James H. Sidanius, a psychologist best known for establishing and refining an influential theory of social dominance along lines of gender, age, race, and class, has been named professor of psychology and of African and African American Studies in Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, effective Jan. 1.

Sidanius, 60, comes to Harvard from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he has been on the psychology and political science faculty since 1988.

“Professor Sidanius is a sophisticated researcher, a bold thinker, and a forceful speaker and writer,” says William C. Kirby, Edith and Benjamin Geisinger Professor of History and dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. “His research draws great strength from its skillful melding of sociology, political science, psychology, anthropology, and evolutionary biology. Our undergraduate and graduate students will benefit greatly from his unique insights and teaching experience in political psychology, the psychology of intergroup relations, and racism and discrimination.”

For the past 15 years, Sidanius has refined and tested a theory of social dominance he originated, which holds that societies are organized along axes of gender, age, and arbitrary divisions of race, ethnic group, class, or coalition. He argues that members of these groups cooperate among themselves to maintain power but compete with rival groups for finite resources such as territory, wealth, and sexual partners.

Sidanius has extended his theory of social dominance to a number of strong and controversial tenets, which his ongoing research has tested. For instance, he has argued that racism has nothing to do with race per se, but is a psychological phenomenon that can be triggered by any arbitrary division of people into rival coalitions. He has suggested that historical episodes of racism and prejudice, such as slavery and the Civil War, cannot be analyzed as historical incidents alone, but are manifestations of human nature that can erupt at any time or place. Sidanius has also written that the desire for social dominance has widespread effects on people’s behavior and beliefs, influencing their political orientation, their choice of studies and career and success in each, and their political, economic, military, religious, and racial attitudes.

Author of two books and editor of a third, Sidanius holds a B.A. in psychology from City College of the City University of New York, awarded in 1968, and a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Stockholm, awarded in 1977. In addition to UCLA and Stockholm, he has taught at Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Texas, Austin, Princeton University, and New York University. He has served as a reviewer for 17 different refereed research journals in political science and psychology, and has published more than 100 papers in peer-reviewed journals.