Villainification and Evil in Social Studies Education

Cathryn van Kessel, Ryan M. Crowley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Villainification is the process of creating single actors as the faces of systemic harm, with those hyperindividualized villains losing their ordinary characteristics. Like heroification, there is a simplified portrayal of historical actors, but villainification has particularly harmful consequences. We suggest that villainification obscures the way in which evil operates through everyday actions and unquestioned structures because of the focus on the whim of one person. Although it is unfortunate that we do not often see how we can inadvertently help others and make systemic change, it is very disturbing when we fail to see our own part in the suffering of others. This article critiques one-dimensional portrayals of evildoers in K–12 social studies and popular sentiment and offers a framework via the political theory of Hannah Arendt to educate for a sensibility of interconnected responsibility among members of a society instead of blaming one person for systemic harm or diffusing blame into an amorphous entity (e.g., “society”).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)427-455
Number of pages29
JournalTheory and Research in Social Education
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © College and University Faculty Assembly of National Council for the Social Studies.


  • Arendt
  • banality of evil
  • heroification
  • villainification

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Sociology and Political Science


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