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, 45 (Pt 1), 41-6

Tyranny, Freedom and Social Structure: Escaping Our Theoretical Prisons


Tyranny, Freedom and Social Structure: Escaping Our Theoretical Prisons

John C Turner. Br J Soc Psychol.


Reicher and Haslam's (2006) BBC prison study undermines the idea that people passively accept and enact social roles. In this commentary, I point out that this idea is an example of Moscovici's (1976) conformity bias and a wider stability bias in social psychological theorizing. In many key areas, the science prefers analyses that explain how and why social structures, intergroup and power relations, personalities and beliefs maintain and reproduce themselves, and indeed cannot be changed, rather than how and why society constantly generates forces for social change from within itself. This bias distorts reality and produces ideas of limited theoretical or practical power. Human psychology does not make us prisoners of social structure. It makes us capable of collective action to change social structures and in turn re-fashion our identities, roles, personalities and beliefs. Society is not a psychological prison but a means of expanding human possibilities. A reorientation of theoretical emphasis is overdue.

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