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Culture and Social Psychology

CUSP logo

The Culture and Social Psychology (CuSP) research strand studies real-world issues in changing societies. The acronym was chosen because the word ‘cusp’ designates a point of transition between two states. As such, it expresses the idea of a process of becoming in which something new is emerging, but not yet fully established or recognised. Our research in CuSP takes forward this idea in two senses.

First, our substantive interests focus on occasions of social transition, personal transformation, and emergent and contested cultural, social and political issues. To investigate these, we work in and across different areas of cultural, social, political and psychosocial psychology, and across disciplines. Members of CuSP study gendered, sexual and political subjectivities in changing contexts like contested national territories, and family environments impacted by new technologies. We look at experiences of transition, such as those associated with migration, ageing, new forms of work, and reduced social support.

Second, we think of social psychology itself as ‘on the cusp’ of emergence rather than as an already settled discipline. We explore emergent forms of social psychological practice, including novel methods and theoretical perspectives that can grapple with embodied and socially embedded realities-in-process. We engage with various critical traditions of social psychology, grappling with discursive psychology, social identities and representations, process psychology, socio-cultural psychology, dialogical psychology, phenomenological and feminist psychology, each of which gives a new centrality to the concept of culture as core to human experience.

CuSP research projects

Building Global South-South solidarities to redress inequalities (Geetha Reddy)

sunsets sunflowers backlit with PUSSIN text in the front

In this transdisciplinary research challenge, we focus on understanding the impact of British coloniality on racism and marginalization in South Africa and Malaysia. One of the project’s key research aims is to contribute a deeper, decolonial understanding of racism by focusing on global South accounts of coloniality and decoloniality. The project will also focus on developing transformative action to arrest the spread of precarity, racial capitalism and anti-Black racism forged through colonisation and the creation of indentured labourers in the two countries.

Gender Equitable Interactions Online (Lisa Lazard and Rose Capdevila)

GEiO project logo

Funded by EU Commission Grant CHANSE, the Gender Equitable Interactions Online (GEiO) project investigates the role of gender in online work meetings across four nations (Germany, Iceland, Spain and the UK). Research exploring how gender becomes relevant to videoconferencing at work remains in its infancy. Existing investigations suggest that with the exponential rise in digitally mediated working patterns and new reliance on videoconferencing platforms, organisations are unready to address gender inequality online. 

The Persuasive Power of Political Narratives (Kesi Mahendran)

Dr Kesi Mahendran creates the film about the persuasive power of political narratives that gives us an overview of how the Centre for Narrative Research built an international network which become the Association of Narrative Research and Practice (ANRP).

NEW ABC: Networking the Education World: Across Boundaries for Community-building (Sarah Crafter)

NEW ABC project logo

This project is funded by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020. The ‘NEW ABC’ will carry out innovative activities in learning settings aimed at enhancing the lives of migrant children and young people in education using participatory and co-creation approaches.

In the UK, academics from The Open University (Prof. Sarah Crafter & Dr. Nelli Stavropoulou) and Oxford Brookes University (Prof. Guida de Abreu) are running a two pilot actions. The first pilot action is titled ‘Empowering Young Translators’. The aim of this pilot action is to work with young people (aged between 13-18 years old) who translate and interpret for peers, family and the local community to develop and design resources to improve the cultural, social, emotional and wellbeing elements of being a young translator. Taking a participatory approach, the young translators will be trained as young researchers as part of a Young Translator Club, and then use those skills to develop, design and then evaluate resources aimed at improving understandings of young translating as a caring practice. 

In the second half of our project, the UK team will undertake one of the innovation pilot actions developed by the Cyprus team titled ‘Adventures of the Little Prince’. Using the literary work by Antoine De Saint-Exupery, “the Little Prince”, the aim of this pilot action is to build the resilience of migration children by reshaping the narratives of their experience to enable them to feel included in the school environment. 

