Milgram's obedience experiments: A rhetorical analysis


Stephen Gibson, Faculty of Health & Life Sciences, York St. John University, Lord Mayor's Walk, York YO31 7EX, UK (e-mail:


The present paper outlines a perspective on Milgram's obedience experiments informed by rhetorical psychology. This perspective is demonstrated through a qualitative analysis of audio recordings and transcripts from two of Milgram's experimental conditions: ‘voice-feedback’ and ‘women as subjects’. Analysis draws attention to the way in which participants could draw the experimenter into a process of negotiation over the continuation of the experimental session, something which could lead to quite radical departures from the standardized experimental procedure, and points to the ineffectiveness of Milgram's fourth prod (You have no other choice, you must go on). These observations are discussed in terms of their implications for theory and research on dis/obedience, with a specific focus on the concepts of choice and agency and the nature and meaning of dis/obedience.