Social Psychology Section




by Nick Hopkins & Karen Douglas,

BJSP editors

Power is everywhere. And Social Psychologists routinely refer to it: the power of labels; the power of majority groups; the power of crowds and collective action, and so on. Yet, we rarely reflect on the concept itself. Moreover, because we invoke the concept in order to explain something else (the thing that really interests us) what we have to say on power is distributed across many topics. All this means that it is hard to talk of a social psychology of power. Just look in the index of most social psychology textbooks. You’ll find whole chapters devoted to stereotypes, attitude change, social influence, dyadic interaction, etc. But you will be hard pushed to find a chapter on power. And when you do read across the various domains in which the concept is invoked, you’d find the term used in very varied and often rather contradictory ways.

These issues are highlighted in conceptual critique of our thinking on power by Felicia Pratto (University of Connecticut) published in the British Journal of Social Psychology. Pratto argues that power is typically conceptualised in terms of relational power (where one party has power over another) and that this is fundamentally limiting. As an alternative, she offers a non-relational conceptualisation which focuses on that which allows the goals of an individual to be fulfilled. This capacity does not simply reside in the individual concerned but also depends on the degree to which the environment allows the individual to use that capacity to attain those goals. The significance of this non-relational account is that it allows us to approach old questions in new ways and indeed ask new questions.  

Pratto’s formulation is bold and controversial and in a commentary Steve Reicher (University of St Andrews) responds with a spirited defence of a relational conception of power. For example, he argues that a social relational dynamic is central to the constitution of social actors and that this process of constitution is itself key to understanding how power is created and modified. Yet, if he takes Pratto to task for failing to ask how subjects are constituted in the first place, Reicher willingly acknowledges that her analysis made him think and clarify his position. As he explains it is an issue that matters and this conversation about the nature of power matters….

Please do join the conversation… The Pratto and Reicher papers are available online.


Every Tuesday in June a new blog post will be published on power in social psychology:

The first commentary piece in this power series was from Ana Guinote (UCL) titled: What is Power and How does it Affect People?

The second commentary was from Christine Griffin (University of Bath, UK) titled:  “Something ­is happening”: Psychological approaches to understanding the performance of power”.   This post was published on Tuesday 14th June 2016.

The third commentary was from David Harper (UEL) titled: Taking power seriously.  This post was published on Tuesday 21th June.

The fourth (and final) commentary was from John Cromby (Leicester) titled: Comments on Pratto and Reicher.  This was published on Tuesday 28th June.

To conclude the power series, we invite you to join us for a Twitter chat using #spschat on Tuesday 5th July at 8pm.

We are keen to promote dialog within this power debate, so very much encourage you to comment below (when logged in).   You can also tweet us using #spsblog @SocialPsychUK

Tue, 07/06/2016 - 08:04

By Devina Lister, @MMU_DLister / @FeministsNW

It was a joy to attend the Social Media and Feminism #SoMeFem 2015 conference on Friday 6th March 2015, in celebration of International Women’s Day on Sunday 8th March. I am here to provide a quick recap on the event, which arguably achieved its aims to:

“bring together academics and those working and campaigning on social media in order to consider a number of poignant issues that are coming to the fore around gender and social media”.

I feel inspired by the creativity of attendees. The ‘unpaid work’ of attendees on Twitter – to use an idea coined by Reni Eddo Lodge during the final talk – deserves showcasing as many attendees used the Twitter hashtag #SoMeFem to tweet about what was going on and their experiences of the event.

To begin, to the badge making area!

At the start to the day the organisers invited attendees to make #SoMeFem name badges. I mention this because it already set the tone for a great day, which encouraged and inspired attendees to use their creative energies. It seemed only fitting to provide attendees with a choice in how to present oneself as a diverse group of people.

