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Incitement to 'Become Different' Can Both Thrill and Terrify

Butterly cocoon image
But what happens when a state of transition becomes permanent?
From the millions facing migration, permanently suspended between ‘belonging’ and ‘not belonging’, to the endless ads for personal self-improvement, the concept of liminal hotspots is of increasing relevance.

Following the success of ‘Social Psychology as a Liminal Field’, his keynote talk at last autumn’s Social Psychology Section Conference, Professor of Social Psychology Paul Stenner was interviewed by Jon Sutton, editor of The British Psychological Society’s journal, The Psychologist.

Stenner shows that the classic anthropological concept of liminality (a stage of transition ‘betwixt and between’ social categories) has particular relevance in today’s unpredictable world. Building on the work of Turner and, more recently, Szakolczai, Stenner argues that rather than purely a stage of transition, it is possible to get 'stuck' in liminality. Indeed, in many contemporary societies, a temporary phase of transition from one stable circle of activity to another is less and less likely, and liminality has become the norm.

Liminal hotspots – developed by Stenner with Monica Greco, Johanna Motzkau, Megan Clinch and others – can be glossed as occasions in which people feel caught in a transition that has become permanent and uncertainty and tension acquire enduring qualities. One example of this is the changing nature of work, as the expectation of a ‘job for life’ is replaced by temporary phases of quasi-employment. In fact, it is increasingly argued that only those ‘agile’ enough to respond to an ever-changing world can expect to survive. Instability and change are now the default, and people are encouraged to flexibly ‘self-manage’ their careers – or, equally, their health and wellbeing.

This incitement to ‘become different’ can both thrill and terrify, however, and as such it can be a troubled experience, one with psychological implications. The value of the concept of liminal hotspots is that it draws attention to this, and illuminates common features in settings that might otherwise appear unconnected. In a recent Special Issue of Theory and Psychology, for instance, edited by Stenner, Motzkau and Greco, it is applied to a variety of situations including cyber-bullying, social work with young drug users, romantic relationships and even the Kiev uprising of 2013/14.

Read the full interview on The Psychologist website.