Avoiding Crimes of Obedience

Avoiding Crimes of Obedience: A Comparative Study of the

Autobiographies of M. K. Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin

Luther King, Jr.

Davide Morselli Laboratory for Life-Course Studies (Labo PaVie)

University of Lausanne, Switzerland

Stefano Passini Department of Education

University of Bologna, Italy

This research aims to contribute to an understanding of how and why certain people are able to display prosocial disobedience behaviors, overcome unjust situations, and withstand persecutions deployed by authority. This article presents a hermeneutic content analysis of the autobiographical speeches and texts of Gandhi, M. L. King, and Mandela. The results show that the importance given to parents’ value orientation, experiences of injustice during childhood, and exploration of alternative viewpoints during adolescence plays a crucial role in structuring prosocial disobedience. The findings also show that social responsibility and ingroup communication are important conditions for facing persecution without forsaking original goals.

Ever since crimes of obedience have become a distressingly recurrent phenomenon in human behavior, they have become a focal topic in a number of social sciences. More than 40 years have passed since Stanley

Correspondence should be addressed to Davide Morselli, Institute of Social Science,

Bâtiment Vidy-University of Lausanne, 1015 Lausanne, Switzerland. E-mail: davide.

morselli@unil.ch

Peace and Conflict, 16: 295–319, 2010

Copyright # Taylor & Francis Group, LLC

ISSN: 1078-1919 print=1532-7949 online

DOI: 10.1080/10781911003773530

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Milgram took the world aback with his famous experiments (Milgram, 1974) in which he started to explain some of the psychological processes that could bring an individual to obey ‘‘harmful’’ demands imposed by authority. Although the study of obedience has developed through a number of experimental and theoretical contributions since Milgram’s experiment (Bauman, 1989; Blass, 2000; Browning, 1992; Kilham & Mann, 1974; Mantell, 1971; Passini & Morselli, 2009; Tilker, 1970), the topic is still far from having been exhausted.

Most scholars have focused on the analysis of what factors could lead someone to commit a crime by complying with autocratic commands (Baumeister & Beck, 1999; Browning, 1992; Miller, 2004; Staub, 2003; Waller, 2002). ‘‘Under orders from an authority, it appears that many normal people respond with obedience, despite their own scruples and discomfort about actions that they and others would usually regard as illegal, immoral, and even unthinkable’’ (Kelman & Hamilton, 1989, p. 23). Hence, attention has largely been addressed to the processes of disengagement that people adopt so as not to feel accountable for their actions when placed within a relationship of authority.

It is worthwhile to distinguish between destructive and constructive aspects of obedience (Darley, 1995). Blind, destructive obedience is only one of the many facets of the relationship subsisting between individual and authority. Obedience is an important aspect of social life and can play a key, constructive role in maintaining social order and stability, either maintaining group norms (social control) or changing them (social change). Thus, every type of collective life is based on a more or less institutionalized system of authority.

Some scholars (Darley, 1995; Kelman & Hamilton, 1989; Passini & Morselli, 2009, 2010b) pointed out that most of the empirical contributions on obedience have tended to underestimate the role of disobedience in the authority relationship. Disobedience is often considered to be a sort of ‘‘absence’’ of obedience, and its specificities have often been neglected in studying the relationship between individual and authority.

We believe that obedience and disobedience ought to be inserted within a multidimensional framework that could better explain the complexity of this phenomenon (Passini & Morselli, 2010a). On a theoretical level, Fromm (1963) applied and developed Piaget’s (1932) definition of heteronomous and autonomous orientations. In Piaget’s theory, moral development can be described on a continuum from anomy (i.e., non-regulation by others or the self), to heteronomy (i.e., regulation by others), to autonomy (i.e., self-regulation). Heteronomous morality is a morality of obedience. In other words, the individual does not regulate his or her behavior on the basis of per- sonal convictions. In contrast, the morally autonomous individual follows

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moral rules that are self-constructed, self-regulating principles. Piaget’s theory of moral development has been expanded on by Kohlberg (1969), who reinforced the idea that heteronomy and autonomy exist within a hier- archical system in which heteronomy represents a lower moral development level than autonomy. Although Kohlberg’s approach became the mainstream theory on moral development, in those years, Fromm suggested that heter- onomy and autonomy are not distributed on a hierarchical scale. One person can contemporaneously obey an external authority in a heteronomous way and his or her own conscience autonomously. As a matter of fact, this approach fits Piaget’s original theory, according to which a person can mani- fest a heteronomous orientation within a hierarchical context and an auton- omous orientation in a situation of peer cooperation (Carpendale, 2000).

Thus, disobedience may be linked to clear-cut moral issues and may be traced back to what Rochat and Modigliani (1995) called the ‘‘ordinary quality of goodness,’’ in opposition to the ‘‘banality of evil’’ (Arendt, 1964). As Rochat and Modigliani put it, ‘‘the chances that evil will be perpe- trated are increased when it is rendered banal, but goodness does not disap- pear in the process of making evil commonplace’’ (p. 198). Besides, their

conception of the ordinariness is not intended to imply that goodness is com- monplace so that it will be readily observable in encounters between authori- ties and subordinates. Rather, it is meant to suggest that goodness . . . can be expressed in quite ordinary ways that are mere extension of common civility or basic decency. (Rochat & Modigliani, 1995, p. 206)

In fact, we attempt to demonstrate that as long as human beings can eas- ily obey harmful demands under certain contextual circumstances, they are also able to disobey if other conditions are present.