‘Celebrity’ feminisms as representing good and bad feminisms? Kirsty Fairclough-Isaacs’ keynote

With home-made badges in tow, the conference began with an introduction by Abigail Locke and Rebecca Lawthom.  The first speaker for the day was Kirsty Fairclough-Isaacs (@DrKirstyIsaacs) who discussed Celebrity Feminism and Social Media. This was a fascinating insight into ways in which discussions online about ‘celebrity’ feminists are informed by the discursive context of social media. To watch Kirsty’s talk see 

Kirsty highlights the pervasive effect simplistic polarising and singular ideas about gender, without considering intersectionalities, can have in developing feminism through online conversations. To elucidate this she drew on the examples from her work on the singer Beyoncé and UN Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson. (Beyoncé initially invited attention after quoting Chimamanda Ngozi in her song ‘Flawless’ (see article on Beyonce's sample on 'Flawless') and has since stayed in the public eye). It made sense to me the argument that perceiving celebrities Beyoncé as bad feminists because they use their bodies to sell their brand, in this case in the music industry is too simple. Similarly though the idea that she presents pseudo-feminist ideas or ‘feminist lite’ (see article in Glamour - Beyonce as 'feminism lite') could be weighed up against the accessibility of the singer to younger audiences. As Kirsty described, when Beyoncé revealed the video of herself standing in front of a large brightly-lit sign saying ‘FEMINIST’ this was a significant moment or flashpoint that proliferated interest in feminism amongst younger women via social media.

Kirsty made it clear that Beyoncé’s body is a “site of contestation” and should not be separated from thinking about intersecting race and gender oppression. Similarly, Emma Watson should be considered as a woman that is well-educated and white, which inevitably shapes her politics and feminism. Intersectionality is crucial within all online (and offline) conversations about feminist topics, and celebrity feminism provides a useful way of understanding this.

A short respite and some Oscar winning selfies!

Amidst the sandwiches and interesting conversations during lunch, which followed Kirsty’s talk, @JessicaDrakett had the idea of #SoMeFem attendees taking Oscar selfies in front of the Twitter stream, which was projected onto a wall. This was a great idea that won @JessicaDrakett who came up with the idea a #SoMeFem sought after cup!

Returning to the talks, the first speaker after lunch was Meg Barker, who drew upon some of her experiences researching sex advice in mainstream literature and romantic fiction and as a sex and relationships therapist (see Meg’s book and blog called Rewriting the rules if you are interested in learning more). This was a superb talk that was interesting and very entertaining. Some of the tweets sent during this talk speak to me and provide ample quotes from Meg’s talk about consent conversations. ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ and ‘Blurred Lines’ came up as two contemporary examples of misogynous products of popular culture.

 ‘Blurred Lines’ - a a song featuring a video with two male (clothed) singers standing around whilst slim, attractive and bare breasted models strike sexualised poses around them – continues to invite controversy due to the video and its sexist lyrics. The first line of chorus is: “And that’s why I’m gonna take a good girl, you know you want it”. Meg explained how parody versions can be used to to open up conversations about consent and everyday sexism through the act of “gender flipping”. For example parody videos called Fifty Shades of Pink video featuring Barbie as Christian Grey in a parody of the Fifty Shades film trailer. The Feminist Parody of Blurred Lines and Blurred Lines parody by Mod Carousel video are also parodies of the Blurred Lines video. Very funny but also making an important point.

 Humour can be helpful in starting conversations although, as Meg described, this can also silence people that do not identify within the binary gender man versus woman identities presented in ‘gender flipping’ parodies. This is interesting since the consent conversations are also largely absent within sex advice and mainstream romantic fiction, except within BDSM sex advice where ideas of consent are oversimplified and fail to consider “macro power relationships” as affecting a person’s ability to consent.

There is so much more I could say about this talk (and all the others!) although in particular I will add the idea that resonated with me most of all during #SoMeFem. Rather than making value judgements and focussing on what makes good and bad feminist/sm during our online conversations, would it not be more helpful to think about how to facilitate discussion amongst different people. Asking “what does this open up and what does this shut down?” as a more open alternative to moralising feminist arguments.

 (If these discussions are of interest to you, you also might like to visit Meg’s presentation Meg Barker: sex and intimacy advice (a critical view)).

Beth Bell: Gender, identity and teen girls online

At this point in the day and for the next two talks, I decided to sit in the break-out room as my brain was (quite literally) buzzing with ideas. The video of the event was being live screened to the lecture so it was still possible to have a break without having to fully disengage from the event. A great idea from the organising team – thank you! The next talk was by developmental psychologist @BethBell.

 In this talk Beth presented their findings of her research with girls, which provided a fascinating account of how using new technologies allows for constructing a “visual presentation of self to others” through sharing images onlin.

