, this loses sight of the essential continuity of the broader themes that framed
Turner’s conceptual developments. There is an obvious and consistent focus on social
identities and social groups. But, even if in this period Turner did not refer explicitly to
power and change, the thrust of his work was to understand the way in which the self-
categorization process positioned people precisely in the context of their social relations
and its consequences for thought, feeling, and action. The work allowed for a more
detailed understanding of the processes that made effective coordination betweengroup
influence helps us understand the ability of groups to cohere and move forward, and it
also helps us understand the positions or identity meanings around which they cohere.
As we shall see, this link was made more explicit in Turner’s late work, but the implicit
thrust is there for anyone who wants to engage fully with his work.
Rediscovering John Turner
More profoundly, though, Turner’s work in this period serves to rebut the idea that
group-level thinking and action is somehow less sophisticated and less rational than
individual thought. More specifically, he sought to demonstrate how group perceptions
relate to – rather than simplify and distort – social reality. In order to make this point
as sharply as possible, Turner focussed on the way that group prototypes (and, later,
group stereotypes) reflect situated forms of social organization and hence, far from
being flawed, rigid, and unresponsive, shift from situation to situation as a function of
the varying forms of social organization. But, that is not to say that he had a simplistic,
mechanical, or one-sided view of the relationship between social categories and social
reality. As becomes increasingly clear in his later writings, he was equally open to the
ways in which categories organize and empower people to reshape social reality. Far
from forgetting the importance of social change in this phase of his work, Turner’s
aim was to defend the one source of change – the social group – against a long and
continuing tradition of pathologization. To claim that groups are intellectually inferior,
he argued powerfully, is to confuse a political or ideological position (a world view)
with scientific explanation. His work on categorization processes and social influence
also opened up a much larger potential canvass for social identity work that extended
beyond the social group and social change by engaging much more broadly with the
workings of the self-process and the nature of personhood. As we have intimated, these
broad implications became much clearer as he extended self-categorization theory in
the final phase of his career.
1991–2008: Extending self-categorization theory
The third phase of Turner’s career began with another move – to take up a position
as Professor of Social Psychology (and Head of School) at the Australian National
University in Canberra. Intellectually, he now prioritized two tasks: first, the extension
and detailed application of self-categorization theory; second, the ongoing challenge
of preventing ‘slippage’ as social identity and self-categorization theories became
In the first of these tasks, he was again supported by a coterie of key collaborators.
Foremost amongst these was his wife, Penny Oakes, with whom he continued to
work closely on issues of stereotyping and social category salience. His former PhD
student Alex Haslam was a second collaborator in this endeavour, and together the three
authored another influential monograph Stereotyping and Social Reality (1994). With
two other former PhD students, Craig McGarty and Barbara David, he also continued to
conduct research into categorization and social influence. After this, another generation
Kate Reynolds – with whom he branched out further to explore issues of self-process,
personal identity, and personality.
These various collaborations led to around 30 publications, all of which struck at
the heart of established thinking. For example, with Oakes he challenged the idea that
he showed that stereotypes respond meaningfully to changes in social comparative
context; with McGarty he showed that disagreement only creates uncertainty in the
context of shared identity, and with David he showed that minorities exert influence
only when contextual factors lead to them being recategorized as part of an extended
in-group; with Onorato he showed that dependence and independence are not fixed
but flow from social identity as much as personal identity, with Brown he showed that
S. Alexander Haslam et al.
the fit and content of categories is shaped by normative theories, and with Reynolds he
showed that individual differences become less predictive of prejudice the more salient
social identity becomes.
However, amongst all the publications that emerged in this period, three stand out.