The question of what enables people to disobey in a prosocial way has yet to be answered. Some explanations are present in the literature, but most focus on individual psychological processes, paying little attention to inter- action with the social context (Modigliani & Rochat, 1995; Tappan, 2000). As an alternative, within a sociological perspective, Keniston (1968) proposed a multidimensional approach to analyze the social framework of the young members of the New Left in the anti-Vietnam War summer. Results from his research are still relevant today. They show that individual factors, such as moral development and attitudes, are closely bound to situa- tional variables like parental behavior and peer relationships. In other words, moral reasoning is dependent on the social context. Parental ability to express moral thinking plays a particularly important role in constructing children’s moral judgment and their weltanschauung, although parents’ and children’s judgment need not overlap. Later studies by Helwig (1995) and

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Neff and Helwig (2002) highlighted the interaction between individual and community levels. Their results show that moral development is based on the meaning that individuals attach to concepts such as authority, tra- dition, autonomy, rights, and equality. Such meanings are not simply trans- mitted to the individuals, but represent shared features of social life and are co-constructed in the interaction between individual and social contexts.

In this regard, developmental psychologists have studied how some factors (e.g., socialization) might be responsible for the emergence of stable individual differences in prosocial behavior (see Eisenberg & Fabes, 1998). For instance, Colby and Damon (1992) pointed out that personal character- istics and critical experiences might predict the performance of extraordi- nary moral actions (Eisenberg & Sadovsky, 2006). According to Piaget (1932), the nature of the relationships that people experience may influence moral reasoning by either facilitating or inhibiting the process of perspective taking. As some scholars (Comunian & Gielen, 2006; Mason & Gibbs, 1993) pointed out, adolescents who reported more general and friendship perspective-taking experiences were more mature in their moral judgment. Thus, situations or relationships that either constrain or facilitate the ability to understand the perspectives of others should influence moral reasoning. This is consistent with the studies that analyzed activists in the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1950s and 1960s (Duhnam & Bengston, 1992) and those who sheltered Holocaust survivors (Oliner & Oliner, 1988). Those studies underline the relevance of individual compassion and social responsibility as core values, derived at least partly from personal experience, that have motivated the actions of people enacting disobedience.

In the domain of social influence, Kelman (2006) and Kelman and Hamilton (1989) accounted for constructive disobedience behavior as a con- dition of autonomy acquired by the individual and as the consequence of perceiving alternatives to the dominant social context. When the status quo is not accepted as the sole interpretation of reality, then authority’s legit- imacy is constantly undermined. This means that, in the case of ‘‘harmful’’ demands issued by authority, individuals may recognize their illegitimacy and disobey them. The significance of a pluralistic viewpoint in the develop- ment of autonomous decision making may find confirmation in Marcia’s (1980) theory on the development of individual identity (derived from Erikson, 1968, and recently revised by Meeus, 1996) and in moral identity studies (Blasi, 1993; Flanagan & Rorty, 1990; Tappan, 2000). Insofar as the individual considers different points of view, he or she stands auton- omously, thereby weakening the influence of authority and consequently lessening the possibility of committing obedience crimes.

However, solely focusing on authority’s legitimacy and the development of moral identity does not adequately explain why some people are not deterred

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from disobedient conduct by the prospect of punishment, whereas others are. The cognitive developmental approach sometimes fails to consider the actual role of the social context in processes of disobedience and resistance. On the other hand, a number of social psychological studies have not paid much attention to the individual’s moral development, which provides important information in terms of distinguishing prosocial (constructive) disobedience from antisocial (destructive) disobedience. For these reasons, we believe that an autobiographical approach will provide further insight into these issues. True-life stories contain both social and developmental aspects, and can lead to a better understanding of prosocial disobedience.

To use autobiographies to understand social phenomena, we have to shift our attention from the factual level to the hermeneutic level and focus on the interpretations that people give to their lives (Ferrarotti, 1995). Autobiogra- phies are interpretative schemes that attribute sense and continuity to life events (Bruner & Weisser, 1991). According to Bruner (1990), narrators not only narrate, but also justify themselves. Such justification is performed in relation to the audience. For instance, studies on lesbian and gay ‘‘coming-out’’ narratives (Joos & Broad, 2007; Martin, 1993; Plummer, 1995) show that people reconstruct and interpret their infancy and their youth to provide explanations for their adult identity. Narrators choose and frame life events as a function of their aims and the specific audience they have in mind (Eco, 1979; Schank, 1990). Thus, the study of autobiogra- phies shifts attention from what happened to how it is interpreted.

To study prosocial disobedience through autobiography is to focus on the perception that certain life events are conducive to a critical and alternative viewpoint and to the enhancement of the ability to withstand the persecu- tions of authority. In this study, we hypothesized that similar interpretations of life events may be found in the narratives of different people enacting constructive disobedience. In particular, we expected that such narratives would reveal the link between constructive disobedience behavior and the perception of the illegitimacy of authority’s demands. Moreover, if social and contextual factors are relevant in defining an alternative viewpoint to the status quo, we expected that, rather than focus on personal characteris- tics, people would highlight the relation among social, contextual factors; individual moral development; disobedient behavior; and the capacity to overcome persecution.

METHOD

This study focused on the autobiographical narratives of Nelson Mandela (1994), Martin Luther King, Jr. (Carson, 1998), and Mohandas K. Gandhi

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(1929) as case studies of people who became deeply involved into disobeying authority and who faced strong persecution for this disobedience. In fact, in Gandhi, Mandela, and King’s lives, the two dependent variables we observed were both pervasive and meaningful: (a) prosocial disobedience, which differs from destructive forms of disobedience such as defiance, delinquency, rebellion, and so forth; and includes a variety of different types of protests, such as civil disobedience and boycotts, which do not harm others; and (b) resistance to persecution.

