Psychology, Social Psychology

Liminality and experience

The Social Psychology Research Group (SPRG) had its first gathering of the year. As usual, we discussed the output of a colleague: Professor Paul Stenner’s forthcoming book Liminality and Experience – A Transdisciplinary Approach to the Psychosocial. The book discusses essential issues at the core of the discipline; in fact, it poses the very question of what our discipline is, how it came to being. How is it, namely, that we have become psychologist and “anointed” to examining a territory originally carved out from the social and political domain and categorised as “psychological”? The psychosocial take (i.e., the one the book proposes and that many of us at the School subscribe to) on this is the doing away with the division between the psychological and the social, the subjective and the objective – and recognise how they are always implicated in each other.

The meeting saw a lively discussion around issues such as where the so-called “discursive turn” in psychology has led (the book argues that it has not lived up to its potential as its focus now is on linguistic practices rather than the wider category of meaning); and what the “turn to affect” in turn would entail (the book proposes that some of the current approaches advocate such a turn actually perpetuate the subject-object “bifurcation” of nature).

There was agreement that Paul’s book is of a breath-taking breadth and surveys a terrain which is hardly ever touched on by psychologists. Its proposal, to do away with disciplinary boundaries in a common investigation of human affairs, and to adopt the ontological position of liminality (that is, positing events, transformations and becomings, rather than settled substances, as basic reality) in approaching these human affairs, was perceived to be quite radical. It forms the beginning of a programme which may completely transform the discipline of psychology, alongside its approach to method, empirical work, data, and the likes.

Naturally, there were differing opinions at the meeting as to the necessity (or validity) of such wide-ranging rethinking of the discipline. Yet all those present could agree that the book (and Paul’s work in general) represents one of the most important advances in present day (social) psychology and psychosocial studies.

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