Criticising Tajfel

Kate Johnstone responds to recent coverage.

Stephen Munt defends the sexual harassment claims against Henri Tajfel by suggesting his behaviour fell within the bounds of normality for the times (September issue). Munt states that ‘When I was an undergraduate in a social psychology department in the late 60s, many staff routinely socialised and had sexual relationships with students’. This is, at best, tone deaf in relation to the #MeToo movement, as he ignores the structural inequalities that undoubtedly existed between (male) academics having sexual relationships with their (female) students.

However this is not my main objection. The two articles which discuss Tajfel’s behaviour refer to his harassment of women (June issue), with Brown pointing out that ‘On at least one occasion, (Tajfel) was summoned to the university’s vice-chancellor, following a complaint from a student’. So, even in an era when sexual relations between staff and students were considered ‘acceptable’ by many, Tajfel’s behaviour warranted official intervention.

For me, the take away point is not that times were different: it’s that even against this background, Tajfel’s behaviour was much worse than his peers. On that basis we are justified in singling him out for criticism.

Kate Johnstone
Mental Health Researcher
Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust

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