The Experimental Citizen

Originally posted on Changing Behaviours:

The Psychological State and the Experimental Subject

In a previous post we considered the ways in which the psychological sciences are reshaping how policy makers understand human subjectivity. The classical view of the human ‘[…] as a bounded, unique, more or less integrated motivational and cognitive universe, a dynamic centre of awareness, emotion, judgment and action, organized into a distinctive whole and set contrastively against other wholes […]’ (Clifford Geertz), is being replaced by a much less autonomous vision of human subjectivity. In this new, psychologically-imbued vision of the human subject agency is not only associated with conscious deliberation and action, but also unconscious drivers and contextual prompts. Human subjectivity becomes less Homo Economicus and more Homer Simpson. Putting these broader debates to one side, it is also becoming clear that the rise of the Psychological State is constructing another form of subjectivity: the experimental subject. In this…

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ESRC Seminar Series continues

We’ve been neglecting this blog slightly in favour of new projects but I just thought I’d paste in some info on an upcoming event we are organising along with geography colleagues from Bristol and Durham Universities.

Please go to: http://psychologicalgovernance.wordpress.com/ if you’d like to book a place, and to have a look at the other events that we’ve been holding on this exciting theme of psychological governance and behaviour change…..

Psychological resilience. Governing the brain, mind and behaviour

University of Birmingham, Michael Tippett Room, Astor Suite, 3rd Floor, Staff House (R24 on map)

23rd June 2014, 9:00 – 4:30pm

This seminar highlights the range of psychological approaches which have influenced contemporary public policy making in different national contexts, exploring how and why it is that particular psychological insights are used and taken up by specific governments.

Participants will discuss initiatives, policies and projects which make use of: positive psychology, flourishing, nudge, the science of happiness, wellbeing, mindfulness, neural plasticity, socio-psychological resilience. The seminar critically interrogates the political claims made in the name of broadly positive psychology; claims revolving around a discourse of hope and potential. Participants will consider what kinds of psychological and behavioural realities are omitted from these accounts.

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Confirmed Speakers:

9:00 Tea and Coffee

9:30 Welcome and introduction

10:00 Dr Jan de Vos, Department of Philosophy and Moral Sciences, University of Ghent

Why does the brain need a party? Neuropower and the spectacle, assessed via (para)governmental campaigns related to the brain and mental health in Flanders.

10:30 Professor Erica Burman, School of Environment, Education and Development, University of Manchester

Manifesting resilience

11:00 Professor Kathryn Ecclestone, School of Education, Sheffield

Governing psycho-emotionally vulnerable citizens: new subjectivities in an inclusive neo-liberal therapeutic state

11:30 Discussion

12:00 LUNCH

13:00 *Video Interlude* Dr Sam Binkley, Sociology, Emerson College, USA

Happiness as Enterprise. An Essay on Neoliberal Life

13:10 Vanessa King, Action for Happiness and Change Able

Building Resilience – Practical Interventions to Help People Survive and Thrive in Today’s World

13:40 Dr John Cromby, Psychology, School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, Loughborough University

Psychology as practical biopolitics

14:10 Discussion

14:30 TEA AND COFFEE

15:00 Dr Will Davies, Department of Politics, Goldsmiths University of London

The Politics of Silent Citizenship: historical lessons for contemporary psychological government

15:30 Professor Peter John, Department of Political Science, UCL

Changing bureaucrats and citizens: The transformative potential of an experimental public administration16:00 Discussion and closing comments

16:30 Close

Speakers’ Abstracts (to follow)

Jan de Vos

Why does the brain need a party? Neuropower and the spectacle, assessed via (para)governmental campaigns related to the brain and mental health in Flanders.