The first was a 1994 Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (PSPB) article in which
Turner spelled out most succinctly his vision for self-categorization theory as an analysis
of the way in which the collective self-mediates the two-way relationship between the
realities of society and the workings of individual minds. This analysis shows how mind
and society are made by and for each other, and argues that our understanding of
both is irretrievably impoverished through neglect of this interaction. Tellingly, this was
Turner’s only first-authored article in an American outlet. Nevertheless, at the time of
writing, only three papers in that journal have been cited more often and two of these
were heavily influenced by Turner’s work (Brewer, 1991; Luhtanen & Crocker, 1992).
The second important paper in this period was a crystalization of Turner’s thinking
how much the notion of prejudice is bound up with the notion of group irrationality.
Indeed, the very notion of ‘ingroup bias’ suggests that groups are the antithesis of
objectivity – and hence to present in-group bias as a core phenomenon of social
psychology is to entrench the idea that groups are inherently bad things that need,
as far as possible, to be eradicated in an enlightened world.
Building upon earlier work on stereotyping and also upon his ongoing collaboration
with Reynolds and Haslam, Turner argued against the notion that prejudice is a mark
of flawed cognition. Again, he saw this as an ideological preference (though this time a
liberal preference that would, perhaps, be more congenial to most social psychologists)
dressed up in scientific clothing. Turner argued that the process of labelling a position as
prejudice must be understood in the context of in-group–out-group relations, where the
(liberal) in-group finds a particular set of opposing (conservative) views to be ‘wrong’.
So wrong, in fact, that those views can only be understood as the product of flawed and
groups experience social reality, the way in which that experience is refracted through
political and social worldviews along with our preferences for how social reality should
be maintained or changed. This is not to argue that ‘prejudiced views’ are somehow
right, but rather that we will only ever be able to address them if we understand how
they make good sense to the people who hold them from where they stand in the world.
Turner’s point here was that different groups stand in different positions in the world
and therefore have different understandings. Indeed, the very idea of prejudice flows
from this multiplicity, since the condemnation of particular attitudes as ‘wrong’ arises
from the fact that we share neither the vantage point nor the social identity of others,
objectionable. Moreover, the very recognition of a view as prejudice communicates a
collective willingness to contest other people’s understandings with a view to producing
social change. Ironically, then, the psychology of prejudice has at least as much (if not
more) to do with the production of change as it does with the reproduction of static
unchanging worldviews; and just as group processes create the oppressive perspectives
of some, so too they are the key for others to overcome them.
As it happens, Turner never fully wrote these ideas up in a formal publication (but
see Reynolds, Haslam, & Turner, 2011). However, when in 1999 he was selected to
receive the European Association of Social Psychology’s most prestigious award, the
Tajfel medal, these were the arguments that he brought together in his award lecture
Rediscovering John Turner
delivered on a bright summer’s day in Oxford’s magnificent Sheldonian Theatre. For an
together a dense and coherent narrative that overturned some of the most entrenched
assumptions of our discipline and provided a lucid, radical vision not only of the social
psychology of prejudice but of social psychology full stop.
Turner’s third and final important paper was commissioned by editors of the EJSP
as part of its flagship Agenda series, in which leading scholars identify currents and
themes in the field that are an emerging focus for their own and others’ research. It is
highly significant that Turner used this opportunity to provide a re-analysis of the social
psychology of power. The issue that had been imminent in his work from the start,
and which was a critical backdrop to the development of self-categorization theory, was
now, at the end, brought into the limelight. He showed how groups, and the social
identities that underpinned them, are the basis for forces that marshal the energies of
collectives and allow them to be drivers of progress and change. As always, the case
for this was built not only on experimental research, but through a considered analysis
of the facts of culture, politics, and history. Apart from anything else, this means that,
for the reader, it provides a way not only to reorganize the empirical facts of social
psychology but also to see the world around them differently. Once one realizes, for
example, that it is not resources that lead to power but strength of shared identity, one
can see how change and revolution are possible in even the most dire of circumstances.
In this too, one sees the foundations of a properly positive psychology in which change
is produced not by the wishful thinking of isolated minds, but by the concerted action
of groups (e.g., in the form of leadership, organization, and ideology) that flows from
the collective cognition afforded by social identity. It was this message that engaged so
many people with Turner’s mission and it is perhaps the defining message of his career.