E-PLAYS 2: Enhancing Pragmatic Language skills for young children with Social communication impairment (Sarah Crafter)

In this project, the team have developed a fun computer game for children called EPLAYS, which is designed to help children aged 5-7 years-old with social communication difficulties. The project is led by Dr. Suzanne Murphy (University of Bedfordshire) and funded by the National Institute of Health Research. Children with social communication challenges (also known as pragmatic language ability) struggle with conversational tasks and social conventions.

Previous studies by our team showed that children receiving E-PLAYS scored better on language tests, used more appropriate verbal communication and showed more enjoyment of social interaction than a similar group of children who didn’t receive E-PLAYS. The team is running a large trial to find out whether E-PLAYS delivered by teaching assistants in schools is effective and whether it is good value for money. Prof Crafter will be contributing to the process evaluation of the project.

Intersectional Violences (Lisa Lazard)

Intersectional Violence Research Group (IVRG) logo

This project takes a critical psychological approach, using insights from feminist, queer, trans and anti-carceral approaches to the study of sexual and domestic violence and harassment.

Our work attends to how specific and dominant narratives around female victims and male perpetrators both underpin the continuation of violence against women and girls and act to exclude those who do not align with ideas of what womanhood and manhood means within the gender binary of victimisation (female) and perpetration (male). In doing so, our work addresses how sexual harassment and violence is marked by a host of intersections of power and difference.

We are concerned with what justice around sexual violence might look like; research methodologies, ethics and practice in the field and governmental strategy and policy.

The Belfast Mobility Project (John Dixon)

This project used a unique, mixed methods approach to describing and explaining patterns of activity space segregation in the historically divided city of Belfast. Recent outputs include a short film.

Children Caring on the Move (Sarah Crafter)

CCoM project logo

The Children Caring on the Move (CCoM) project explores separated child migrants’ experiences of care, and caring for others, as they navigate the complexities of the immigration-welfare nexus in England. CCoM starts from the premise that care is not necessarily limited to that provided by an adult or the state, but can be provided by separated children themselves. This project asks:

  • How do separated migrant children, and those involved in the care of separated children, make sense of and value care relationships and caring practices?
  • How do separated child migrants build, sustain and navigate care relationships and caring practices in the immigration-welfare nexus?
  • What economic, social and political factors shape the priorities of relevant stakeholders and institutions, and how do these affect the treatment of separated children?
  • What are the theoretical and policy implications of these potentially heterogeneous understandings and practices of care within the context of the tension between protection and immigration control?

The project has three Work Packages: Separated child migrants’ care relationships and caring practices, Adult stakeholders’ perspectives on care relationships and practices, and The ‘cultural political economy’ of care for and by separated child migrants.

Citizenship in times of change (Eleni Andreouli)

This project includes a set of interrelated studies researching citizenship from a social psychological perspective, that is, as a practice of claiming, contesting and enacting one’s position as a rights bearer vis-à-vis others. I have predominantly studied ‘lay’ discourse, in an effort to shed light to the political nature of common-sense, but I have also analysed political discourse and media representations. This work, as a whole, focuses on moments of socio-political change, which unsettle familiar ideological arrangements and potentially open up spaces for new political visions. I have researched citizenship in the context of Brexit and, more recently, under Covid-19.

Contemporary creative working lives (Stephanie Taylor)

Since 2005 I have been involved in a series of research projects on working lives in the global creative sector, and the experience of people who identify as creative practitioners. My research with Karen Littleton on art school alumni analysed the new cultural meanings in play around a creative career. My projects with Susan Luckman have brought together academics investigating new work and creative work in different national and occupational contexts; their research is presented in our co-edited collections The New Normal of Working Lives and Pathways into Creative Working Lives. My recent articles have analysed interviews from a study with local maker-artists. I am currently developing a new book on creative subjectivities as a legacy of pre-Covid working.

