Tuesday, 28 October 2014

The value of talking to different audiences: A sociologist home and abroad

Robin Wooffitt (central figure in the photograph) reflects on presenting to three very different kinds of disciplinary audiences: 
  • the Department of Sociology at the University of Leicester (as a contributor to the Department's seminar programme); 
  • members of the Society for Psychical Research (as plenary speaker at the Society's annual conference)
  • child and adolescent psychotherapists (at the Leeds-based Northern School of Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy, as part of their interdisciplinary seminar programme).  

My topic for each talk was a form of coincidence that occurs in everyday social interaction, where one person's unstated thought or mental imagery is reflected in another person's figurative or playful talk. The sociologists were interested in how this apparent confluence of one person's inner experience and another person's publicly expressed utterances can add to recent sociological research on the role of the private, or interiority, in social life. The Society for Psychical Research were interested in the apparent parapsychological aspects of this phenomenon - the person who first noticed it even called it an 'ESP pun', where ESP stands for Extra Sensory Perception. And the psychotherapists were interested in the ways that the phenomenon illuminated psycho-dynamic tensions that they see regularly in their clinical practice. So I was exposed to three intersecting perspectives on my research: the sociological, the parapsychological, and the psychotherapeutic. 

The questions and comments I received have been extremely useful in suggesting ways to take the research further, but in unexpected ways. A comment from a sociologist illuminated an aspect of the phenomenon that I had considered to be a more psychological issue; a psychotherapist offered an observation that touched directly on parapsychological features; and the Chair of the SPR conference pointed me to new sources of data. The various comments and questions emphasised interdisciplinary overlaps that will be significant in my future work. The experience of talking to three very different kinds of audiences has been a salutary reminder of just how arbitrary disciplinary boundaries can be. 

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