 Beth argued that by sharing photos and interacting online this instantaneous means of social interactions allows for getting feedback. I wished there had been more time for Beth to expand on the intriguing “like’ politics”, which heavily features in the girls’ talk about how ‘likes’ on photos from others made them feel. Whilst the girls kept inviting complicity saying “you know” it was clear that with regards to girls and social media, we don’t know.

 Of the many interesting things described by Beth during the talk, I remember my surprise at learning that teenage girls and boys view selfies (taking a photo of yourself with a phone or other device) differently.

 Looking back there have long been judgements made of women pulling the ‘duck face’ and ‘pout’ poses in Facebook photos, and there is a pervasive explicit ‘slut shaming’ of celebrity women also in mainstream magazines and other media. Beth found that girls, who are markedly more likely to use social media than boys – were seen in negative ways by boys, perhaps due to incompatibility of the selfie photos with normative ideas about performing masculinities. One of many interesting points made by Beth in what is arguably an under-researched area.

 Kristin Aune: Religion, feminism and ‘transversing’ identity politics

 The penultimate talk with Kirstin (@DrKristinAune) involved revisiting a topic not often seen within online discussions about feminism, that of religion and feminism. As an established writer (of ‘Reclaiming the F Word’, also by Catherine Redfern) and sociologist it was invaluable to hear Kristin’s presentation about how feminism may be able to draw upon ideas from inter-faith cultures, which like intersectional feminisms is situated between the two polarised subjectivities of faith and atheism. As someone new to this area it was so useful to hear about ‘transversal politics’ as a way of opening up dialogues. Rather than viewing ‘identity politics’ as a means of understanding identity constructions, this interdisciplinary approach

 “recognises the rich intersections of other people’s identity”

 This was best shown though some of the tweets produced during the talk, which certainly left me with ideas about interdisciplinary work to explore in future.

Reni Eddo Lodge: encouraging ‘sprawling’ feminisms in different spaces

 The close of the conference drew near as the final speaker, Reni Eddo Lodge (@renireni), began her speech, which continued the seamless flow of themes that had continuously come up during #SoMeFem, that of intersectionality and the need to extend conversations about feminist issues. Reni’s talk returned us to these issues through her usual compelling and accessible style of address, beginning with her stories about being propelled into the public eye through her online activities five years ago “before feminism became cool” and more feminists were involved with online activism. The stats reveal how feminism has become progressively more of a ‘hot topic’ in recent years, with gendered social media behaviour seeing more women online than men by a significant amount.

I sensed there was some agreement that the way this fourth (or fifth, or sixth? who knows as Reni suggests!) wave of feminism has evolved around social media and that this can attract “resentment from established feminists”. Nonetheless, with so many attendees coming along to #SoMeFem who ranged from experienced activists and academics to younger students involved in campaigning or taking undergraduate degree, I felt hopeful that this type of thinking does not apply across the board. As Reni described:

“Everybody is always learning…and we will never all be in agreement. Conflicts will happen”

 I enjoyed how Reni linked with this the idea of feminism “sprawling” across different groups and interdisciplinary circles as a result of social media conversations about feminism. This conveys well the need for inviting people into discussions who do not identify with hard right or left politics and “conservative or liberal” agendas.

         “The mainstreaming of feminism will make things bigger, better and more sprawling”

 This, as Reni argued, can be a great thing for feminism, taking account of how every individual can has their own “spheres of influence” and opportunities to create social change. In saying this, this also implicitly accepts that no one is an ‘unfinished’ project and so starting conversations online beyond feminist territories ensures change can happen. Reni ended with a call to academics to urgently work to think of ideas to archive the important conversations taking place online about feminism. This seems like an important point to end upon as an open-ended question of how can we capture feminist conversations on social media within out research? Whilst this signified the end to the talks at #SoMeFem, it is nonetheless just the start of conversations online. Will you join the conversation?

Orginally posted on 10/03/15

Wed, 25/11/2015 - 21:44

By Dr Jane Montague

I’ll begin this post by introducing myself. I’m Dr Jane Montague. Some of you might know me from my work as Head of Psychology at the University of Derby or as the current Conference Officer for the SPS committee. I have served on the committee previously (as the editor of Social Psychological Review) and, after a break, decided to return in 2013 – I missed the excitement of being at the heart of our social psychology community and being able to influence the direction in which we move our subject area along.