COVID-19 and mental health (2020-) (Laura McGrath)

In collaboration with the Matilda Centre, University of Sydney, this is a longitudinal, mixed-methods study investigating impacts of COVID-19 on the mental health and wellbeing of Australians. The project includes survey research unpicking the factors affecting mental health and substance use during the pandemic with a focus on social determinants, including the role of housing, social networks, community and neighbourhood, trauma, employment, income and past life experiences. In addition, the project team are completing a systematic review of the literature on the relationship between the built environment and loneliness, and a qualitative participatory mapping study exploring experiences of home and wellbeing during and after lockdown.

Dark listening (Johanna Motzkau)

The method of ‘dark listening’ is inspired by the artwork ‘audio obscura’ by Lavinia Greenlaw, 2011. My research has developed the method to explore troubled listening amongst professionals within child protection practice. Research participants (e.g. social workers/police officers) self-record audio diaries, reporting in short sound bites about their day-to-day experience of listening to children/families/colleagues. Selected and anonymised excerpts from all diaries are then re-recorded using actors then, in collaboration with a sound artist, created as a collage along the lines of Greenlaw’s ‘audio obscura’ artwork. The collages are then discussed by the participants in listening workshops. In this way workers can collaboratively, yet anonymously, review and reflect on selected aspects of their own and others’ data in order to develop and share insights about the ‘cultures of listening’ that influence and trouble their practice, and to find ways to change them. The method explores the experience of listening, while acknowledging the personal risk and effort involved in listening in a context where the stakes for front line workers in child protection are ever rising (due to media attention and criminalization of professional failure), while working conditions have become more and more precarious (due to austerity and increased case loads).

Empowering Young Language Brokers for Inclusion in Diversity (Sarah Crafter)

EYLBID project logo

The EYLBID project aims to develop materials which will contribute to fostering linguistic, social and intercultural competences of young people in secondary schools. Led by the MIRAS Research Group at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona this is an international team of five higher education institutions, including The Open University. The project is funded by the European Commission ERASMUS + programme and one social enterprise. It focuses on one of the European horizontal priorities: social inclusion. In the UK, Professor Crafter will be working with local schools to developing tools and resources to help young child language brokers (young interpreters) and those educators who work with them. The team are developing two key resources. The first is a handbook for teachers with interactive lesson plans that enable discussions about multilingualism and child language brokering and the second is an interactive video game involving vignette dilemmas and scenarios about child language brokering, aimed at young people (ages 11-18 years).

Identity, recognition and belonging (Sandra Obradovic)

This project focuses on exploring experiences of recognition and misrecognition among minorities and majorities, to understand better how these shape processes of identification. In particular this research considers how self-other dynamics are at the core of sociality and social belonging, and hones in specifically on the role of the ‘other’ by examining how the perceived recognition (or lack thereof) from relevant others impacts both on an individual’s sense of belonging to different groups, and also their well-being.

Liminality and experience: Developing a theoretical framework for a transdisciplinary approach to social psychology informed by process thought (Paul Stenner)

Theory development is often neglected in Psychology, but it is very important because the basic assumptions we make about the world and the mind influence all of the details of our work, from our interpretation of data to the tiny distinctions we draw between things like emotions, memories, representations, actions, etc. The most promising overarching theoretical frameworks I have encountered are process theoretical, and from my perspective the philosophy underpinning these was well articulated in the early 20th Century by A.N. Whitehead. Much work still needs to be done to re-think social psychological phenomena, especially data, processually. This is challenging because process thought pushes beyond disciplinary silos (it is inherently transdisciplinary) and opens Psychology to its historical and cultural nature. A core theme of this project is a concern with ‘liminal experiences’ which are occasions of personal and social transition in which significant change is at stake. This work was aided by an exploratory grant from the European Science Foundation and a networking grant from Santander and culminated in a book published by Palgrave in 2017 called Liminality and experience. The ever-developing approach has also been applied to a number of social psychological issues involving transitions that get ‘stuck’ in some form of transition. For example, Eleni Andreouli, David Kaposi and myself (2019) studied the dynamics whereby ordinary political opinions became polarised to the point of paralysis during the phase before the Brexit referendum (this was helped by funding from the British Psychological Society). Jette Kofoed and I (2017) showed how this approach opens up fresh insights into online bullying. Along with Johanna Motzkau, Monica Greco and a number of others (2017), we have given the name ‘liminal hotspots’ to these common but quite paradoxical situations of stuck transition, and we’ve explored ways of understanding and resolving them. This approach also opens up new ways of understanding creative processes and the value of art, film, play and other ‘liminal’ practices (see Stenner and Zittoun, 2020).