A hermeneutic content analysis of the narratives (Holsti, 1969; Kvale, 1996; Polkinghorne, 1988; Ricoeur, 1984) was applied to the autobiogra- phies, using the methodology proposed by Keniston (1968) in his research into the young New Left members. Keniston collected structured autobio- graphical interviews and arranged them into common topics, identifying similarities and differences in the respondents’ attribution of meaning. The narrative units were analyzed by means of a cross-sectional comparison between respondents, instead of a longitudinal comparison—that is, the narratives were divided into topics instead of considered as a whole autobiographical corpus. This methodology allowed us to analyze King’s narratives, too, despite the fact they were not written by King himself as a full autobiography, but were collected postmortem by Carson (1998).

1

The analysis proceeded through an iterative procedure carried out by two independent coders. A first analysis of the texts was performed using the cate- gories suggested by Keniston (1968; namely, family, mother, father, childhood, and adolescence), as they provided good explanatory power in the study of the New Left activists. Two more categories were added at the very beginning, being in agreement with the variables to be observed: jail experiences and significant interpersonal relationships (i.e., the perception of support from other persons). In addition to those, an initial analysis revealed that another group of narratives was common to the three autobiographies; this was categorized as social responsibility, or the perception that other people depend on us (Berkowitz & Daniels, 1964). The books were then wholly reanalyzed to verify whether more narratives could be coded. During a third step, the two independent coders compared the coded data and resolved differences.

Narratives were chosen with the help of QSR-N5 software, from the whole corpus of the text, and were inserted into categories using two criteria. Initially, text units were selected on the basis of an explicit reference by the authors to their importance and meaningfulness. Locutions, such as

1 M. L. King’s autobiography is a collection of autobiographical narratives taken from

King’s major books, as well as manuscripts, speeches, letters, and sermons with autobiographi-

cal content. The editing work by Clayborne Carson was hardly intrusive, ‘‘preserving the integ-

rity of King’s statements and writing’’ (Carson, 1998, p. x).

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T A B L E

1

T e x t U n it s b y A u th o r a n d C a te g o ry

A u th o r

F a th er

M o th er

C h il d h o o d

A d o le sc en ce

J a il ex p er ie n ce s

S o ci a l re sp o n si b il it y

In te rp er so n a l re la ti o n sh ip s

O v er a ll

F a th er

1 7 (7 .0 5 % )

M o th er

2 8 (3 .3 2 % )

C h il d h o o d

4 5

1 9 (7 .8 8 % )

A d o le sc en ce

3 1

0 3 5 (1 4 .5 2 % )

Ja il ex p er ie n ce s

0 0

0 0

6 2 (2 5 .7 3 % )

S o ci a l re sp o n si b il it y

1 1

0 6

1 2

4 1 (1 7 .0 1 % )

In te rp er so n a l re la ti o n sh ip s

0 0

0 0

3 3

2 5 9 (2 4 .4 8 % )

G a n d h i

F a th er

4 (1 2 .5 0 % )

M o th er

0 1 (3 .1 3 % )

C h il d h o o d

0 0

3 (9 .3 8 % )

A d o le sc en ce

2 0

0 9 (2 8 .1 3 % )

Ja il ex p er ie n ce s

0 0

0 0

1 (3 .1 3 % )

S o ci a l re sp o n si b il it y

0 0

0 5

0 1 0 (3 1 .2 5 % )

In te rp er so n a l re la ti o n sh ip s

0 0

0 0

0 0

4 (1 2 .5 0 % )

K in g

F a th er

5 (1 2 .2 0 % )

M o th er

2 3 (7 .3 2 % )

C h il d h o o d

4 3

4 (9 .7 6 % )

A d o le sc en ce

1 1

0 3 (7 .3 2 % )

Ja il ex p er ie n ce s

0 0

0 0

2 (4 .8 8 % )

S o ci a l re sp o n si b il it y

1 1

0 1

0 1 6 (3 9 .0 2 % )

In te rp er so n a l re la ti o n sh ip s

0 0

0 0

0 2

8 (1 9 .5 1 % )

M a n d el a

F a th er

8 (4 .7 6 % )

M o th er

0 4 (2 .3 8 % )

C h il d h o o d

0 2

1 2 (7 .1 4 % )

A d o le sc en ce

0 0

0 2 3 (1 3 .6 9 % )

Ja il ex p er ie n ce s

0 0

0 0

5 9 (3 5 .1 2 % )

S o ci a l re sp o n si b il it y

0 0

0 0

1 2

1 5 (8 .9 3 % )

In te rp er so n a l re la ti o n sh ip s

0 0

0 0

3 3

0 4 7 (2 7 .9 8 % )

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‘‘I will never forget’’ or ‘‘That had a particular effect on my development,’’ were used to recognize such key narratives. This criterion was mainly applied to autobiographical speeches on developmental issues (namely, childhood, adolescence, and family topics) to sort out the breadth of the corpus and spot the salience of certain narratives. For the other categories (e.g., jail experiences, significant interpersonal relationships, and social responsibility), in addition to the first criterion, we considered the psycho- logical states and interpretations described by the narrative that could fit in these categories.

The categories we used are not to be considered exclusive—except for father–mother and childhood–adolescence—which means that some text units could be coded into more than one category at the same time, and that there may be intersections between categories.

