Billig, Michael


Start date:


Michael Billig is a British Social Psychologist who completed his undergraduate degree and PhD at Bristol University under Henri Tajfel. As an experimental psychologists he assisted in minimal group experiments which were highly influenced upon the social identity approach.
Later in the 1970s Billig became more interested in topics such as power, extremism and ideology. In 1976 he published Social Psychology and Intergroup Relations. He then went on to infiltrate and study the National Front, a right wing fascist group attempting to gain power in Britain. And published Fascists in 1979. He also studied more ordinary, non- extreme forms of ideology and conducted studies on how people discuss the Royal Family. Overall Billig has had a range of research interests within social psychology, including humour and rock ā€˜nā€™ roll.
Billig was also a founding member of the Discourse and Rhetoric Group with Derek Edwards and Jonathon Potter. This group have gone on to study language and the ways in which it is used in practise and for what purpose. Based on this discourse work Billig has written How to Write Badly in which he argues that social scientists often write in such complicated ways that their written work obscures information as much as it informs readers.

'I was an undergraduate at Bristol University during the sixties, studying philosophy and psychology. I found the psychology courses uninteresting, at least until my final year, when Henri Tajfel arrived in Bristol as Professor of Social Psychology. His lectures opened psychology out to political and sociological issues in exciting ways. After I had finished my undergraduate degree, Henri asked me to design and run a series of experiments that became known as the 'minimal group' experiments. I then studied for a doctorate under his supervision. Without Henri's encouragement I would never have become an academic. He set a magnificent example with his genuine commitment to intellectual inquiry and his conviction that ideas were crucially important in practical social issues.
My first lecturing job was in the Psychology Department at Birmingham Univesity. Although I had some very good friends there, the intellectual ethos of the department was not congenial to the directions in which I was moving. I was becoming dissatisfied with a narrowly experimental, indeed psychological, approach to social issues and was reading widely outside of psychology. I was intellectually isolated for much of my time at Birmingham, having few contacts outside my department. The isolation led to a sense of freedom. I read, wrote and researched what I wanted. During this time I did a study of the extreme right and came into contact with my second great teacher ā€“ Maurice Ludmer, the editor of the anti-fascist magazine, 'Searchlight'. Maurice was an old trade-unionist activist without an academic background. He had a rare humanity and deep wisdom. My contact with Maurice convinced me of something that I had already thought: books and academic training may provide information, but they cannot give you the sort of wisdom that Maurice possessed. I still miss my two teachers, who died within a year, each with so much more work to do.
In 1985 I left Birmingham to come to Loughborough University as Professor of Social Sciences. I have been privileged to work in a department with such committed and talented colleagues from across the social sciences. From my first day at Loughborough, I felt intellectually at home. Over the years, the department has attracted academics who wish to break out of narrow disciplinary boundaries. In the social psychology group, there have been a number of us interested in creating new forms of psychology through the study of language and rhetoric. This led to the foundation of the Discourse and Rhetoric Group. I have been enormously influenced by my colleagues in DARG, such as Charles Antaki, Derek Edwards, Dave Middleton and Jonathan Potter. They have taught me the value of paying close attention to the details of language and they have done so much to create the new movement of discursive psychology.
There is a temptation in academic life today to become an expert in a narrow topic. I would find that constraining. Thus, in recent years, I have looked at nationalism, the history and theory of psychoanalysis, and the development of rock'n'roll. Academic life, despite all the growing pressures, still offers the possibility of freedom to read and to be curious. I hope that I can still take full advantage of this freedom.'
Written by: Michael Billig