While the task of extending self-categorization theory in these ways was one that
Turner relished, the job of trying to defend its intellectual integrity was one that he found
increasingly challenging, and one that, towards the end of his career, took up the greater
part of his time. On the one hand, this required him to write numerous summaries
of social identity and self-categorization theories for the plethora of encyclopedias,
handbooks, and other compendia that have become ever-more abundant in recent years
(a task that he often shared with Kate Reynolds, his main collaborator at ANU in the
final phase of his career; e.g., see Turner & Reynolds, 2001, 2012). On the other hand,
it meant that he also had to write an increasing number of chapters and rejoinders,
in which he sought to clarify the theories and their implications for newer work that
either ignored what these had to say or else objected to it. And, despite the fact that
writing them became increasingly draining, these stand as object lessons in how to
construct a concise, precise argument and how to hold fast to a set of strong scientific
John was aware of the capacity of secondary sources to dilute, bowdlerize, and
vulgarize ideas. Above all, he feared the danger of taking one element in a conceptual
edifice and, by pursuing it in isolation, unbalancing and distorting our understanding.
This is particularly important in social psychology where our whole task is to understand
the delicate balance between the individual and the social, between conformity and
resistance, between social determination and social change – and where, as we have
seen, it is so easy to collapse the argument towards one pole or the other. In order to
avoid this, it is necessary always to appreciate the broader framework of Turner’s work.
What John was working towards in all his work was no more and no less than a
detailed specification of interactionism – clarifying exactly how individual minds make
S. Alexander Haslam et al.
by such sociality. Through this project, he aimed to provide a comprehensive analysis of
the self, groups, power, and social change. In order to appreciate that, and to understand
the significance of the parts, we need to read his work in the round. That is one of the
objectives of this virtual special issue. The other is to understand that John never saw
this as an isolated or a finished project. In collaboration with colleagues and by inspiring
others, he took the task of building an interactionist and progressive social psychology
to be an ongoing collaborative enterprise. Our second objective, then, is to document
The structure of this Virtual Special Issue
Uniquely, this is a joint issue of the BJSP and the EJSP, but, as we have noted, this is
his ideas and built his reputation and influence over the course of his career. Indeed,
between 1985 and 2007, he was an author on 19 papers in each outlet. He chose to
submit his work to these journals because, like Tajfel before him, he saw their readership
In short, they were the in-group with whom he thought he had the best prospect of
building a better social psychology.
It is clear too that this was an enormously successful strategy. According to Web of
Science, John’s BJSP/EJSP papers have been cited 2,287 times in 1,545 papers by 3,129
authors. To reflect the nature of this impact, in an earlier draft of this virtual special
issue, we had thought to include a selection of BJSP and EJSP papers that reflected
John’s influence on other researchers. But, however hard we tried, we were always
conscious of who and what this left out. In short, it was an impossible task. Instead,
then, as a crude marker of this influence, Table 1 includes a list of researchers who have
published 10 or more articles in which they cite John’s research. Most of these names
will be well known to readers of EJSP and BJSP – not least because the list includes 15
people who have been Editors or Associate Editors of the two journals. But as one looks
at this table, remember that, even here, one is seeing just the tip of the iceberg, as this
list includes just over 1% of the authors who have cited this work.
In the end, then, this virtual issue focuses simply on papers on which John himself
was an author. Reflecting the different types of contribution that he made to the two
journals, it is organized into three sections. Section 1 contains articles on which Turner
himself was the sole or leading author – one from each of the three phases of his career.