Critics of the neuro-turn are inclined to ask: “What do we know more now, what is the surplus of neuroscience?” Instead of hastily answering this in the negative, perhaps we should look for an added value elsewhere. In this paper I will look for this surplus-value by engaging with the relation of neuropower to the spectacle, and I’ll do that via assessing some (para)governmental campaigns related to the brain and mental health in Flanders. The cerebellum, so it seems, must be celebrated, it deserves a party and festivities. In neuro-education – conceived here as the instruction of youth into the neuroscientific findings (“the amazing and fascinating world of our brain”) – this celebrative aspect is particular poignant. A brain festival for 14 to 18 your old pupils is, for example, announced as “An entertaining mix of scientific presentations, live brain dissection and workshops!” This, then, will be juxtaposed with another observation: that is, neuroscience can be said to be well aware itself that it does not really bring in an extra knowledge: neuroscience knows it does not know more. For is the neurodiscourse not itself relentlessly deconstructive vis-à-vis all kinds of presuppositions and claims used to be made in the psy-sciences? At the least it shows that there is no subject (endowed with a free will or agency) of knowledge. Is it not this lack, this hole in contemporary subjectivity which has to be acted out, which has to be partied away? The brain has to become a vociferous spectacle in order that we can gloss over it sheer muteness, the fact that is hasn’t anything to tell us. Arguably, we have to dance on our ontological abyss. It will moreover be argued that, to understand the govermentality in play in such brain campaigns, we have to discern that the music, the dances, the balloons and the funny hats in the spectacle of the brain are supplied by psychology, the latter seemingly miraculously surviving the neuro-turn as its MC.

 

Erica Burman

Manifesting resilience

This paper takes as its focus the recent UK policy document, the Character and Resilience Manifesto, (launched in February 2014). It identifies and situates its key tropes in relation to other recent British government educational and social policies. While ‘resilience’ is not a new concept, its resurgence in recent years arises from a psychologization of socio-political and economic insecurities such that structural vulnerabilities and risks can be passed back to a fortified, responsibilised neoliberal subject. But this is not all. This performative text also produces what it describes in four ways. Firstly, not only does resilience emit a neutral to positive rhetorical charge, between the gendering of ‘positive psychology’, ‘thriving’, or the ‘happiness’ vs. ‘hardiness’. ‘mental toughness’ and ‘psychofortology’, but it also, secondly, provides a (further gendered) means of acknowledging and addressing emotional dynamics and relationships without explicitly topicalising these and so maintaining its scientific status. Thirdly, it both appeals to and blurs the boundaries between the technical and the scientific by ventriloquising its evidential claims, so also guaranteeing ‘deniability’. Finally, as a combined trope ‘character and resilience’ fruitfully navigates current contestations between nature and nurture, and between neuroscience and psychopedagogy.

 

Kathryn Ecclestone

Governing psycho-emotionally vulnerable citizens: new subjectivities in an inclusive neo-liberal therapeutic state

In response to profoundly pessimistic discourses of structural and psychological crisis, British social policy settings have become key sites for state-sponsored psycho-therapeutic interventions. Education is a key focus for these. In parallel, the government’s Behavioural Insight Team extends behaviour change techniques into new areas. Taken together, these applications of the ‘psy-sciences’ embrace ad hoc elements of positive psychology (as a particular form of behavioural/cognitive psychology), neuroscience, counselling, self-help and psychoanalysis. Resonating powerfully with ‘therapeutic culture’, widespread support for these elements of the psy-sciences is underpinned by equally diverse concerns and intentions, some remerging from earlier periods, some of which are new. Combining insights from both areas of policy illuminates shifts and continuities in older discourses of political subjectivity. The paper argues that a highly inclusive neo-liberal state embraces seemingly competing strategies and concerns to legitimize new therapeutic forms of governance and governmentality. A powerful unifying strand is disdain for, and rejection of, the neo-liberal rational subject. This raises new political and ethical questions about the legitimate boundaries of behaviour change strategies and their psycho-emotionally-vulnerable human targets.