DATA ANALYSIS

Two hundred forty-one meaningful text units were coded as follows: parents (35 text units), including father (17 text units) and mother (8 text units); childhood (19 text units); adolescence (35 text units); jail experiences (62 text units); significant interpersonal relationships (59 text units); and social responsibility (41 text units). Table 1 shows the distribution of text units for each of the autobiographies.

After the coding procedure, each category was analyzed by comparing its text units to stress similarities and differences in the interpretation of life events (Kvale, 1996). For reasons of space, in the following paragraphs we report only a few text units as examples for our arguments.

RESULTS

Similarities and Differences in the Life Stories

The three participants lived in different parts of the world within different cultural frameworks. Gandhi (1869–1948) was born in India. He came from the Hindu culture but read law in London and eventually got a job as a lawyer in South Africa. King (1929–1968) was born in Georgia (in the United States). He came from a deeply religious family and became a Baptist pastor like his father and his grandfather. Mandela (1918– present) was born in South Africa. He was a member of the Xhosa tribe and grew up following both Xhosa and Christian principles. He, too, read law and became a lawyer.

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They all came from the middle or upper-middle social class, which allowed them to complete their higher education. Nevertheless, they all were members of disadvantaged social groups, discriminated against by the Western governments of their countries. Although they had high social status within their own groups, they had low status in terms of empowerment and governance. As pointed out by Mandela (1994), ‘‘No matter how high a black man advanced, he was still considered inferior to the lowest white man’’ (p. 30).

2

Considerations of the Expected Audience

According to Eco (1979), writers and storytellers always address themselves to a specific audience they have in mind, which may not overlap with the actual audience but which still influences their words and choice of argu- ments. This is even more salient in autobiographical narratives, which have to be selected from an enormous number of experiences (Bruner; 1990; Schank, 1990; Smorti, 1994; Trzebiński & Antczak, 2007). Who did Gandhi, Mandela, and King think of while they drafted their autobiographical speeches? An important clue is provided by the fact that some parts of the three books were written during internment. Gandhi and Mandela started to write in jail, and King’s autobiography includes letters and thoughts from jail. This may give some insight regarding why and for whom they started writing. Indeed, we may suppose that these autobiographical narratives were meant to convey their determination to fellow citizens, start- ing with those who were already involved in disobedience campaigns. Hence, the aim of their autobiographies was to transmit an example rather than an auto-celebration. On this point, Gandhi (1929) wrote:

I am not writing the autobiography to please critics. . . . One of its objects is certainly to provide some comfort and food for reflection for my coworkers. (p. 148)

3

The same concept also appears in the introduction (p. 8) in which Gandhi expressed hope that some readers could draw inspiration from his experi- ences and follow the same path in pursuit of justice. Although less clear-cut references are present in King and Mandela, we may suppose that their intentions were indeed similar.

2This and all subsequent quotes for Nelson Mandela are from Long Walk to Freedom (1994),

unless otherwise noted. 3This and all subsequent quotes for M. K. Gandhi are from An Autobiography. The Story of

My Experiments With Truth (1929), unless otherwise noted.

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Categories

Parents. In seeking to interpret the origin of their moral development, Gandhi, Mandela, and King offered detailed information on their relation- ships with their parents. In all the texts, particular emphasis is given to the relationships with their fathers:

He [King’s father] has always been a very strong and self-confident person. I have rarely ever met a person more fearless and courageous than my father, notwithstanding the fact that he feared for me. He never feared the autocratic and brutal person in the white community. (Carson, 1998, pp. 4–5).

4

My father was a lover of his clan, truthful, brave and generous, but short-tempered. . . . But he was incorruptible and had earned a name for strict impartiality in his family as well as outside. (Gandhi, 1929, p. 15)

My father had a stern manner and did not spare the rod when disciplining his children. He could be exceedingly stubborn, another trait that may unfor- tunately have been passed down from father to son . . . my father possessed a proud rebelliousness, a stubborn sense of fairness that I recognize in myself. (Mandela, 1994, p. 15)

All three authors stressed the commitment of their fathers to social life and to their respective communities. In some respects, they interpreted the relationship with their parents as an important factor in their further moral development. They stressed, in fact, a sort of heritage coming from their families. On this topic, King declared:

And I think that my strong determination for justice comes from the very strong, dynamic personality of my father, and I would hope that the gentle aspect comes from a mother who is very gentle and sweet. (p. 3)

With this heritage, it is not surprising that I also learned to abhor segregation, considering it both rationally inexplicable and morally unjustifi- able. (p. 5)

Whereas the fathers are described as models of moral integrity and deter- mination, mothers are described more as direct teachers of moral principles. For instance, Gandhi (p. 17) expressed his admiration for his mother in making vows, and Mandela (p. 21) reported that his mother would tell him traditional stories and moral tales. That is not surprising since Keniston (1968) also found that the people he interviewed were explicitly grateful to their mothers for having brought them up with a sense of moral principle.

4This and all subsequent quotes for M. L. King, Jr. are from Carson’s (1998) The Autobi-

ography of Martin Luther King, Jr., unless otherwise noted.

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Childhood. The search for sources of moral development is also remark- able in their narratives concerning their childhoods. For example, Mandela declared that he learned to handle problematic situations during his childhood. He argued that there is a link between what he learned as a child and his leadership abilities as an adult:

As a leader, I have always followed the principles I first saw demonstrated by he regent at the Great Palace. I have always endeavored to listen to what each and every person in a discussion had to say before venturing my own opinion. Oftentimes, my own opinion will simply represent a consensus of what I heard in the discussion. (p. 18)

King’s narratives were less focused on positive events; they focused more on early traumatic events related to racist segregation:

The second incident happened when I was about six years of age. . . . The climax came when he [King’s friend] told me one day that his father had demanded that he would play with me no more. I never will forget what a great shock this was to me. . . . The question arose in my mind: How could I love a race of people who hated me and who had been responsible for breaking me up with one of my best childhood friends? This was a great question in my mind for a number of years. (p. 7)

In other words, King followed the interpretation that from a very early age, episodes of victimization trigger a profound indignation toward injus- tice. Moral education, combined with his parents’ example, brought him to make a stand against injustice in later years.

