1st Edition

Henri Tajfel: Explorer of Identity and Difference

By Rupert Brown Copyright 2020
    302 Pages 40 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    302 Pages 40 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book offers a biographical account of Henri Tajfel, one of the most influential European social psychologists of the twentieth century, offering unique insights into his ground-breaking work in the areas of social perception, social identity and intergroup relations.

    The author, Rupert Brown, paints a vivid and personal portrait of Tajfel’s life, his academic career and its significance to social psychology, and the key ideas he developed. It traces Tajfel’s life from his birth in Poland just after the end of World War I, his time as a prisoner-of-war in World War II, his work with Jewish orphans and other displaced persons after that war, and thence to his short but glittering academic career as a social psychologist.

    Based on a range of sources including interviews, archival material, correspondence, photographs, and scholarly output, Brown expertly weaves together Tajfel’s personal narrative with his evolving intellectual interests and major scientific discoveries. Following a chronological structure with each chapter dedicated to a significant transition period in Tajfel’s life, the book ends with an appraisal of two of his principal posthumous legacies: the European Association of Social Psychology, a project always close to Tajfel’s heart and for which he worked tirelessly; and the 'social identity approach' to social psychology initiated by Tajfel over forty years ago and now one of the discipline’s most important perspectives.

    This is fascinating reading for students, established scholars, and anyone interested in social psychology and the life and lasting contribution of this celebrated scholar.




    Chapter 1: Poland, 1919-1937

    Chapter 2: France, Germany, and Austria, 1937-1945

    Chapter 3: France, Belgium, and Germany, 1945-1951

    Chapter 4: London and Durham, 1951-1956

    Chapter 5: Oxford, 1956-1966

    Chapter 6: Palo Alto and early years at Bristol, 1966-1972

    Chapter 7: Bristol, 1972 – 1982

    Chapter 8: The Tajfellian Legacy

    Appendix 1 Tajfel bibliography

    Appendix 2 The Tajfel academic genealogy


    Rupert Brown is Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Sussex. He obtained his PhD under Tajfel in 1979 and has been an active researcher in the field of intergroup relations throughout his career. He was the recipient of the 2014 Tajfel medal, awarded by the European Association of Social Psychology for distinguished lifetime achievement. He is the author of two widely used student texts (Group Processes and Prejudice) and over 180 scientific articles and book chapters.

    'This biography of Henri (Hersz/Heniek) Tajfel really is inspiring for students, researchers, and members of the broader audience! Its information (plus photos!) is highly informative and a good read in itself, and this biography shows that social identity theory is so much more than just a textbook theory and "completes the picture".' - Edwin Boezeman, Leiden University, Section of Social, Economic and Organizational Psychology; University of Amsterdam, Coronel Institute of Occupational Health, Netherlands.


    'Rupert Brown's biography of Henri Tajfel invites us to consider both the personal history and character of a man whose work has influenced a generation of researchers.  Having worked closely with Tajfel as a research student in the 1970s, Brown describes a world of empire building and power politics that will be recognisable to anyone who has worked in Higher Education. The portrayal of the man, his work, and his theory, however, is neither sentimental nor sycophantic. This is an interesting read for anyone associated with European social psychology and an essential read for any researcher working within the social identity paradigm.  As an adjunct to other historical accounts of the period, this work makes an important contribution to our understanding of British and European social psychology in the post-war period.' - Dr Chris Hewer, Senior Lecturer in Social and Political Psychology, Faculty of Business and Social Sciences, Kingston University, UK.


    'There are researchers who are founders. Henri Tajfel is one of them. He innovated social psychology by proposing a model that highlights the identities of intergroup relations. But beyond the academic, there is the man whose entire life was marked by the experience of the Shoah. The biography that Rupert Brown has written is constantly striving to understand how the man created the scholar. Taking advantage of significant episodes in Henri Tajfel’s life, Rupert Brown makes an original and critical analysis of his contributions and compares them with today's knowledge. Along the way, he paints a portrait that pays tribute to Henri Tajfel’s visions but also reports on his failures, weaknesses and sexism. The result is a simply brilliant work whose reading is made the more attractive by a direct and narrative style.

    It is a book to put in the hands of students who are learning about social psychology, of researchers who are interested in the emergence of a theory that is still fertile today, and, more broadly, of readers who are interested in how one man's singular journey has shaped science in the 20th century.' - Ginette Herman, Professor of Social and Work Psychology, Université catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium.


    'Detective scholarship at its best. Brown pieces together the turbulent life of one of the most important European social psychologists of all times. Tajfel’s brilliance and flaws shine through in equal measure – Brown tells it candidly, warts and all.' - Hanna Zagefka, Professor of Social Psychology, Royal Holloway, University of London, U.K.


    ‘In this informative and intimate account, Brown masterfully captures the fascinating life and work of one of the most eminent, yet enigmatic, social psychologists of all time, Henri Tajfel. Charting Tajfel’s experiences during the Holocaust, his tireless work with displaced orphans, and his eternal émigré status, Brown provides a unique insight into the personal and professional motivations that inspired Tajfel’s renowned academic achievements concerning identity and intergroup relations. Moreover, Brown expertly details Tajfel’s ingenious experiments into social categorisation and assesses the lasting impact of Tajfel’s most famous contribution: social identity theory. Alongside these considerable contributions, Brown reveals Tajfel to be a complex and contradictory person - a man capable of nurturing deep, enduring friendships, who inspired generations of scholars, but also a sexual predator prone to favouritism and pettiness. These complexities and contradictions as well as his academic contributions make this biography a compelling read for all.’ - Dr. Jenny Paterson, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, Northumbria University, UK.

    ‘Social identity theory is a staple of social psychology and the social sciences generally, yet until now its creator, Henri Tajfel, was simply a name in citations for most. No longer, thanks to Rupert Brown. With his insider’s knowledge, a historian’s tenacity to dig deep and search broadly, and a scholar’s critical facility to present a full and nuanced story, Brown gives us a highly engaging and revealing account of Tajfel’s life and his scientific development, combined with an admirably balanced assessment of social identity theory and research today.’ - Kay Deaux, Emeritus Professor of Social Psychology, New York University, USA.

    An engaging and touching book (especially in its last pages). A journey into Henri Tajfel's life, enriched by the stories and the memories of those who knew him, which allows the reader to deeply understand the origins of the theoretical models of a great scholar of social psychology. A really interesting book!’ - Amanda Nerini, Associate Professor, Florence University, Italy.