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Rethinking Bystander Non-lntervention: social categorisation and the evidence of witnesses at the James Bulger murder trial

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<mark>Journal publication date</mark>1/09/1999
<mark>Journal</mark>Human Relations
Issue number9
Number of pages23
Pages (from-to)1133-1155
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Bystander apathy is a long established phenomenon in social psychology which has yet to be translated into practical strategies for increasing bystander intervention. This paper argues that the traditional paradigm is hampered by a focus on the physical co-presence of others rather than an analysis of the social meanings inherent in (non) intervention. The testimony provided by 38 bystanders at the trial of two ten year old boys for the murder of two and a half year old James Bulger is analysed. It is argued that their failure to intervene can be attributed to the fact that they assumed - or were told - that the three boys were brothers. The way in which this category of ‘ the family’ served to prohibit or deflect intervention is analysed. This approach is contrasted with a traditional bystander apathy account of the bystanders actions in the Bulger case. It is argued that bystander (non) intervention phenomenon should be analysed in terms of the construction of social categories in local contexts.

Bibliographic note

"The final, definitive version of this article has been published in the Journal, Human Relations, 52 (9), 1999, © The Tavistock Institute, 1999 by SAGE Publications Ltd at the Human Relations page: http://hum.sagepub.com/ on SAGE Journals Online: http://online.sagepub.com/