This starts and ends with papers from EJSP that we have already discussed in some
detail: the 1975 paper that announced his arrival as a social identity scholar, and the
2005 Agenda article that synthesized many of the important ideas that he had developed
in the intervening 40 years. Nestled between these is a 1986 BJSP paper co-authored
with Penny Oakes that examines the process of social influence (specifically in relation
to the phenomenon of group polarization) to develop the case for a non-individualistic
social psychology that is suited to the primary challenges of the discipline – explaining
the psychological substrates of society. Together, these papers provide an instructive
window onto the way in which Turner’s own work and social identity theorizing as a
whole developed over these three decades, starting with a forensic treatment of a core
empirical problem, but panning out to encompass issues that are at the heart of social
science and society as a whole. Importantly too, the journey that these papers chart
Rediscovering John Turner
Table 1. Authors who have cited John Turner’s journal articles more than 10 times∗
Number of papers
Number of papers
citing any of Turner’s
Bourhis, Richard Y.
Branscombe, Nyla R.
Brewer, Marilyn B.
Brown, Rupert J.
Crisp, Richard J.
Haslam, S. Alexander
Hogg, Michael A.
Hornsey, Matthew J.
Mackie, Diane M.
Manstead, Antony S. R.
McGarty, Craig A.
Mummendey, Am´ elie
Ng, Sik Hung
Oakes, Penelope J.
Platow, Michael J.
Reicher, Stephen D.
Reynolds, Katherine J.
Ryan, Michelle K.
Schmitt, Michael T.
Smith, Eliot R.
Terry, Deborah J.
Van Dick, Rolf
Van Knippenberg, Daan
Yzerbyt, Vincent Y.
Note.∗Data abstracted from Web of Science, 1 December 2011.
is not a loose sketch in which the reader is asked to make huge leaps of faith across
treacherous ravines. Reflecting the time that Turner spent working on them (around
a year in each case), they are distinguished instead by the forensic accumulation of
evidence and the very deliberate unfolding of a complex argument. As a result, each
paper has a penetrating fullness of scholarship that only rewards very careful reading,
but which is the inimitable hallmark of Turner’s writing.
S. Alexander Haslam et al.
As we have seen, although Turner made many important solo contributions to the
field, his career was also defined by the strong collaborations that he developed with
others – in particular, his PhD students. Reflecting these, Section 2 presents nine papers
that he co-authored with students and other collaborators. From the first period of his
career, the paper with Rupert Brown and Henri Tajfel shows that discrimination in the
minimal group paradigm is driven not by personal self-interest but by the meaningfulness
of intergroup comparison. From the second period of his career, the 1985 paper with
Hogg supports the idea that group formation is predicated upon attraction among
than individuals’ idiosyncratic likeableness; the 1990 paper with Abrams, Wetherell,
Cochrane, Hogg, and Turner shows that a range of classic effects in social psychology
(e.g., Sherif’s autokinetic paradigm, Asch’s conformity paradigm) are predicated upon
shared identity; the 1991 paper with Oakes and Haslam shows that individuals are
only judged in terms of their group membership when that social categorization is
normatively and comparatively fitting; the paper with McGarty and others examines the
role of agreement and disagreement with similar others in creating the certainty and
uncertainty upon which social influence is based; and the paper with David shows that
minority influence is contingent upon the capacity for a minority to be (re)categorized
as an in-group rather than an out-group. From the third period of Turner’s career, the
1998 paper with Haslam and others shows how stereotype consensus emerges out of
shared group identity; the 2004 paper with Onorato shows how personal characteristics
can be structured by the salience of social identities for which those characteristics are
normative; and the 2007 paper with Reynolds and others shows that discrimination in
the minimal group paradigm is predicted not by individual differences but by strength
of in-group identification. Our selection of these papers reflected a desire to give a sense
of the broad range of people that John worked with and the broad range of topics that
these collaborations addressed. However, the selection of these papers was far more
difficult than that for Section 1 – in part because there were so many papers (29) and so
many collaborators (23) to choose from (see Table 2). Nevertheless, these nine papers
(which together have been cited over 600 times) provide some insight into the quality
of Turner’s collaborations and into the freshness of perspective that these were able to
bring to core topics in social psychology.
