Billig was born in 1947 to a Jewish family from London. During his Undergraduate study at the University of Bristol, Billig was particularly fascinated by one of his lecturers, Henri Tajfel, a renowned Social Psychologist. On the completion of his undergraduate degree Tajfel offered Billig a postgraduate research position launching Billig's career as Social Psychologist, in the area of intergroup Relations. As an experimental psychologist and helped design the so-called minimal group experiments which were foundational to the social identity approach. He moved away from experimental work to considering issues of power, political extremism and ideology in a series of important books. His Social Psychology and Intergroup Relations (1976) offered a trenchant critique of orthodox approaches to prejudice in psychology. Fascists (1979) helped reveal the classic fascist and anti-semitic ideology underlying the UK's National Front at a time when it was bidding for political legitimacy and electoral success. In the 1980s his focus shifted to everyday thinking and the relationship between ideology and common sense. This strand of work is shown in the collectively written work Ideological Dilemmas (1988 - with Condor, Edwards, Gane, Middleton and Radley), Banal Nationalism, and in his major study of ideology and the UK royal family, Talking of the Royal Family (1998, 2nd Edition).
His influence runs across the social sciences and he has been one of the key figures highlighting and reinvigorating the use of classic rhetorical thinking in the context of social issues. For example, he suggests that attitudes are best understood not as individual positions on topics, but as emergent in contexts where there is a potential argument. This perspective is introduced in his book Arguing and Thinking (2nd Edition, 1996) and has been the basis for innovative approaches to topics as diverse as psychoanalysis, humour and nationalism. It is also an important element to discursive psychology.
He is a member of the internationally influential Discourse and Rhetoric Group, working with figures such as Derek Edwards and Jonathan Potter.
His aunt was blue-plaqued Second World War nurse Hannah Billig.
- Billig, M. (1976). Social Psychology and Intergroup Relations. London: Academic Press.
- Billig, M. (1978). Fascists: A social psychological view of the National Front. London: Academic Press.
- Billig, M. (1979). Psychology, Racism & Fascism. A.F. & R. Publications. A Searchlight pamphlet.
- Billig, M. (1982). Ideology and Social Psychology. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
- Billig, M., Condor, S., Edwards, D., Gane, M., Middleton, D. and Radley, A.R. (1988). Ideological Dilemmas. London: Sage Publications.
- Billig, M. (1991). Ideology and opinions: Studies in rhetorical psychology. SAGE Publications Limited.
- Billig, M. (1995). Banal Nationalism. London: Sage Publications.
- Billig, M. (1996). Arguing and Thinking: a rhetorical approach to social psychology, revised edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (Italian edition: Discutere e Pensare: un approccio retorico alla psicologia sociale. Milan: Raffaello Cortina, 1999).
- Billig, M. (1998). Talking of the Royal Family: second edition with new introduction. London: Routledge.
- Billig, M. (1999). Freudian Repression: conversation creating the unconscious. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-65956-6
- Billig, M. (2000). Rock’n’Roll Jews. Nottingham: Five Leaves/ New York: Syracuse University Press.
- Billig, M. (2005). Laughter and Ridicule: toward a social critique of humour. London: Sage.
- Billig, M. (2008). The Hidden Roots of Critical Psychology: Understanding the Impact of Locke, Shaftesbury and Reid. London: Sage.
- Billig, M. (2013). Learn to Write Badly: How to Succeed in the Social Sciences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1107676985
- Haste, Helen (1994). "The thinker as arguer: An interview with Michael Billig". New Ideas and Psychology. 12 (2): 172.