The second wave of critical engagement with Stanley Milgram's ‘obedience to authority’ experiments: What did we learn?

Kaposi, David (2022). The second wave of critical engagement with Stanley Milgram's ‘obedience to authority’ experiments: What did we learn? Social and Personality Psychology Compass (Early access).

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/spc3.12667

Abstract

Abstract: The study critically examines contemporary academic engagement with Stanley Milgram's classic ‘obedience to authority’ experiments. It argues that, following what will be termed the ‘first wave of criticism’ (1964 to mid‐1980s) and ‘consensus and canonization’ (mid‐1980s to mid‐2000s), this present‐day phase has constituted a veritable ‘second wave of criticism’. The ‘second wave’ is reviewed in terms of, first, a return to fundamental dilemmas around the experiments (i.e., replication, ethics, methodology, and theory); and second, a recourse to novel data sources as well as theoretical and epistemological‐methodological developments. Such integration of traditional concerns and new perspectives has resulted in focus being redirected to a forgotten aspect of the experiments: the interactional production of affective dynamics in the lab. Although the ‘second wave’ will be critiqued for selectively focusing on either affective atmosphere or interactional process, the paper will conclude with the suggestion that bringing these two aspects together continues to promise a theoretical contribution to the understanding of the experiments not seen before.

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