 

Vanessa King

Building Resilience – Practical Interventions to Help People Survive and Thrive in Today’s World

There is a growing focus on ‘building resilience and psychological wellbeing’ in organisations, in schools and communities. The recent economic downturn and longer-term shifts have meant this is timely. It is fuelled by three forces: psychological ill-health as a growing issue with associated social and economic impact; psychological research broadening to include a greater focus on functioning and prevention in addition to the causes and cure of dysfunction; and thirdly, a growing attention on non-financial measures of society’s progress.  Vanessa King has developed and implemented resilience building programmes and psychological wellbeing interventions within large and smaller organisations and in community settings in the UK and overseas. She’ll provide an overview of this work, how it is perceived and received and the practicalities of translating academic research into day-to-day action.  Vanessa is an experienced a leadership and organisation development consultant. She completed a Masters degree in Applied Positive Psychology under Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania, one of only 250 people worldwide to have done so. She is trained as a facilitator on the University of Pennsylvania’s Master Resilience Training programme for the US Army.  She is a Board Member of the not-for-profit, Action for Happiness, founded by the economist Professor, Lord Richard Layard. Leading their work with organisations and speaking on their behalf nationally and internationally. Vanessa developed their ‘10 Keys to Happier Living’, wrote the psychological content of their extensive website. Vanessa has worked with the new economics foundation, is a member of the UK Government Taskforce on Engagement’s Well-being sub-committee and is an affiliate of the Wellbeing Institute at the University of Cambridge.

 

 

 

Will Davies

The Politics of Silent Citizenship: historical lessons for contemporary psychological government

Current efforts to govern via psychology, such as behaviour change and wellbeing optimisation, have been heralded as a major innovation in public policy. This paper suggests that they are merely recent adaptations of a project initiated by Bentham, which aims to strip discourse and deliberation out of politics. The paper explores two precedents for this, by way of a ‘history of the present’. The first is Jevons’ application of Benthamite psychology to the study of prices in the 1870s. The second is the reconception of depression within American psychiatry during the 1970s. Both are efforts to bring mental states within a governing framework, which avoid the need to speak to people, though both ultimately fail in that effort. The paper looks at the politics and limits of this desire for ‘silent citizenship’, which has recently been refreshed once more by the neurosciences.

Peter John

Changing bureaucrats and citizens: The transformative potential of an experimental public administration

Ideas about behaviour change have the potential to transform public administration as it is practised today. Although theories of behaviour change can help evaluate public policies and to improve their effectiveness, it entails bureaucrats doing things differently, often having to readdress established procedures.  To test for behaviour change, it is essential to use experiments, in the form of RCTs, and these often involve the redesign of existing administrative systems, which raises questions about why old procedures were introduced in the first place. Using robust evidence means that old ways of business can be challenged. More experiments can set off chain reactions within bureaucracies, encouraging innovation to become more a common practice, whereby bureaucrats start to learn through testing and adapting what they do. In a broader conception, behaviour change may be applied to other actors in the political process, such as to the bureaucrats themselves, and can be applied by citizens to bureaucrats and politicians. In this way, ideas about information and behaviour change can be used to create positive feedback loops between different actors in the political process, encouraging more responsiveness to bureaucrats to citizens, and citizens to bureaucrats. Of course, implementing such changes involves challenges as well as successes, and the paper gives examples of both from the UK at local and national levels.

Wiki-Glossary: (Re)Defining the Rational

This latest entry into our Wiki-Glossary is the product of the problematic encounters we regularly have with the notion of the rational. In behaviour change circles the notion of the rational is a consistent topic of debate and a key policy goal. Our sense, however, is that as a term it is at best shrouded in misunderstanding, and at worst co-opted to serve particular moral ends. Here is our humble attempt to redefine what we might mean by the rational. If you disagree with this vision let us know, the point of this Wiki-Glossary is to build shared understandings of key terms like this.

