Reicher completed both his undergraduate degree and his PhD at the University of Bristol. There he worked closely with Henri Tajfel and John Turner who developed Social Identity Theory.
Reicher is a social psychologist who is mainly concerned with group processes, group behaviour, leadership and tyranny. He is a specialist in Crowd Psychology in particular. Reicher argues his research interests can be grouped into three domains: 1) the attempt to develop a model of crowd action that allows for social determination and social change 2) the construction of social categories through language and 3) political rhetoric and mass mobilisation.
One of the most well-known pieces of work conducted by Reicher is a variation of Zimbardo’s prison experiment with Alex Haslam. In the BCC study the researchers explored the consequences of when people are allocated unequal power.
Reicher’s work has been ground-breaking in relation to crowd psychology and he has been critical of previous theorists such as Le Bon who argued crowd behaviour was contagious and those in the crowd became submerged into a primitive mind set. In the 1980s Reicher developed the Social Identity Model which stated that, rather than a depersonalisation process, crowds behave according to a shared group identity. His theory explained the variety of behaviours, from the violent and the pacifist, because it theorised group behaviour in relation to the social norms expected from a given identity.
In further research into this model Reicher conducted analysis on the St Paul’s riot and the targets adopted by the crowd. In this work, and in collaborations with John Drury and others, Reicher began to develop his Social Identity Model into the Elaborated Social Identity Model. The new model was more able to describe the emergence and development of crowd conflicts.