Gandhi gave less space to the specific events that had occurred during childhood. Nevertheless, he noted that evidence of his adult commitment to fighting for the truth was present during childhood as well:

I do not remember having ever told a lie, during this short period, either to my teachers or to my school-mates. . . . Two other incidents belonging to the same period have always clung to my memory. . . . To follow truth and to go through all the ordeals Harishchandra went through was the one ideal it inspired in me. (p. 16)

In narratives about their childhoods, as well as in those about their parents, the authors highlight the importance of their cultural traditions (especially for Mandela and Gandhi) and the importance of learning from meaningful adult behavior. They considered childhood as the period of their lives in which they first established important moral principles. In fact, according to Hoffman (1984), it is especially during childhood

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that people develop a sense of responsibility for human needs, built on a sense of universal justice. Gandhi, Mandela, and King followed this interpretation of childhood and identified in this period the source of their adult sense of justice.

Adolescence. As we have seen in the last paragraph, Gandhi, Mandela, and King interpreted their observation of parent behavior and childhood as starting points for achieving an alternative viewpoint to the status quo, which allowed them to challenge authority in later years. Adolescence is described through significant relationships and encounters outside the family, which subsequently helped them to achieve alternative viewpoints and challenge authority. For all three authors, adolescence represented a significant opening toward society. They attached special emphasis to adolescence in their autobiographical speeches—35 significant text units were extracted concerning adolescence, almost twice as many as those on childhood (19 text units). Therefore, it seems that events occurring during adolescence were more meaningful than the ones that occurred during childhood. The authors tell us how they entered a new social context during adolescence that differed greatly from the one to which they were accustomed. This is in line with developmental psychology theories on adolescence. As some authors have pointed out (see Coleman & Hendry, 1990; Grinder, 1978), individuals are exposed during adolescence to social interaction situations unlike those experienced earlier in childhood. The shift from childhood to adolescence is marked by a change in many aspects of social life. In particular, during this period, individuals begin to encounter many new demands and expectations (Damon, 1980) relevant for growing into independent, socially competent individuals, and may even enlarge and change their worldviews.

Gandhi, Mandela, and King recounted how they started to outline alternative behavioral styles—especially regarding the relationship with authority—through encounters with new social contexts, new peoples, and new ideas. For instance, King described how, during his experience at Morehouse College, he learned to cope with racism. According to Carson, King’s experiences at Morehouse College triggered a crisis in the religious values he had learned within the family:

My days in college were very exciting ones. There was a free atmosphere at Morehouse, and it was there I had my first frank discussion on race. . . . They encouraged us in a positive quest for a solution to racial ills. I realized that nobody there was afraid. Important people came in to discuss the race prob- lem rationally with us. . . . As stated above, my college training, especially the first two years, brought many doubts into my mind. It was then that the shackles of fundamentalism were removed from my body. More and more I

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could see a gap between what I learned in Sunday school and what I was learning in college. My studies had me skeptical, and I could not see how many of the facts of science could be squared with religion. (pp. 13–15)

A similar narrative is present in Gandhi’s book. Gandhi reported that during adolescence he questioned the traditional values he had learned within the family. The following text unit concerns his decision, taken with a friend, to break the traditional rule of not eating meat. The two boys had concluded that such a decision would enable Indians to be physically stronger and could help them to overcome English rule in India:

All this had its due effect on me. I was beaten. It began to grow on me that meat-eating was good, that it would make me strong and daring, and that, if the whole country took to meat-eating, the English could be overcome. A day was thereupon fixed for beginning the experiment. It had to be conducted in secret. . . . I cannot say that I did not know then that I should have to deceit my parents if I began eating meat. But my mind was bent on the ‘‘reform.’’ It was not a question of pleasing the palate. I did not know that it had a particularly good relish. I wished to be strong and daring and wanted my countrymen also to be such, so that we might defeat the English and make India free. The word Swaraj I had not yet heard. But I knew what freedom meant. The frenzy of the ‘‘reform’’ blinded me. And having ensured secrecy, I persuaded myself that mere hiding the deed from parents was no departure from truth. (p. 12)

Both horizontal social relationships (Berndt, 1992; Selman & Schulz, 1990), as seen with Mandela’s friend, Paul, who openly refused to obey authority, and vertical relationships (Damon, 1980) with adult figures, are perceived as having a key role in developing a positive idea of disobedience. College experiences are described as being particularly meaningful, especially for Mandela and King. Attending college gave King a new perspective through which he learned to interpret reality. Also, Mandela told us that in college he had the chance to come across different viewpoints. For instance, the following text is about a speech made by the Xhosa poet, Krune Mqhayi, at Mandela’s College, Healdtown. The poet incited the audience to resist the power of the Whites and reclaim a specific African culture:

I could hardly believe my ears. His boldness in speaking of such delicate matters in the presence of Dr. Wellington and other whites seemed utterly astonishing to us. Yet at the same time, it aroused and motivates us, and began to alter my perception of men like Mr. Wellington, whom I had automatically considered my benefactor. . . . I was galvanized, but also confused by Mqhayi’s perform- ance. . . . I had many new sometimes conflicting ideas floating in my head. . . . I saw that African might stand his ground with white man. (pp. 36–37)

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Mandela described this event as ‘‘a comet streaking across the night sky’’ (p. 35). He stressed the importance of this experience in presenting an alter- native view of the social system: ‘‘I had many new sometimes conflicting ideas floating in my head’’ (p. 36).