So, we’re into October and the new academic year is now underway for the majority of us. The organizational stresses of our 2014 Social Psychology Section conference are almost a dim and distant memory and new challenges relating to our 2015 conference are beginning to appear. Canterbury Christ Church University was an amazing venue and everyone I met there was extremely friendly and helpful. The campus is lovely and the weather remained good for the whole of the conference. This meant that our visitors from overseas were not put off by the sometimes unpredictable English weather and that those of us more used to the clouds and rain were able to enjoy an extension to our summer before the autumnal leaves began to appear.

The conference itself brought many highlights – the keynotes and presentations were all of outstanding quality and the conference team are all very pleased with the (relative) smoothness with which the conference ran. I met some fantastic people and formulated some (what I think are!!) great ideas for next year at The Palace Hotel, Manchester alongside the Developmental Psychology Section.

One innovative part of the conference this year was the introduction of the Pecha Kucha presentations – I gave one of these. For any of you who were in the room at the time, I still haven’t fully recovered J I don’t know how my similarly adventurous colleagues felt but my PK presentation left me feeling shattered and pleased it was over while also feeling I’d actually achieved something a little different. I’m not saying I’ll do it again but I’m not dismissing it out of hand just yet!!

Another part of the conference I felt made a positive contribution was the inclusion of one-minute summaries of posters by their presenters. I was extremely pleased to see such a range of posters being presented but to hear a brief summary of each brought them to life a little more than is the case when they’re just displayed in a room. It also gave those people who had taken the trouble to design and display their posters a more active role within the conference, which I felt brought the whole thing together a little more than usual.

I’d be really interested to hear others’ thoughts on their experiences in and around Canterbury and at the 2014 conference so please do add your comments to the blog if you have time. It’s great to have some conversation about any aspects we post on here. We’d like to engage our social psychology community more widely, especially as we are your representatives.


Orginally posted on 21/10/15

Wed, 25/11/2015 - 21:40

By Emily Hofstetter, PhD candidate, Loughborough University

If I had ever doubted the impact that qualitative work could have on real people in real situations, the conference on Applied Qualitative Research definitively proved me wrong. The conference was held in August 2014 at the University of Derby. Featuring an excellent set of presentations in fields from health care to education to the polyamory movement, the conference was an invigorating instalment in this annual reminder of the impact that qualitative research can have in contemporary life.

Most exciting was the plenary lecture from Prof. Celia Kitzinger on how to maximize the impact of one’s research. Prof. Kitzinger’s energy was absolutely infectious and I am certain we all left far more optimistic and determined than before. Motivated by her personal experiences of being a family member of someone in a long-term coma, Prof. Kitzinger has used her skills and position as an established researcher to create a multi-disciplinary research centre from which she has launched an array of public outreach initiatives. From a festival about dying, to workshops in conjunction with charities in the UK, she has, as she says, ‘created the context for [her] work to have impact and influence’. It was this process of creating context for research impact that she encouraged us to pursue.

It will be interesting to see how her words and work influence the attendees of the conference, many who were in the very early stages of their research careers. On the one hand, it is easier to create impact when one has an established position and credentials. On the other hand, Prof. Kitzinger’s work could stand as an example of how to proceed habitually with one’s research, as a matter of course. Increasing the impact of one’s research can benefit the progress of one’s career. We ought to take home the message that commitment to creating this context-for-impact can be a lifelong strategy, and there is no better time to start than now.

The presentations at the conference varied in their methodological approaches, topics, and content, but there was a unifying theme that emerged: communicating impact to non-academic stakeholders is challenging, sometimes fraught with barriers and misunderstanding, but it is also enlightening for many organizations and individuals who have never considered the ‘human’ side of their daily work. For each story of setbacks due to a structural reorganization of a hospital, there was a story of an ecstatic doctor who had never before considered looking for the kind of information qualitative work in psychology was able to provide.