Rational adjective. Pertaining to the application of reason. In general parlance, the term rational is used to denote a normative (moral) position (compared to “morally dubious” irrational actions), and also to specify a more specific set of behavioural practices. In terms of behavioural practices, the rational has come to be associated with processes of measured deliberation and reflection on the likely outcomes of certain courses of actions. In more narrow economic terms, rational actions are associated with those in which personal utility and self-interest are prioritised. In moral terms, rational action is often deemed as good because it militates against emotional responses to situations (expressed in terms of fear, anger, pleasure and joy), and the associated forms of arbitrary, and the potentially damaging, actions that can ensue.
Putting these conventional, and quite specific, understandings of the rational to one side, it is perhaps best to think of rational actions as forms of behaviour for which we can give a reason (the “application of reason” is then understood not as a set of logical procedures, but as the ability to actually give a reason for action). Understood on these terms, rational decision-making is disconnected from its moral association with deliberative self-interest, and can be seen as any form of action that is connected to a conscious prompt. Conscious prompts can, of course be the product of reflection, calculation, and attempts to secure personal interests, but they can also be the result of emotional responses (including empathy, care for others, and a felt sense of the situation). Understanding the rational in this way has two primary advantages. First, it means that the rational need not be associated with a narrow, and potentially divisive, economic understanding of human motivation. Second, it enables us to recognize that humans have the capacity for great emotional intelligence, which is often produced at the interface of deliberation, gut reactions, and the negotiation of a variety of everyday situations.

Tax Retruns and Inner Peace

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The UK Goverment’s HM Revenue and Customs are currently running a new marketing camapaign. The campaign has been designed to promote the timely completion of self-assessment tax returns and payments. What is interesting about the campaign is that in addition to emphazing the rational threat of the £100 fine that faces those who are late filing their tax, it also reflects upon the “inner peace” that is to be gained from the completion of the tax return process. According to HMRC, ‘The campaign has been developed to touch on the emotions that HMRC found people typically experience after they have filled in their tax return, often described as a real sense of relief or peace of mind – like a weight being lifted from their shoulders’.

This “inner peace campaign” is one of series of attempts that is being made by HMRC to use the insights of the new behavioural sciences to secure the collection of tax revenue. The UK Government’s Behavioural Insights Team has previously worked with HMRC to trial the use of tax repayment letters that emphasize the social norm of tax arrears payment (see: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/60537/Behaviour-Change-Insight-Team-Annual-Update_acc.pdf). What is, of course, novel about this campaign is its use of a more meditative message of the deeper forms of happinness that follow the self assessment tax process. The campign is smart to the extent that it seeks to address the tendency of people to procrastinate when facing a complex and potentially expensive tax return process, by offering the hope of a happier future when all the paperwork has been completed. It is to be hoped that the broader insights that meditative practice can offer with regard to the nature and regulation of human behaviour are also realized and utilized within government sponsored behavioural initiatives.

 

 

New research projects funded, and new blogs…

We are delighted that our ongoing research on behaviour change has been funded by the ESRC, with 2 new projects beginning this Autumn.

The first is a Transforming Social Science award held by Mark Whitehead at Aberystwyth University. The project, ‘Negotiating Neuroliberalism’ is an examination of the internationalisation of the ‘behaviour change agenda’ in public policy which potentially re-shapes neoliberal social policies according to insights in the neurosciences and advanced in psychological techniques of governing.

negotiating neuroliberalism blogThere is a new blog for this project at: http://changingbehaviours.wordpress.com/

The second is an ESRC Seminar Series on Behaviour Change and Psychological Governance, which is 6 seminars and a postgraduate summer school in which participants will discuss how our cultural ideas about the brain, mind, behaviour and self are changing.

psych-governance blog screenshotMore information can be found at: http://psychologicalgovernance.wordpress.com/

Bio-social Methods Workshop Commentary and Presentations

IAS imageBio-Social Methods for a Vitalist Social Science

Institute of Advanced Studies Workshop, University of Birmingham

16th July 2013

workshop commentary written by Dr Bryony Enright is available here (PDF).

Some interesting quotes on the concept of the bio-social can be found here (Powerpoint).

