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Psychology and Social Change Research Group

The Psychology and Social Change Research Group aims to be a leading national and international research hub for psychological research with an emphasis and commitment to social change. This is a broad overarching theme for the Group, and involves diverse and varied activity across theoretical and methodological arenas, and driven by a number of different topic areas. To this end the group takes a leading role in developing research in the areas of ‘politics, community and society’, ‘health and technologies’, and with a continual focus on issues of ‘social equality and justice, security and human rights’.

The group has a firm commitment to interdisciplinarity, working with colleagues from sociology, psychosocial studies, education, social work, geography, cultural and media studies. The group utilises and develops a broad range of analytic methodologies, including discursive and narrative approaches, visual methods and spatial analytics. The group aims to develop innovative theoretical solutions when understanding empirical problems that although broad, all focus to some degree on understanding the multiple relationships between psychological and social realms of experience. To this end the group supports a number of international and national collaborations, and members are involved in work across policy, applied and academic settings. Key objectives are:

  • to take an applied focus in using theory, research and methodology to impact on social change and quality of life;
  • to develop interdisciplinary approaches that draw on a number of theoretical resources (social theory, process philosophy, critical psychology, feminist theory, embodiment and affect theory);
  • to use and develop a range of methodological approaches including critical and discursive approaches, visual methods, and digital tools.

Group members take leading roles in the discipline of psychology and beyond, including BPS Section Committee membership, journal editorial board membership, RCUK grant reviewing, and keynote national and international conference talks. Please see individual member staff pages for further information.
We foster a supportive environment for both undergraduate and postgraduate research students.

Current Projects

Ian Tucker has been awarded funding by the EPSRC Communities and Culture Network+ (C&C+) to undertake a project entitled ‘Social Media and Austerity: Online Peer Support in Mental Health Communities’. The project (with Dr Lewis Goodings – Roehampton) will work with the mental health charity Mind on their new social media peer support site ‘Elefriends’. The project aims to analyse the impact of social media on peer support amongst mental health service users, set within a context of reduced spending on mental health care leading to fewer opportunities for face to face support for mental health service users. As part of C&C+ the project aims to speak to debates regarding the cultural impacts of increased digital technology usage.

The scenes and spaces of hospital life: Staff and psychiatric inpatients’ experiences of care and distress

This project aims to explore the relationships between mental distress and spaces in a variety of in-patient wards in Royal Bethlem Psychiatric Hospital in London. The project involves interviews with staff and patients on a broad range of topics relating to experiences of ward and hospital spaces. Theoretically the project aims to identify the multiple relations that exist between different forms and levels of mental distress, and the material environments in which they are experienced on a day-to-day basis. Mental health service users face many challenges in terms of employment, living arrangements, and social and personal relationships. Understanding how these problems are manifest in hospital wards is important for the design and implementation of viable and productive interventions. The project is a collaboration between Ian Tucker, Laura McGrath (UEL), Paula Reavey (LSBU), Steve Brown (Leicester) and Ava Kanyeredzi (London Met).

Unusual beliefs and experiences

This project has a number of strands.  Dave Harper is undertaking collaborative work with John Cromby (Loughborough University) examining both how experiences of paranoia are embodied and related to social inequality.  Another more longstanding strand concerns work critiquing naively realist conceptions of paranoia.  Finally, Dave Harper has been involved with qualitative research conducted both independently and with a number of trainee clinical psychologists on the UEL Professional Doctorate in Clinical Psychology.  This research has involved interviewing participants from both clinical and non-clinical groups who have beliefs which might be regarded as unusual by others.  Some of this work will appear in a forthcoming book Dave Harper is editing.

Re-thinking psychiatric diagnosis

Given the problems of reliability and validity associated with psychiatric classificatory systems Dave Harper has been involved in two collaborative projects aimed at reconceptualising the way in which we think about emotional distress.  Dissatisfied with the way in which abnormal psychology textbooks were structured by these problematic systems With John Cromby (Loughborough University) and Paula Reavey (London South Bank University) Dave Harper recently produced a textbook which attempts to develop a much more consistently psychological approach to understanding distress.  In addition Dave is a member of a small BPS DCP working party which is producing a document on how we might move beyond such psychiatric diagnostic classificatory schemes like the DSM and ICD.

Experiencing surveillance

This is a collaborative project involving Dave Harper, Darren Ellis (Law & Social Sciences) and Ian Tucker (School of Psychology). We are interested in the different ways in which people experience increasingly ubiquitous technological systems like CCTV and the internet.  In one project 31 Londoners were interviewed about their experiences of these systems and we have each led on publishing different aspects of the analysis. Recently, we have begun a project making Freedom of Information requests to NHS Trusts in relation to electronic health records.

Qualitative Research in Practice

This is a project Laura McGrath and David Kaposi and undertaking, which involves investigating current qualitative research practice, with a particular focus on the role of interpretation in qualitative research. This project has developed out of a monthly data analysis group run by Laura and David in the School of Psychology open to staff, students, and interested external participants.

Experiences of Thinking

This is a collaborative project involving Laura McGrath and Zoe Boden (Birmingham). This is a qualitative investigation of everyday experiences of different modalities of thinking (verbal, visual, musical, kinetic). This project aims to consider how diverse experiences of thinking could mediate everyday experiences, such as a sense of self in relation to others, as well as everyday activities such as creativity and learning.

Women, Humor and Power …in the Workplace

Sharon Cahill and Rachel Densham have just finished a review of the current literature for Funny Women & ) and Make it Global at UEL. This project will be extended via Rachel’s MSc. dissertation to explore how women working in corporate London construct their own and other’s humor in the workplace.

Youth Unemployment and Resilience

Kendra Gilbert and Sharon Cahill (interviewed young people who were unemployed for more than 13 months and who were enrolled on a compulsory back-to-work program in London.  They are interested in understanding what is like to be both young and unemployed (collaborating with Christian Tileaga in Loughborough) and how (if) psychologists can help both the young unemployed person and those who are paid to help them (often called Customer Advisors).

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