In a series on the research of senior academics in the School of Psychology and Counselling, this week's blog presents some recent publications and other activities of Paul Stenner, Professor of Social Psychology.
This August, Paul Stenner (Professor of Social Psychology,
OU) gave the ‘Innovations in Psychology Lecture’ at Aalborg University,
Denmark. The ‘Innovations’ lecture series takes over from the former Niels Bohr
Lectures in which leading researchers in the field of Cultural Psychology are
invited to present their research. The lecture is subsequently published in an
edited volume along with a number of commentaries from invited experts. The
theme of this year’s event was ‘theorizing liminality: between art and life’,
and Paul Stenner talked about the liminal sources of cultural experience.
Liminal experience, Paul Stenner argues, is essentially about becoming. It is experience of a
significant transformation, from the perspective of those going through that experience,
as it is happening. The innovative idea proposed in the lecture is that various
forms of cultural experience, including reading novels, watching movies, enjoying
sports and participating in religious events, share a common liminal source.
Put differently, they are a means for guiding people through a passage from one
world to another: a passage in which they may
undergo a transformation. From this perspective, cultural artefacts show up as
fundamental to human psychology and society, and liminal experience shows up as
a crucial factor in human evolution, in personal development through the
lifespan, and in social change over historical time. Further details about the
event, including access to the lecture itself, are available here:
For psychologists who are readers of German, Paul Stenner
has also just published a book chapter on liminality
and emotional experience in a German volume on cultural psychology entitled Kulturpsychologie in interdisziplinärer Perspektive:
Hans-Kilian-Vorlesungen zur sozial-und kulturwissenschaftlichen Psychologie und
integrativen Anthropologie (Psychosozial Verlag, 2019). This book gathers
together all the recent invited lectures given as part of the Hans Kilian
Lecture Series in Cultural Psychology organised at Bocchum University in
Germany. The volume also contains chapters by Mary and Ken Gergen, Jaan
Valsiner, David Bloor and others, who also gave Hans Kilian lectures. Details
can be found here: https://www.psychosozial-verlag.de/2275
Also newly published is an article by Paul Stenner and the Danish social scientist Niels Åkerstrøm Andersen from the Copenhagen Business School. The paper starts with the observation that managers across many contemporary organisations are nowadays talking more and more about the importance of ‘expecting the unexpected’ and of ‘thinking the impossible’. Alongside this talk we also find a range of techniques and devices which are supposed to encourage and help the workforce to ‘think outside the box’ and to ‘imagine a different future’. Empirically, the paper is based on a study of a range of these management techniques and organisational innovations like ‘future games’ and ‘drama interventions’, which the authors group together as technologies of potentialization. After a detailed analysis of three such potentialization technologies, they propose that these function as immune mechanisms within contemporary welfare states. This involves a careful discussion of the sociological theory of Niklas Luhmann, who proposes that society has something equivalent to an ‘immune system’, and that law is a good example of a social immune mechanism. Potentialization, it is suggested, is taking shape as a new way of immunizing society against its own social structures. Intrigued? An early access version of the article appears in the journal Theory, Culture and Society, as referenced below:
Andersen, Niels, Å and Stenner, Paul (2019). Social immune mechanisms: Luhmann and potentialisation technologies. Theory, Culture & Society (Early Access).