Just following orders? The rhetorical invocation of ‘obedience’ in Stanley Milgram's post-experiment interviews

Stephen Gibson*, Grace Blenkinsopp, Elizabeth Johnstone, Aimee Marshall

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Recent research has begun to challenge the received idea that Milgram's ‘obedience’ experiments are demonstrations of obedience as typically understood (i.e., as social influence elicited in response to direct orders). One key warrant for explaining the studies in terms of obedience has been the post-experiment interviews conducted with participants. The present study uses data from archived audio recordings of these interviews to highlight the extent to which participants used rhetorical strategies emphasising obedience when pressed by the interviewer to account for their behaviour. Previous research that has used these accounts as reports of underlying processes misses the extent to which they performed particular social actions in the context of their production. It is concluded that the standard social psychological version of ‘obedience’ is present in the experiments after all, but in a rather different way than is typically assumed—rather than an empirical finding, obedience is a participants' resource.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)585-599
Number of pages15
JournalEuropean Journal of Social Psychology
Issue number5
Early online date20 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018


  • discourse
  • Milgram
  • obedience
  • rhetoric
  • social influence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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