Beyond this, Section 3 includes four short replies that John wrote in response to BJSP
and EJSP papers that addressed central issues for the field. The first is a 1980 paper in
which he contributed to ongoing debate concerning the interpretation of findings from
the minimal group studies; the second is a reply to Willem Doise’s 1987 Tajfel lecture
in which John sought to clarify self-categorization theory’s position on the nature of
personal identity and its relationship to social identity; the third is a paper in which
he and Reynolds responded to a debate initiated by Schmitt, Branscombe, and Kappen
(2003) concerning the nature and dynamics of social dominance; the fourth is a paper in
it presents to the conclusions that are typically drawn from Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison
Study. There are two key reasons why these papers provide a fitting end to the virtual
special issue. First, because the opportunity for debate was something that John always
welcomed. Second, because debate was an arena in which his qualities as an academic
shone through. Indeed, he never shunned argument because he believed that this was
the mechanism through which one’s own ideas were tested and steeled, and that this
was the principal means by which worthwhile scientific progress could be achieved.
Rediscovering John Turner
Table 2. John Turner’s collaborators∗
Years in between which
Branscombe, Nyla R.
Brown, Rupert J.
Eggins, Rachael A.
Haslam, S. Alexander
Hayes, Brett K.
Hogg, Michael A.
Mavor, Kenneth I.
McGarty, Craig A.
Oakes, Penelope J.
Onorato, Rina S.
Reynolds, Katherine J.
Ryan, Michelle K.
Smith, Philip M.
Wetherell, Margaret S.
Note.∗Data abstracted from Web of Science, 28 November 2011.
Moreover, it was precisely because they are sites for such debate that he was such a
committed supporter of both BJSP and EJSP.
John Turner died on 24th July 2011, and in his 63 years he rose to become one of
the world’s most influential social psychologists. Yet his career appeared to defy all
prescriptions for success. Indeed, in today’s market, it would be a brave appointment
committee that gave him a job: he attended relatively few conferences, he invested little
time courting grace and favour among the discipline’s power brokers, his output was
or empirical nuance. Indeed, as Table 3 makes clear, his most important publications
justice not only to the depth of his scholarship but to the richness of social psychology.
In this regard, what marked John out as so special was the combination of a fierce
intellect, an unshakeable integrity, and a profound seriousness about the subject matter
of social psychology. The first of these qualities will be apparent from reading the papers
we present here and to anyone who ever heard him speak – especially to those who
were privileged enough to engage him in one-on-one discussion.
S. Alexander Haslam et al.
Table 3. John Turner’s key publications: books, chapters, and papers cited over 500 times
or Chapter PublicationCitations∗
1. Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1979). An integrative theory of
intergroup conflict. In W. G. Austin & S. Worchel (Eds.),
The social psychology of intergroup relations (pp. 33–47).
Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.
Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1986). The social identity theory
of intergroup behaviour. In S. Worchel & W. G. Austin
(Eds.), Psychology of intergroup relations (2nd ed., pp. 7–24).
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.
Turner, J. C. (1982). Towards a cognitive redefinition of the
social group. In H. Tajfel (Ed.), Social identity and intergroup
relations (pp. 15–40). Cambridge: Cambridge University
Turner, J. C. (1991). Social influence. Milton Keynes, UK:
Open University Press.
Turner, J. C. (1985). Social categorization and the
self-concept: A social cognitive theory of group behaviour.
In E. J. Lawler (Ed.), Advances in group processes (Vol. 2, pp.
77–122) Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.
Oakes, P. J., Haslam, S. A., & Turner, J. C. (1994). Stereotyping
and social reality. Oxford: Blackwell.
Turner, J. C., Oakes, P. J., Haslam, S. A., & McGarty, C. A.
(1994). Self and collective: Cognition and social context.
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 20, 454–463.
Turner, J. C. (1987). A self-categorization theory. In J. C.
