Michael Billig has been at Loughborough since 1985, when he was appointed Professor of Social Sciences. He had previously been a lecturer in the Department of Psychology at Birmingham University, having been an undergraduate and postgraduate at Bristol University. He has also been a visiting professor for short spells at Temple University in Philadelphia, University of California and University of Rome. At Loughborough, Michael teaches on the first year Introductory Course in Social Psychology. He also offers a specialist modules in "Persuasion and Humour" and is involved in postgraduate supervision at Loughborough.
Originally, Michael trained as an experimental social psychologist, under the supervision of Henri Tajfel, who was probably the most influential social psychologist in post-war Britain. Michael was involved in designing the original minimal group experiments, which formed the basis of Tajfel’s well-known Social Identity Theory. Since his Bristol days, Michael’s interests, however, have moved towards qualitative approaches and towards developing the sort of critical social psychology which will be linked with other social sciences.
He is the author of numerous books and articles, which reflect his parallel concerns with theory and with studying ways of thinking, especially ideological thought. His first book, Social Psychology and Intergroup Relations (Academic Press, 1976), provided a critique of orthodox social psychological approaches to the study of prejudice. After that work, he studied an extreme right-wing group, showing how the members’ thinking was influenced by the group’s ideology (Fascists: a social psychological view of the National Front, Academic Press, 1979).
Michael’s interest in the study of ideology has continued in his later work. The emphasis has shifted from looking at extreme forms of ideology towards looking at the influence of ideology on common-sense, or everyday patterns of thinking. For example, he conducted a study based upon family discussions about the Royal Family (Talking about the Royal Family, Routledge, 1992). His book Banal Nationalism (Sage, 1995) has examined the way that contemporary life is infused with nationalist assumptions and symbols, which often pass unnoticed. In 1996 this book received the Myers Center Award for "outstanding work on intolerance in North America."
At Loughborough, Michael was a founder member of the Discourse and Rhetoric Group, which has been pioneering new forms of doing social psychology, based upon the study of language, and, in particular, examining how language is used in practice. His particular contribution has been to stress how thinking is shaped by the rhetorics of argumentation. Most notably, this can be seen in his book Arguing and Thinking: a rhetorical approach to social psychology (Cambridge University Press, originally published in 1987, with a new edition published in 1996). Michael’s Ideology and Opinions (Sage, 1991) is a collection of theoretical and empirical papers on rhetorical psychology.
Initially, Michael's work examined how rhetoric shaped thinking, and, thereby, conscious awareness. Now he has been examining the influence of rhetoric on the unconscious. In particular, he has been suggesting that repression is a rhetorical process and that language is intrinsically both expressive and repressive. These ideas have been developed in a series of papers and also in a book, "Freudian Repression," published in 1999.
More recently Michael he has written on the hidden history of rock and roll. His book "Laughter and Ridicule" takes a critical view of contemporary and historical theories of humour, as well as arguing that the practice ridicule lies at the centre of humour and at the centre of social life. His most recent book "The Hidden Roots of Critical Psychology" argues that critical psychological ideas have a longer history than is sometimes thought. This work discusses the relations between psychological ideas of the seventeenth century with those of today.