Presentations and audio recordings of presentations will be added as available below:

Helen Cobain @flikrNudging Into Subjectification (Powerpoint)

Dr John Cromby, Loughborough University (AUDIO)

 

 

hinchliffe porosity vitality contagionPorosity, Virality and the Study of Contagion (Prezi Presentation)

Professor Steve Hinchliffe, University of Exeter (AUDIO)

 

callard and fitzgerald experimentalExperimental Entanglements in Cognitive Neuroscience (LINK)

Dr Felicity Callard, Durham University and Dr Des Fitzgerald, Aarhus University

 

Fishin widow @flikr Nanny, Nudger or Therapist? Therapeutic Approaches to Behaviour Change in an age of ‘Vulnerability’

Professor Kathryn Ecclestone, University of Sheffield (AUDIO)

 

Using Mindfulness Training in Pro-environmental Behaviour Change (Powerpoint)

Rachel Lilley, Aberystwyth University (AUDIO)

 

peter stevenson @fllikrWhat is Impact? Producing Modest and Vulnerable Knowledge

Dr Megan Clinch, The Open University

 

 

Hammersley_drugs_Waleed Alzuhair flikrNudge Meets RCT: Evidence-based Manipulation for the Public Good? (POWERPOINT)

Professor Martyn Hammersley, The Open University (AUDIO)

 

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Closing Remarks

Dr Jessica Pykett, University of Birmingham (AUDIO)

 

Workshop: Bio-Social Methods for a Vitalist Social Science

A workshop to be held at the University of Birmingham, to consider the potential for integrating critical and applied approaches contemporary ‘bio-social’ challenges.  16th July 2013 [9.00am-4:30pm]

If you are interested in attending, please contact Sarah Myring [s.myring@bham.ac.uk].

 PROGRAMME

9.00am Tea/coffee and register                                                                       
9.30am Welcome and Introduction

Dr Jessica Pykett, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

9.45am Nudging Into Subjectification

Dr John Cromby, School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, Loughborough University

Psychological research methods are ubiquitous in relation to the behaviour change agenda, because large parts of the evidence that behaviour change strategies rely upon is generated using them. Such methods make various assumptions – for example about cognition, affect and meaning, the putative distinctions between them, their interlocking dynamics, and the ways in which they can therefore be made visible for research purposes. At the same time, some methods have considerable potential to act back upon those who encounter them: they can function as ‘technologies of the self’ capable of inculcating modes of subjectivity consonant with the neoliberal ideology that the behaviour change agenda reproduces. In this talk I will consider these issues with respect to the recently-publicised initiative to compel UK benefits claimants to undergo psychometric personality testing.

John Cromby is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Loughborough University,  whose research interests relate to the character of experience; in particular, the way that experience is jointly constituted at the intersection of social influence and the body.

10.30am Porosity, Virality and the Study of Contagion – some notes on biosocial sciences

Professor Steve Hinchliffe, Geography, University of Exeter

In recent years, a correspondence has emerged from two quite separate fields – neurology and, for wont of a better term, more than human social sciences.  The correspondence is along these lines – we are beginning to understand how little of our thinking, reasoning, emotions or even our cells are ‘ours’.   From micro biomes to somnambulant subjectivities, ‘we’ are, it seems, porous selves.

This paper uses recent and soon to start work on contagion as a means to open up conceptual and methodological debates on bio-social science.  It starts in a chicken shed and ends in social media, but the questions are the same.  How do things spread, or better, how can we access the bio-social atmospheres that are the very conditions for contagion?

Steve Hinchliffe is Professor of Human Geography at the University of Exeter. He works on the geographies of nature, non-humans and environments.  His current work focuses on the geographies of contagion and disease, investigating scientific, agricultural and institutional approaches to securing life in the face of emerging infections, neglected endemics and food borne disease. The work uses multi-species ethnographies and spatial theory to explore the insecurities generated by conventional approaches to biosecurity.