Roles of Communication and Social Responsibility in Resisting Persecution

Experiences of prison are a central topic in the lives of King, Gandhi, and Mandela. All three were persecuted by authority and were imprisoned on a number of occasions. The example of Nelson Mandela is quite remark- able. Despite spending 27 years behind bars, he finally overcame the power of authority and defeated the apartheid system. Some common narratives were identified on the topic of resisting persecution and detention without forsaking original goals and disobedience behaviors.

First, jail experiences are not interpreted as being entirely negative. Gandhi, Mandela, and King were imprisoned because of their struggle for the people, so they saw their sentences as bearing witness to their dedication to the cause. In fact, in Gandhi’s and King’s acts of civil disobedience, being arrested was a structural part of the fight itself. It had the precise aim of showing everyone how meaningless the demands and restrictions imposed by the authority were. King stated:

Ordinarily, a person leaving a courtroom with a conviction behind him would wear a somber face. But I left with a smile. I knew that I was a convicted criminal, but I was proud of my crime. It was the crime of joining my people in a non violent protest against injustice. . . . It was above all the crime of seeking to convince my people that non-cooperation with evil is just as much a moral duty as is cooperation with good. (pp. 87–88)

Gandhi used this experience in a positive, proactive way, too. He considered it an opportunity to improve his own self-control. He wrote:

My first experience of jail life was in 1908. I saw that some of the regulations that the prisoners had to observe were such as should be voluntarily observed by a brahmachari, that is, one desiring to practice self-restraint. . . . Inhibitions imposed from without rarely succeed, but when they are self-imposed, they have a decidedly salutary effect. (p. 184)

In other words, although imprisonment is obviously a consequence of disobedience and for having challenged authority, the three authors did not report the jail experience as a punishment, nor as an unwanted incident in their life trajectories. They interpreted jail time as an

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opportunity to reinforce their activities and their dedication to community goals.

Second, ingroup and outgroup communications are described as having a relevant role in the resistance to persecution. Mandela wrote:

We stayed in the Fort for two weeks, and despite the hardships, our sprits remained extremely high. We were permitted newspapers and read gratification of the waves of indignation aroused by our arrests. . . . We read of protests around the world over our incarceration.

Our Communal cell became a kind of convention for far-flung freedom fighters. Many of us had been living under severe restrictions, making it illegal for us to meet and talk. . . . We reveled in the opportunity to exchange ideas and experiences for two weeks while we awaited trial. (p. 178)

Like King, Mandela attached great importance to inmate relationships during imprisonment. None of them felt alone in facing up to persecution. They felt united with the other inmates and were motivated to resist for the sake of their country.

The narratives show two different kinds of communication that helped the authors to overcome detention. It is possible to identify communication between ingroup members that helped to renew and strengthen the ideals at the basis of their disobedience. This communication consisted of verbal or written exchanges between group members; messages concerned the coordination of activities or general political information. Mandela described this correspondence as his most important task in jail:

Having sympathetic warders facilitated one of our most vital tasks on Robben Island: communication. . . . As politicians, we were just as intent on fortifying our organization in prison as we had been outside. Communication was essen- tial if we were to coordinate our protest and complaints. . . . Communications between sections was a serious violation of regulations. We found many effective ways around the ban. (p. 366)

Ingroup communication, apart from having a strategic and practical role, helped the three writers to maintain a good and active state of mind. The authors also described communication between the ingroups and outgroups, which provided positive reinforcement to the persecuted group.

Communication, friendship, and collaborative relationships between group members created a safety net, supporting the individual in facing great difficulties (Reicher, Cassidy, Wolpert, Hopkins, & Levine, 2006). Communication provides psychological and emotional support, helping individuals to stand up for their beliefs and enhance their commitment.

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The narratives show that the influence of the communication is pro- portional to the individual’s awareness of his or her own group’s cohesion. The more the individual perceives him- or herself as being part of a group with high cohesion, the more communication helps in withstanding the punishment:

Mashall Square was squalid, dark, and dingy, but we were all together and so impassioned and spirited that I barely noticed my surroundings. The camaraderie of our fellow mates made the two days pass very quickly. (Mandela, 1994, p. 115)

Moreover, the support received from outgroup sympathizers is also very important and helps to provide scaffolding for the individual facing persecution:

Many people later commented on how poorly I looked, and not just because of my wardrobe. I had been in and out of solitary confinement for months and I had lost more than twenty-five pounds. I took pains to smile at the gallery when I walked into the courtroom, and seeing our supporters was the best medicine I could have had. (Mandela, 1994, p. 307)

One of the most gratifying developments was the unprecedented show of unity that was displayed by the national Negro community in support to our crusade. (Carson, 1998, p. 217)

Meanwhile a number of people had assembled in front of the jail. Soon the crowd had become so large that the jailer began to panic. . . . As I walked out and noticed the host of friends and well-wishers, I regained the courage that I had temporally lost. . . . From that night my commitment to the struggle for freedom was stronger than even before. (Carson, 1998, pp. 75–76)

In other words, the social context and social relationships are pivotal in enabling a person to face persecution following acts of disobedience. There is a continuous exchange between the individual and the social support group. This exchange returns information to the detainees concerning their competence and their role.

