University of Stirling, UK
What does your research focus on?
Broadly, I’m interested in social identity, group processes, and intergroup relations. I’ve also developed a particular interest in the role of emotion in these phenomena. Specific lines of research have focused on (1) the role of group norms and social identity content in intergroup relations; (2) resistance to intergroup inequality and threat by members of minority groups; and (3) emotion as a basis for social identity. I’m also fortunate to have been involved in research into crowd behavior, led by Clifford Stott at University of Liverpool.
What drew you to this line of research? Why is it exciting to you?
Intergroup conflict, inequality, and resistance are of course prominent in the news media, but they are also a feature of my own background. I grew up in Northern Ireland at a time when almost every aspect of life was colored by intergroup division, and violence was never far away. Conflict was woven into the fabric of everyday life, and quite simply I wanted to know why, and what could be done about it. The fact that I haven’t yet found a compelling answer to these questions has kept me in the field since then.
Who were/are your mentors or psychological influences?
As mentors, and in the order in which I met them, I owe a great deal to Steve Reicher of University of St. Andrews, Alex Haslam of the University of Exeter (my PhD supervisor), Russell Spears of University of Groningen, and Tony Manstead of Cardiff University. They are each intellectual leaders who also set the highest of standards as teachers and as colleagues. In terms of other influences, reading the work of Henri Tajfel and John Turner, who sadly passed away in July, is inspiring.
To what do you attribute your success in the science?
Having been fortunate enough to work with the people listed above, and more generally to have a fantastic set of colleagues working in a supportive and collegiate atmosphere. Without their influence, I probably wouldn’t even have pursued a PhD, never mind embarked on a career in research. Other than that, one thing that tends to be learned the hard way is not to get too discouraged by negative feedback, and to use it to make your work stronger and better. A big part of this is my conviction and passion for the topic I research and keeping sight of the big-picture issues that make it interesting.
What’s your future research agenda?
I hope to continue many of the lines of research in which I’m currently involved. I’d also like to pursue other fledgling projects relating to the role of group status in shaping characterizations of intergroup “conflict,” and the role of what are termed “social-creativity” strategies by members of disadvantaged groups. Beyond that, intergroup relations are so vast in their complexity and importance that I’m sure other issues will spark my interest in ways that I can’t foresee just yet.
Any advice for even younger psychological scientist? What would you tell someone just now entering graduate school or getting their PhD?
No matter what gets thrown at you, keep reminding yourself of why you feel passionate about the subject and of the big issues that brought you into the field in the first place. This is also a lot easier if you can find and cultivate links with like-minded colleagues. Intellectual collaboration is obviously one aspect of this, but don’t underestimate the value of the social support and camaraderie that it brings. Finally, proper inspiration often comes from reading beyond the borders of psychology.
What publication are you most proud of or feel has been most important to your career?
It’s not in the most “high-impact” journal, but this article articulates much of what I think about the relationship between psychological group membership and intergroup relations. It was also the first publication from my PhD as lead author, so evokes fond memories for that reason too!
Livingstone, A., & Haslam, S. A. (2008). The importance of social identity content in a setting of chronic social conflict: Understanding intergroup relations in Northern Ireland. British Journal of Social Psychology, 47, 1-21.
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