Narratives of ADHD: A qualitative study of women’s narrative accounts of living with ADHD (2015 – 2016) (Paul Stenner, Lindsay O’Dell, Alison Davies and Mary Horton -Salway)

This project was an interview-based qualitative study designed to explore the experiences and sense-making of adult women who have either a formal, or self-defined, diagnosis of ADHD. This study’s focus on the experiences of adult women is important because understandings and patterns of diagnosis of ADHD can be seen to be gendered, with most research focusing on male children. The research aimed to explore how ADHD impacted on the lives of these women and their sense of identity. The project did not claim to generate objective facts about ADHD as a medical condition; instead, it examined retrospective accounts of key moments in the women’s childhood and transition to adulthood. ADHD was seen as fundamental to identity and provided a way of reinterpreting the past and understanding current problems and difficulties. The first publication from this study is:
Stenner, P. O'Dell, L. and Davies, A. (2019) ‘Adult women and ADHD: On the temporal dimensions of ADHD identities’, Journal for the theory of social behaviour, 49(2), pp. 179–197. doi: 10.1111/jtsb.12198.

Networking Families (Lisa Lazard and Rose Capdevila)

This project takes a critical psychological perspective to examining the phenomenon of social media practices through the lens of gender and relationships. Efforts to explore and conceptualise families’ routine engagement in digital spaces have, notably, been marked by negative characterisation in both academic and popular arenas. For example, young women’s online selfie posting practices are typically understood as an expression of digital narcissism. Parents’ posting of child and family focused content, for instance, has been dominantly described using the term ‘sharenting’ – a pejorative term focusing on parental oversharing on social media. While research in these areas is burgeoning, much less has been said about positive engagements or how digital technological practices can support or translate into family relationships more generally.

The psychological use of history in politics (Sandra Obradovic)

I am involved in a series of collaborative projects that examine the ways in which historical representations, collective memories, feelings of longing for the past (nostalgia) and perceptions of rupture or negative change, shape perspectives towards contemporary politics and are used to justify political attitudes. One stand of this work focuses on examining the meaning of nostalgic sentiments and what these meanings tell us about contemporary grievances, while another strand of work focuses on how countries in times of transition (i.e., Brexit for the UK; constitutional change in Chile) manage the paradox of sameness within change.

A psychosocial theory of violence (David Kaposi)

Funded by the ISRF Mid-Career Fellowship scheme, this psychoanalytically informed project explores the inter- and intra-subjective dynamics leading to violent acts. The project is grounded in a mixed-methods re-examination of original tapes of the Milgram experiments, and the concept accounting for its results: implicit violence. Going against 60 years of scholarship, this is not the violence of the ‘order’ or the explicit statement, but of the silence, the body, or what resides between explicit utterances. The violence of an atmosphere that has been built up by subtle and often unrecognised ways. The broader project extrapolates the empirical findings towards a theoretical account where violence, instead of residing in individuals, is understood as a valence of relationships.

The role of values in cultural relations and international cooperation (Sandra Obradovic)

Alongside a team of researchers from the London School of Economics and the British Council I have been working on a project which aims to help advance knowledge of the role that shared values play in cultural relations and international cooperation. To date our research has been conducted in Malaysia, South Africa and the UK and has drawn on mixed-methods data ranging from staff interviews to nationally representative population surveys.