11.15am TEA/COFFEE
11.45am Experimental Entanglements in Cognitive Neuroscience

Dr Felicity Callard, Social Science for Medical Humanities, Durham University and Dr Des Fitzgerald, Interacting Minds Centre, Aarhus University

 

In this presentation, we briefly outline some of the methodological, conceptual and empirical research that we have been pursuing since 2011 under the rubric of “Experimental entanglements in cognitive neuroscience”. The phrase “experimental entanglements” signals our desire to move beyond dialogical or interactive models of engagement between neuroscientists, social scientists and humanities researchers. Entanglement points, instead, to a muddier process in which practices of experimentation attend to how shared concepts and questions from these different fields emerge from complex and overlapping disciplinary histories, perspectives and modes of practice.

In our current historical moment, it is increasingly hard to talk about social, cultural, and political ‘lives,’ in isolation from the biological and neurological possibilities that inflect and texture those lives. But if there is growing interest in apprehending these exchanges, still no new paradigm, including the bio-psycho-social, has successfully conjured the entangled relations that constitute them. Simultaneously, the most sophisticated conceptual engagements with them have failed to achieve purchase outside rarefied theoretical spaces. We wager that a more committedly experimental exploration of this interdisciplinary space might reinvigorate the methods and epistemologies of both the ‘social’ and the ‘biological’ sciences. The articulation of this interdisciplinary domain depends, we argue, not on more convincing theoretical accounts, but in a much deeper entanglement of those accounts with emerging spaces of biological experiment and demonstration. Drawing on empirical examples, our presentation unfolds the implications of such a claim.

Dr Felicity Callard is Senior Lecturer in Social Science for Medical Humanities at Durham University. She has broad research interests in the history and present of psychiatry, psychoanalysis and cognitive neuroscience. Dr Des Fitzgerald is a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Interacting Minds Centre, at Aarhus University. His research interests are in sociologies of neuroscience and the autism spectrum, and in the emergence of ‘interdisciplinary’ knowledges.

12.30pm LUNCH
1.30pm Nanny, Nudger or Therapist?: Therapeutic Approaches to Behaviour Change in an age of ‘Vulnerability’

Professor Kathryn Ecclestone, School of Education, University of Sheffield

The much-touted phrase ‘from nanny to nudge’ implies new forms of governance and images of human subjects targeted for intervention across a growing range of social policy areas. Yet the sophisticated alliances between emotional psychology, neuroscience, behavioural and social psychology emerging from these developments suggest that the state as ‘nanny’ or ‘nudger’ is only part of the story.  An overlooked dimension is the powerful intertwining of therapeutic ideas, assumptions and practices reflected in a 15-year rise of therapeutically-informed interventions throughout mainstream education, and the permeation of ‘therapeutic culture’ in everyday life, politics and popular culture.

In Britain, America, Australia and Finland, an ad hoc, eclectic range of interventions that aim to develop mindsets, attitudes and behaviours associated with ‘emotional well-being’, and a huge expansion of state-sponsored lay experts competing to offer effective therapeutic approaches are predicated on a consensus about a crisis of psycho-emotional vulnerability and mental health.  The legitimization of the state as ‘therapist’ raises questions about whether new forms of subjectivity and agency refracted through images of vulnerability are educationally and politically progressive.

Kathryn is Professor of Education at Sheffield University. Her research explores the political and cultural rise of ‘therapeutic culture’ in growing numbers of countries, reflected in the therapisation of policy and practice around interventions for ‘emotional well-being’ and ‘resilience’ across social policy, including education and family interventions.