Social responsibility is positively linked to the perception that other people depend on us. The more we know people depend on what we do, the more our perception of our own social responsibility increases (Berkowitz & Daniels, 1964). When Gandhi, Mandela, and King received support from others, either directly or indirectly, they became increasingly aware that a wide range of people depended on them. This may have led to further devel- opment of their sense of social responsibility and deepened their commitment to their roles (e.g., King wrote, ‘‘My commitment to the struggle for freedom was stronger than ever before’’ [Carson, 1998, p. 76]). The three books are

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replete with examples; the social responsibility category is the third major category in terms of the number of overall text units (41 text units) and the first in Gandhi’s and King’s books. Here are several examples:

The black plague enhanced my influence with the poor Indians, and increased my business and my responsibility. Some of the new contacts with Europeans became so close that they added considerably to my moral obligations. (Gandhi, 1929, p. 248)

In a way I had never quite comprehended before, I realized the role I could play in court and the possibilities before me as a defendant. I was the symbol of justice in the court of the oppressor, the representative of the great ideals of freedom, fairness, and democracy in a society that dishonored those virtues. I realized then and there that I could carry on the fight even within the fortress of the enemy. (Mandela, 1994, p. 276)

Positive feedback received from the international community through awards and prizes, such as the Nobel Prize, also had an effect on their perception of their responsibility for other people:

The Nobel Peace Prize was a proud honor, but not one with which we began a ‘‘season of satisfaction’’ in the civil rights movement. We returned from Oslo . . . with feet even more firmly on the ground, convictions strengthened and determinations driven by dreams of greater and brighter tomorrow. (Carson, 1998, pp. 260–261)

For Gandhi, King, and Mandela, such awards also increased the breadth of their moral spheres by exponentially reaching more and more people and groups. They all started with a feeling of responsibility for their own group and, subsequently, felt responsible for other groups in the same situation, then for the whole nation, creating a universal feeling of social responsibility.

In the conclusion to his book, Mandela clearly illustrated this concept:

At first, as a student, I wanted freedom only for myself. . . . Later, as a young man in Johannesburg, I yearned for the basic and honorable freedoms of achieving my potential, of earning my keep, of marrying and having a family—the freedom not to be obstructed in a lawful life.

But then I slowly saw that not only was I not free, but my brothers and sisters were not free. I saw that it was not just freedom that was curtailed, but the freedom of everyone who looked like I did. . . . It was during those long and lonely years that my hunger for the freedom of my own people became the hunger for the freedom of all people, white and black. I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed. A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is

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locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. . . . The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity. (pp. 543–544)

In this narrative, Mandela added a precise time sequence to the develop- ment of his own moral sense and social responsibility. Mandela moved from a self-focused responsibility (i.e., his own freedom) to a socially oriented responsibility (i.e., freedom for all). However, as he stressed elsewhere in his autobiography (p. 93), his sense of social responsibility did not appear at any one moment, but became more and more salient as his life progressed.

DISCUSSION

In this research, we have attempted to provide a contribution toward under- standing how and why certain people can display disobedience behavior, overcoming unjust situations and withstanding persecution deployed by authorities. Results have shown that while relating their life histories, Nelson Mandela, M. K. Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. attached particular importance to contextual factors in defining an alternative view- point to the status quo, developing their morality, and enhancing their capacity to withstand persecution.

In this sense, what we have found in adolescence is in line with the idea that being conscious of the existence of alternatives to the status quo is a development needed to reduce the legitimacy of authority. When people accept the interpretation of reality given by the authority as the sole interpretation, they tend to comply with the authority unquestioningly (Kelman & Hamilton, 1989). Instead, the existence of different viewpoints and different alternatives could foster debate over the legitimacy of authority’s demands and, in some cases, lead to disobedience. From the narratives we have coded on adolescence, the hypothesis emerges that alternative viewpoints may be considered to be socially shared and con- structed. The appearance of different viewpoints may lead to a critical re-evaluation of traditional and family values. It is worth noting that, as Gandhi stressed in his texts on adolescence, rule-breaking is interpreted as leading to a greater good, and is value-oriented. For instance, he told us that he violated rules as he was seeking social change. According to Arendt (1972), social deviance differs from (prosocial) disobedience mainly in terms of the goals that actually lead people to break the rules. In social deviance, such goals are restricted to the members of the ingroup (i.e., people disobey rules for their own specific benefit or the benefit of their own group). Social deviance is disengaged from moral reasoning

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(Bandura, 1999). Prosocial disobedience, in contrast, only violates such rules as are deemed to run against the community and community mem- bers’ rights. In this sense, disobedience is based on higher moral reasoning and shared social values. Thus, congruently with Marcia’s (1980) and Meeus’s (1996) developmental theory, the authors stressed the importance of discovering alternative ways of constructing reality, even through the breaking of rules. Gandhi, Mandela, and King remembered their ado- lescence as the time when they discovered different ways of behaving and relating to authority and started to question the reality that was presented to them.

In addition, our findings suggest that an awareness of alternatives to the status quo may be necessary, but not sufficient. Gandhi, King, and Mandela highlighted other experiences that they considered particularly relevant in undermining and challenging authority. In particular, communication and a sense of social responsibility appear to have helped them overcome the reactions of authority to disobedience (i.e., detention, punishments, etc.). According to our analysis, disobedience and the ability to withstand its consequences are the result of social interactions based on shared meanings and values, and are developed and enhanced during everyday life. In line with our hypothesis, the capacity to articulate alternatives to the status quo, question the authority’s legitimacy, disobey its demands, and with- stand its persecution are not to be considered the personal characteristics of a few special people, but social constructs and learned behaviors that can be socially enhanced.