Turner, M. A. Hogg, P. J. Oakes, S. D. Reicher, & M. S.
Wetherell (Eds.), Rediscovering the social group: A
self-categorization theory (pp. 42–67). Oxford: Blackwell
Turner, J. C. (1999). Some current issues in research on
social identity and self-categorization theories. In N.
Ellemers, R. Spears, & B. Doosje (Eds.), Social identity:
Context, commitment, content (pp. 6–34). Oxford: Blackwell
Turner, J. C. (1975). Social comparison and social identity:
Some prospects for intergroup behaviour. European
Journal of Social Psychology, 5, 5–34.
Note.∗Data abstracted from Google Scholar, 12 September 2011.
The second is evident in the way that John never did what was fashionable or what
would win easy plaudits, but what he thought was right. We have just touched on that
in the matter of publication. He often lamented the fact that, whereas in the past journal
articles were seen as crucial elements in building up broad arguments that could then be
seen as the be-all and end-all of our enterprise. This has created a fragmentary discipline
Rediscovering John Turner
whose vision is cobbled together out of multiple miniature insights. The dangers of this
are not lost on the discipline’s practitioners. But whereas most have knuckled down and
played the game, John always refused to do so. Whenever he wrote, it was to pursue the
for John Turner, was never a game, a sideline, a dilettante pursuit. It addresses processes
of the most profound importance – of oppression and resistance, of inequality and social
conflict, of power and subordination. These determine whether people divide or unite,
once attempted to make light of a point that John was driving home with characteristic
rigour by observing that, in the end, ‘social psychology is not a cure for cancer’. ‘No’,
he replied, ‘it’s much more important than that’.
For John, then, getting social psychology right was the most important of all pursuits,
and it afforded little space for complacency or compromise – not least because he always
saw understanding, like the identities that motivate it, as a work in progress. This was
the recipe for an extraordinary life, but not one that was easy or enviable. Nevertheless,
through the range of torments he endured, what spurred John on was the process of
issue is our attempt to contribute to that effort, and to recognize the accomplishments of
a brilliant intellectual leader who did so much for us and for the scientific communities
of which he was a great champion.
(∗paper included in this virtual issue)
∗Abrams, D., Wetherell, M. S., Cochrane, S., Hogg, M. A., & Turner, J. C. (1990). Knowing what
to think by knowing who you are: A social identity approach to norm formation, conformity
and group polarization. British Journal of Social Psychology, 29, 97–119. doi:10.1111/j.2044–
Billig, M. G., & Tajfel, H. (1973). Social categorization and similarity in intergroup behaviour.
European Journal of Social Psychology, 3, 27–52.
and Social Psychology Bulletin, 17, 475–482. doi:10.1177/0146167291175001
∗David, B., & Turner, J. C. (1996). Studies in self-categorization and minority conversion: Is being
a member of the outgroup an advantage? British Journal of Social Psychology, 35, 179–199.
doi:10.1111/j. 2044-8309.1996. tb01091.x
Doise, W. (1988). Individual and social identities in intergroup relations. European Journal of
Social Psychology, 18, 99–111. doi:10.1002/ejsp.2420180202
Ellemers, N., & Haslam, S. A. (2011). Social identity theory. In P. Van Lange, A. Kruglanski, & T.
Higgins (Eds.), Handbook of theories of social psychology (pp. 379–398). London: Sage.
∗Haslam, S. A., Turner, J. C., Oakes, P. J., Reynolds, K. J., Eggins, R. A., Nolan, M., & Tweedie,
J. (1998). When do stereotypes become really consensual? Investigating the group-based
dynamics of the consensualization process. European Journal of Social Psychology, 28, 755–
∗Hogg, M. A., & Turner, J. C. (1985). Interpersonal attraction, social identification and
psychological group formation. European Journal of Social Psychology, 15, 51–66.
Luhtanen,R.,& Crocker, J.(1992).A
of one’s social identity. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin,18, 302–318.