Using Mindfulness Training in Pro-environmental Behaviour Change

Rachel Lilley, Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences, Aberystwyth University

Mindfulness practice is increasingly being used in mental health contexts, schools and as an alternative approach to ‘top down’ behaviour change theories.  This paper reports on primary action-based research on mindfulness training (based on a Buddhist Meditation Technique) in the sphere of pro-environmental behaviour, particularly relating to Climate Change.  The rationale for using mindfulness in public policy has been variously couched in terms of neuroscientific evidence, the science of positive psychology, cognitive developmental theories, behavioural trials and ancient wisdom relating to the mind. In this research, two research methods were combined to consider the outcomes of a long term and a short term practice of mindfulness and the views of long term mindfulness practitioners and activists working in climate change.  By becoming conscious of their mental patterning, both long and shorter term mindfulness practitioners are able to consider different ‘out of habit’ choices to support their wellbeing and their desire to live according to their deepest values which generally include pro-environmental values. One strong emergent theme from the research was the potential of mindfulness to cultivate the intrinsic value of compassion. This was seen to support the development of wellbeing, a feeling of a greater sense of connectedness to others and to the wider world, and a consequent desire to act more pro-socially/pro-environmentally.   The research outcomes are currently being used to develop training programmes in the application of behaviour change and mindfulness in leadership and social change. Clients include the New Economics Foundation, WWF and Powys based social enterprise Cwm Harry. She is based in Mid-Wales.

Rachel Lilley (BA Hons, PGCE, BWY dip, MPhil) initially trained as a journalist and has spent the last 20 years working with NGOs in social change. She is a consultant, lecturer, facilitator, coach and project manager and more recently, researcher with Aberystwyth University. She also has 15 years experience as a yoga and meditation teacher. She also currently works for Ymlaen Ceredigion applying behaviour change to their work in sustainability in the community.

2.45pm Tea/coffee
3.15pm What is Impact? Producing Modest and Vulnerable KnowledgeDr Megan Clinch, The Open UniversityIn recent years there has been an emergence of array public health interventions that aim to act on the multiple behavioural, organisational, biomedical and social determinates, that are now thought to constitute health and disease. One aspect of this trend is the integration social scientific approaches, in particular qualitative research methods, into the design and evaluation of interventions. However, in spite of such interdisciplinary research, the evidentiary standards through which such interventions are assessed remain wedded to the logic of the Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT). In particular, the principle of observing and measuring the effects of a discrete ‘active ingredient’ in order to make definitive and unyielding claims. As a consequence, such endeavours tend to produce limited accounts of the very phenomena they are trying to capture.  In the conclusion to the paper, the results of this form of interdisciplinary research will be reflected on in terms of the type of impact that social scientific research concerned with health, disease and illness, is increasingly expected to demonstrate. Subsequently, it will be suggested that social scientists engaged in such work need to develop an alternative approach to impact, and in particular, a set of evidentiary standards that can communicate the value of producing knowledge that is both modest and vulnerable.

Megan has a background in Social Anthropology and completed my PhD at the LSE in 2010. Since then, she has worked at the Institute of Public Health at the University of Cambridge and undertaken a Visiting Postdoctoral Fellowship at The Centre for Medical Science and Technology Studies at the University of Copenhagen. She is currently developing research which explores how the concept of liminality can enhance social scientific understandings of situations characterised by multiple forms of uncertainty and indeterminacy.

Nudge Meets RCT: Evidence-based Manipulation for the Public Good?

Professor Martyn Hammersley, Faculty of Education and Language Studies, The Open University

I will examine the document Test, Learn, Adapt, produced in 2012 by the Behavioural Insights Team in the UK Cabinet Office (often referred to as ‘The Nudge Unit’). This advocates the use of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) for the selection and development of government policies, with an emphasis on those designed to operate via the ‘nudge principle’. My focus, for the most part, will be on the excessive claims this document makes for the capacity of RCTs to assess the quality of policies. But I will go on to consider some of the assumptions about the relationship between policies and human behaviour that the document makes; and the way in which these operate as a subtext, positioning both policymakers and the people who are the targets of their policies.

Martyn is Professor of Educational and Social Research at the Open University. His early research was in the sociology of education. Later work has been concerned with the methodological issues surrounding social and educational enquiry. These include objectivity, partisanship and bias; and the role of research in relation to policymaking and practice. 

4.30pm Close