The core of my research interests is the study of crowd psychology. Crowd events are a locus of both psychological determination and transformation. I have carried out research on processes of crowd conflict and change in relation to anti-poll tax protests, anti-roads direct actions, anti-capitalist events and football crowds. Some of my recent research has examined how participants might feel empowered through crowd experiences, and how such positive emotional feelings might affect other areas of their lives.
With colleagues and research students, I have extended some of the ideas developed in the research on crowd dynamics to two related areas.
First, for the last nine years I have been working on the psychology of emergency mass evacuation. Early models suggested that irrational panic was a generic reaction to collective threat. However, in the literature there are numerous examples of co-operation and even helping behaviours amongst crowd participants escaping from danger. My research has sought to examine the extent to which a shared social identity might encourage such co-operative behaviours, and hence more efficient collective escape. This research has been carried out using interviews, archive data, laboratory simulations and an innovative computer visualizations. For details, see my research pages here:
Second, we have been investigating the mediating role of social identity in cognitive, behavioural and emotional reactions to situations of crowding. We have used an original experimental paradigm to explore the way that one's 'tolerance' for crowding, or 'personal space', isn't a given of situation, person or culture, but is variable depending on whichever of one's multiple identities is salient in relation to the identities of others present. We have also begun to explore this topic using field work, surveys and interviews.
While the experimental method is useful for examining the impact of given contexts and experimenter-induced identities on action, it is less useful for exposing the chronological process whereby power is challenged and some of the alternative ways of construing such power relations. Much of my research, therefore, has been ethnographic, since this approach allows us to trace interactive and historical aspects of intergroup relations.
Since power is partly sustained through systems of meaning, I also use critical discourse analysis as a way of understanding exposing and subverting domination, and thereby creating the space for 'liberatory' discourses. An example of this is the way that crowds (particularly working class crowds, protest crowds and mass emergency crowds) are routinely pathologized and/or criminalized; such constructions have important implications for policy and practice. In my research, I have sought to problematize such accounts and hence suggest a language for the crowd that recognizes and indeed celebrates its positive role in the social world.