At the end of the conference, Prof. Kitzinger gave a workshop on how to write Advance Decisions. These documents are legally binding refusals of treatment, for those who wish to have a say in how their health is controlled in the event that they become mentally incapable. In the UK, next-of-kin cannot interfere in the decisions made by medical care teams, meaning that unless the person who has lost the mental capacity to make decisions has left a statement about their wishes, the medical care team will make decisions based on the best interest of the patient. It also means, historically speaking, that they will not allow a patient to die. This has result in thousands of patients in comas for years, even decades, while their families have no closure and have continuing care responsibilities for relatives who will never wake up. Advance Decisions allow patients to have a say in their care, specifically allowing them to refuse treatment (some treatments, or all treatments, immediately or after any specified period of time). In the event of a traumatic accident such as a car crash, there is no better way to make one’s wishes about care and dying known. If you would like more information about comas, end-of-life decisions, and/or if you are interested in filling out an Advance Decision, please visit the Compassion in Dying website (, a charity in the UK that deals with these matters. Alternatively, for more information on the research output, visit the website of the Centre for Chronic Disorders of Consciousness (

About Emily:

Emily Hofstetter is a PhD student at Loughborough University. She is researching the constituency offices of Members of Parliament, and the interactions that take place there between MPs, staff, and constituents. She is working with Prof. Elizabeth Stokoe to create a training programme for MPs out of this research.


Email: [email protected]

Orginally posted on 19/08/14

Wed, 25/11/2015 - 21:40

by Lynsey Mahmood, PhD candidate, University of Kent, @lynseymahmood

A recent #SPSchat1 asked ‘what is the future of social psychology?’

The tweets that followed this question speculated that there are a huge number of factors that could impact social psychology both now, and in the future; but I think that a key facet of this lies with the next generation of social psychologists2.  A fantastic move by SPS has been in the development of a Postgraduate conference, the first of which was held in April 2014, at the University of Kent.  The conference was not only arranged for the benefit and attendance of PG students (both research and taught), but was also organised and run by Postgraduate research students. Daniel Jolley (SPS PsyPAG Rep) and I embarked on what can only be described as an eye-opening journey through the administrative, budgetary and organisational processes involved in setting up a conference - and doing it from scratch! This gave us a challenging, but fairly unique opportunity to take the reins and design the conference in our own way, which [hopefully] translated into an event that really appealed to other postgraduates.  And how many postgraduates can say they have organised a conference before completing their PhD?

Utilising our experience of attending conferences as well as some well juggles timetabling, over the course of two days, we managed to cram in 24 talks, seven 3MT presentations, six posters, two keynote addresses and a workshop led by early career researchers (Viva Survivors) giving hints/tips/advice on the write up process, attending the Viva, and what happens after that. Workshop leaders were four post-doctoral academics in the early stages of their careers, Dr Hannah Swift, Dr Ana Leite, Dr Aleksandra Chicocka and Dr Nathan Heflick, who offered guidance, support and comfort to those still working through their postgraduate study, whilst also pointing at where social psychology is currently heading. The keynote speakers had research interests in intergroup relations, identity and prejudice (Dr Hana Zagefka), and organizational and business research (Dr Martin Edwards), but the most impressive addition to the programme was the variety of topics for poster, oral and 3MT3 presentations. Research was presented relating to topics from drinking behaviour to age based stereotyping, distress following facial injuries to leadership and organizations and challenges in health care to charitable giving. All of the presentations were engaging and professional and the 3MT presentations proved difficult for a panel of academics to judge a winner. 

In summary, the conference was an opportunity to showcase the variety and quality of social psychology research being undertaken but current postgraduates in the field. And therein lays the most important answer to the question ‘what is the future of social psychology?’- The future is with these budding academics and researchers. Each postgraduate student who is using social psychology theory and linking it to new and innovative areas are helping to grow the field, disseminating their research is making the field known and giving it impact and I am certainly proud to be amongst those. I am extremely grateful to SPS for allowing myself and the other postgraduate students this opportunity and I hope that they will continue to grow and develop the postgraduate conference and in turn offer guidance and support to those of us who are still in the early stages of our career in social psychology.

1 #SPSchat is a monthly online discussion that takes place via twitter. Tweets containing the hashtag can be followed like a conversation.

2 May contain bias…this blog was written by a social psychology postgraduate student.

33MT is a three minute thesis, where presenters have only three minutes to present the key aspects of their research/thesis.

Orginally posted on 27/05/14

Wed, 25/11/2015 - 21:39



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