New Book: Psychological Governance and Public Policy

“There have been significant developments in the state of psychological, neuroscientific and behavioural scientific knowledge relating to the human mind, brain, action and decision-making over the past two decades. These developments have influenced public policy making and popular culture in the UK and elsewhere – through policies and emerging social practices focussed on behavioural change, happiness, wellbeing, therapy, resilience and character. Yet little attention has been paid to examining the wider political and ethical significance of the widespread use of psychological governance techniques. There is a pressing and recognised need to address the behaviour change agenda in relation to how our cultural ideas about the brain, mind, behaviour and self are changing.

This book provides a critical account of existing forms of psychological governance in relation to public policy. It asks whether we can speak of a co-ordinated and novel shift in governance or, rather, whether these trends are more simply pragmatic policy tools based on advances in scientific evidence. With contributions from leading scholars across the social sciences from the UK, the USA and Canada, chapters identify practical, political and research challenges posed by the current policy enthusiasm for particular branches of affective neuroscience, behavioural economics, positive psychology and happiness economics. The core focus of this book is to investigate the ways in which knowledge about the mind, brain and behaviour has informed the methods and techniques of governance and to explore the implications of this for shaping citizen identity and social practice.”

Economies of attention

DSCF2834Back in December, I participated in a seminar on the theme of The Politics and Economics of Attention, organized by Jessia Pykett as part of an ESRC Seminar Series on the theme of Behaviour Change and Psychological Governance. Slides from some of the presentations (including mine, on ‘Economies of attention and the acknowledgment of partiality’), are available on the webpage for the event, where there is also a link to an incisive commentary on the whole set of presentations by Rupert Alcock.  

Ethics and behaviour change

Here is an interesting post by Jessica Pykett at the Soft Paternalism blog, on attending a seminar on the ethics of behaviour change by the House of Lords Inquiry into behaviour change initiatives in government. This is one of the few projects I know of that is engaging with this whole field in a critical way (I think too of Nikolas Rose‘s ongoing genealogy of psy-disciplines, extending now into work on neurosciences). Lots of geography, of course, is utterly complicit with this behaviour change agenda – one that is re-shaping how social sciences are understood in the public realm, to the detriment to the broadly ‘ethnographic’ dispositions of a great deal of critical-theoretically inclined social science.