Intersections in Table 1 show that the social responsibility category inter- sects with other categories in several ways. Five of Gandhi’s narratives on social responsibility were also categorized in adolescence, and in King’s autobiography social responsibility is connected to adolescence and to nar- ratives on parents. For Mandela, social responsibility was, instead, linked to jail experiences, underlining the change he underwent during imprisonment, as reported earlier. The authors interpreted their disobedience behavior and attitudes as the result of an interaction between social factors, such as child and adolescent experiences (mainly concerning the development of morality and the acquisition of alternative viewpoints), interpersonal relationships, and communication. According to this analysis, resistance to persecution may be related to the range of the moral sphere and to the support received from the surrounding community.

Although the data and analysis we have presented provide some original insights, the research does have some limitations. We are aware that the her- meneutic analysis we have presented does not cover all the possible ques- tions on this issue. This mostly depends on the characteristics of the analysis itself, which always brings up fresh questions and deals with huge

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and complex amounts of data. According to Bruner (1990), psychology based on life stories and narratives needs to apply the interpretative instru- ments used for studying history and culture, without claiming a unique interpretation of the human being. Thus, when interpreting the results, we have to keep certain observations in mind. First, we analyzed the autobio- graphies of three people with a similar background (i.e., middle–high social standing and deprivation of rights connected with xenophobia). We might find different results by comparing people who disobey for very different reasons. Second, our data came exclusively from male participants; hence, it would be appropriate to analyze women’s autobiographies as well. Fur- thermore, performing a control analysis would be tricky, as we did not find autobiographies of people who could be considered a comparison group (e.g., people involved in antisocial disobedience or not involved in dis- obedience, but with the same demographic characteristics as our sample). As a matter of fact, we had analyzed autobiographies of authoritarian per- sons—specifically, the texts of Mussolini (1947) and Hitler (1935). However, we think that, in line with Allport’s (1942) classification of autobiographical narrative, they are not fully comparable with the autobiographies we have presented in this article, as the intents of the two types of text are mis- matched. Gandhi, Mandela, and King’s texts were addressed to their fellow citizens with the aim of encouraging them, not on the qualities of the authors but on their reactions to situations and events. The purpose of Mussolini’s and Hitler’s biographies, on the other hand, is mainly self-celebratory.

Nevertheless, a comparative example may be found in research by Tappan (2000), who provided an interesting analysis of the autobiography of Ingo Hasselbach, founder of the National Alternative Neo-Nazi party in East Germany in 1991. Tappan’s analysis differs from the one presented here, as it is based more on factual events in Hasselbach’s life than on their psychological interpretation. However, Tappan showed some aspects of Hasselbach’s life trajectory that allowed him to distance himself from the neo-Nazi movement. In line with our findings, Tappan’s analysis stressed that the starting point for repudiating the movement he had helped to create was the assumption of a different viewpoint. In particular, his relationship with a person outside the movement led Hasselbach to embrace a different perspective over time:

All my friends for as long as I could remember had been in the Movement in one way or another. Now, to hear my Kamerads talking in the presence of my new friend [Bonengel]—as I now thought of him—I actually began to feel ashamed. . . . I began to identify more and more with Bonengel and his team than with my Kamerads. (p. 90)

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This is consistent with our findings. Indeed, Gandhi, Mandela, and King stressed the way they progressively arrived at a greater awareness of the alternatives to the status quo and to different and unexplored behavioral styles. As we have seen, particular emphasis in their autobiographical speeches is given to school studies, as well as to interactions with significant adults and peers during adolescence.

Nevertheless, those factors may foster disobedience, but not necessarily prosocial disobedience. For example, Linden and Klandermans (2007) ana- lyzed some life-history interviews of far right-wing activists. They found that experiences in adolescence were important elements in the conversion to nationalism and right-wing ideology. In fact, for some of the interviewees, the right-wing and neo-Nazi ideology represented an alternative to the sta- tus quo in a way similar to the way in which antiracial activism represented an alternative to the mainstream viewpoint for Mandela and King. More- over, not unlike our participants, extreme right-wing activists also stress the importance of feeling responsible for their own community when dealing with difficulties stemming from their activism.

What seems to characterize prosocial disobedience—and differentiate it from other types of disobedience—is a deep sense of responsibility toward others, combined with attitudes of moral inclusion. Its counterpart, moral exclusion, views others as lying beyond one’s own ‘‘moral community,’’ outside the boundary within which moral values and rules of justice and fairness apply (Staub, 2003). This captures the dynamics underlying destruc- tive conflicts, whereas moral inclusion captures the dynamics of peace- building in its emphasis on equality, justice, and a concern for universal well-being (Opotow, Gerson, & Woodside, 2005). According to Opotow (1990), moral exclusion is evident in a number of symptoms, including the displacement of responsibility. Instead, the analysis of the narrative suggests that attitudes of moral inclusion are linked to a personal assumption of responsibility. Therefore, all levels of society are included in the process of social change. Moral inclusion and social responsibility contribute to the distinction between destructive and constructive disobedience. Destruc- tive, antisocial disobedience involves favoring one’s own group by encour- aging policies that preserve social inequality; whereas constructive, prosocial disobedience promotes social change addressed to everyone (Opotow, 2002).

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES

Davide Morselli (PhD in Social Psychology) has a research position at the Laboratory for Life-Course Studies (Labo PaVie) at the Institute of Social

AVOIDING CRIMES OF OBEDIENCE 315

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