International Sociology and International Sociology Reviews
Topic of the Month, January 2023
‘Psychologisation of Society’ is our Topic of the Month for January 2023. On this topic, enjoy Free Access to this article by Daniel Nehring (Swansea University, UK) and Dylan Kerrigan (University of the West Indies St Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago) published in International Sociology, Therapeutic politics reconsidered: Power, post-colonialism and the psychologisation of society in the Global South. Read on to know more about the authors’ trajectory and work.
Why are you working on this topic? Could you share an experience, a fact or a person who made you get engage on that research?
D Nehring: I first became interested in therapeutic culture in the late 1990s, as an undergraduate student at the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education (ITESM) in Monterrey, Mexico. The Tec de Monterrey, as the university is known colloquially, is one of the most prestigious and influential private universities in Mexico and Latin America. At the time, this university, as well as others, used self-help books by the Mexican writer Carlos Cuauhtémoc Sánchez Gutiérrez to teach students about a range of topics, from family life and sexuality to the development of an entrepreneurial spirit. Carlos Cuauhtémoc Sánchez’s work (see the author’s website, here, in Spanish) promotes a distinctive religious worldview that is closely associated with conservative Christianity and narrative tropes of the North American culture wars. At the time, I was struck by the impact which these self-help books had on some of my friends, for example by scaring some of them quite profoundly about their sex lives. The fact that the books would be used to teach students at a university that prides itself in developing ‘leaders’ for business, society, and politics made me aware of the important role of therapeutic culture in the organisation of moral life.
D Kerrigan: I am an anthropologist of the Caribbean who is most interested in how cultural systems extend over long periods of time in the service of economics and the maintenance of power and why equitable social change is so hard to achieve. Thinking about how people see politics or social change is important to this work. Exploring the field and experiences of therapeutic culture allows me to think about how macro processes unfold and are lived on the micro level of experience. This has been revealing across the many different spaces where I work in the Caribbean including criminal justice systems in the context of therapeutic jurisprudence, and the field of peace and development studies where in thinking about social cohesion and integration in the context of conflict analysis we try to make connections across moral grammar and worlds. Researching therapeutic culture puts you at the centre of how and why people understand, construct and act in political terms.
Do you have any video, recorded conference, or online material that you would like us to share with others?
D Nehring: For an interesting conversation on therapeutic politics with some leading scholars in this area, take a look at a recording of the recent event ‘Re-thinking the Therapeutic: Affect, Alienation, and Politics in Therapeutic Culture’, hosted by SAGE Social Science Space, here.
D Kerrigan: This is a little older but still relevant. I did a TEDx talk in 2015 that incorporated some of the ideas in our article and previous work in this area https://tedxportofspain.com/portfolio/dylan-kerrigan/.
And this is a 2019 book chapter I wrote on Therapeutic Jurisprudence in Trinidad and Tobago: Legitimacy, Inclusion and the Neo-colonialism of Procedural Justice.
What would you emphasize about your academic trajectory? Can you highlight which have been your academic positions, universities, awards, departments and research centers please?
D Nehring: I am currently a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Swansea University in the UK. Dylan and I wrote our paper on therapeutic politics during my time as Associate Professor of Sociology at East China University of Science and Technology in Shanghai, China, from 2018 to 2022. These two appointments highlight two important facts about my academic trajectory. First, as a sociologist, my engagement with therapeutic culture, at the intersection of the sociologies of knowledge, culture, and moral life, has been most closely influenced by British sociology, as I have studied and worked for many years in the UK, from the early 2000s onwards. In particular, Anglo-American pragmatism, cultural sociology, and methodologies for narrative research have had a significant influence on my thinking. At the same time, my academic trajectory has also been broadly international, and I have held academic appointments in Trinidad and Tobago, Argentina, South Korea, China, and the USA. Through my work, I seek to contribute to the ongoing and as yet partial and incomplete ‘global turn’ in sociology. My work with Dylan Kerrigan on therapeutic cultures in the Anglophone Caribbean can be read as an outcome of this interest, as it seeks to draw attention to transnational connections in the social organisation of moral life, and to the importance of scholarship in and on the Caribbean in understanding these connections. Sociological debates in the metropolitan centres of the academic world are still all too often self-centred and self-enclosed, recent conversations about a ‘global turn’ and ‘postcolonial thought’ notwithstanding. With my research, I seek to move beyond these inward-looking perspectives.
D Kerrigan: I am currently a Visiting Lecturer with the University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine Campus in Trinidad and Tobago. I am also an honorary fellow at the University of Leicester. I got my PhD in Anthropology from American University in Washington, DC. I was at UWI from 2008 to 2019 employed as a political sociologist but focussed on running the anthropology program. This combination – alongside long-term support from my colleague Daniel Nehring – led me into studying therapeutic culture(s) as it was a way to combine thinking about social structures and institutions but also the ideological and cultural systems that develop from and in response to such drivers. Understanding the larger changes that had impacted the Caribbean since the neoliberal economic transformations of the late 1970s to the noughties in this way through the lens of therapeutic culture has allowed my work to understand how broader global economic changes have been experienced on the micro levels of life in psychological terms and how this, in turn, has impacted areas of life regionally such as socialisation systems, crime levels, and political culture. The broader transnational psychological turn that accompanied global shifts since the post-1970s and how its impact on lives in the “global south” has played out tells us a lot in a wider story about why inclusive social change is so difficult to build and achieve today. In December 2022 my work and research has led me to start a new job as a United Nations Peace and Development Officer for the Caribbean region.
Do you have any Twitter account (personal account, university account, colleague account, etc.) that we can include in our posts?
University website: https://www.swansea.ac.uk/staff/d.f.nehring/
Personal website: http://www.dnehring.org/
Personal website: http://www.dylankerrigan.com
Do you want to add any other information?
D Nehring & D Kerrigan: Our 2019 book Therapeutic Worlds was a starting point for us to develop our ideas in the current article and might be of interest to readers:
Nehring, D. and Kerrigan, D., 2019. Therapeutic worlds: popular psychology and the sociocultural organisation of intimate life. Routledge.