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Dr Johanna Motzkau

Profile summary

Professional biography


PhD, CPsychol, Dipl. Psych.

PhD at Loughborough University, UK (2007); German Diplom in Psychology at the Freie Universität Berlin, Germany (2002). Studied Philosophy to BA equivalent level at the University of Cologne, Germany.

Professional affiliations

BPS - graduate membership, Chartered Psychologist. Psychology of Women and Equalities Section member.
Member of the International Society for Theoretical Psychology (ISTP). Elected member of the executive committee.
Member of the Centre for Citizenship, Identities and Governance (CCIG), The Open University.
Member of the Harm & Evidence Research Collaborative (HERC), The Open University.
Member of the Discourse Unit (E. Burman & I. Parker; Manchester Metropolitan University).

Research interests

  • listening in child protection practices; developing the method of ‘dark listening’
  • suggestibility and memory in applied-, research-, and theoretical contexts;
  • children's rights, sexual violence and child sexual abuse, children as witnesses in courts of law, critical developmental psychology;
  • Forensic psychology and psychology and law: developing critical perspectives for a better understanding of practice at the intersection of psychology and law;
  • post-structuralist, posthuman and process philosophy (e.g. Deleuze, Stengers, Foucault, Whitehead);
  • developing research methods based on process philosophy – “researching practice as process”.

Transdisciplinarity and the Paradox of the Psychosocial

Coming from a background in philosophy, theoretical- and forensic psychology, I have become interested in transdisciplinary psychosocial forms of critique and inquiry, inspired by the work of I. Stengers, G. Deleuze and M. Foucault. In this context I am tracing the theoretical as well as concrete practical issues around memory and suggestibility in psychology as well as in legal contexts (how children’s credibility as witnesses is conceptualised, or how psychological expertise/knowledge is used/presented in courts of law).

Since suggestibility first featured as a 'topic' in psychology it inspired a paradox. On the one hand 'being suggestible' was considered to be an expression of manipulability and irrationality, i.e. expressing our 'exposure to the social'. On the other hand the 'ability to be suggestible' was considered the most fundamental characteristic of the human mind, the psyche as such, accounting for the possibility of learning as well as for that of affection and social cohesion. In ambiguously raising the question of 'how we relate while also being separate'; 'how we know while continuously having to perform, reaffirm and reconstitute such knowing in relation to ourselves and others', suggestibility expresses what could be called the paradox of the 'psycho-social'. Suggestibility can be seen to carry this paradox of the psychosocial into the ordering disciplinary structures of psychological (and legal) practice opening up a transdisciplinary mode of inquiry. Looking at the reciprocal dynamics emerging between 'memory' and 'suggestibility' allows to explore the problem of the circumstances of 'knowing', the conditions of knowledge production, and the practices that express, perform and communicate knowledge. This opens up a perspective at the dynamic intersection of subjectification and agency, i.e. the question of power and knowledge can be asked as a performative question.

Current Research/Projects:

1) Listening Network: Cultures of Listening in Research and Practice:

In recent years the idea/concept of listening has begun to feature prominently at the intersection of social sciences, arts and humanities based research. At the same time theorising has remained disparate and exciting synergies between work in different disciplines, and its relevance to for example political- social-, legal- and research practice, have not been explored systematically.

This network offers a meeting point to facilitate such exploration by bringing together a growing network of researchers and practitioners from interdisciplinary backgrounds, including Art, Childhood Studies, Law, Education, Sociology, Geography, Social Work, Critical Theory, Literary Studies, Modern Languages, Philosophy, Politics, Music, Critical-, Social-, and Forensic Psychology.

The aim of this network is to link academics and practitioners from different disciplines and professional backgrounds who share an interest in listening, including:

  • experiences and circumstances of listening
  • listening as empowerment or exclusion
  • listening as active and risky
  • theories of listening
  • discourses and practices of listening
  • subversive and oppressive potentials of listening as a concept and/or practice
  • innovative creative methodologies to research and negotiate listening

See the Listening Network for recent activity and seminars:

2) Cultures of Listening in Child Protection : developing ‘dark listening’ as a method

For a long time research into children’s rights and protection has focused on giving children a voice.  Less attention is paid to what we do with what they say, i.e. whether and how we listen. The term ‘cultures of listening’ captures the idea that child protection agencies, and those working within them, each have different practices and values that influence how they listen. Here listening is not just understood as how they hear, or how they use specific skills when talking to children/families; but also how they make sense of-, record and share information when working with families/children, colleagues within their own and other agencies.

Such ‘cultures of listening’ are in part determined by policy, statute and training. But they are also shaped by each professional’s personal experience of doing their job in the context of:

  • continuous radical reform of practice;
  • a persistent tendency of government, media and policy makers to blame front line workers for problems with practice, thus undermining professional confidence;
  • adverse media reporting and public opinion;
  • long term austerity measures that have increased case loads and eroded working conditions;
  • introduction of the charge of ‘willful neglect’, which further raises the stakes for those working in child protection.

As part of this research I am developing a participatory research method called ‘dark listening’, inspired by the artist Lavinia Greenlaw’s work (Greenlaw 2011).

This method works with practitioners in the field (e.g. social workers and police officers) to collaboratively find new ways to explore what they do with what they hear when listening to families, children and colleagues; to explore the experience of listening while acknowledging the personal risk and effort involved in listening in a context where the stakes for front line workers in child protection are ever rising (due to media attention and criminalization of professional failure), while working conditions have become more and more precarious (due to austerity and increased case loads).

3) Liminality and Affectivity:  Conceptualizing the dynamics of suspended transition

(collaboration with Prof Paul Stenner, The Open University, Dr Monica Greco, Goldsmiths University, Dr Megan Clinch, The Open University).

  • In 2013 grant money from the European Science Foundation enabled us to run a networking seminar

The seminar explored a new way of conceptualizing and explaining a set of social problems involving ‘troubled’ scenes of transition. By synthesising conceptual work on affectivity and liminality, social scientists working at the intersection of diverse scientific fields will clarify the social and experiential dynamics of a selection of difficult and controversial practice situations or ‘hotspots’ (e.g. contested illness). A carefully structured workshop environment will build towards an innovative transdisciplinary psychosocial paradigm. The workshop will be followed up by a more specifically practice oriented networking event, high-impact publications, a web-presence, and a substantial grant application. 

  • This work is published as part of a special issue of Theory & Psychology (2017) we edited.

4) Emergence and bio-social imagination: suggesting ways to approach complex problems including climate change and antibiotic resistance (in collaboration with Dr Nick Lee, Warwick University)

Past research includes:

"Cross-examining Suggestibility: Memory, Childhood, Expertise." - Comparing child witness practice in England and Germany

This research has drawn on the work of G. Deleuze and I. Stengers to compare child witness practice in England and Germany. The transdisciplinary approach combined a genealogy of history, theory and research into suggestibility with an ethnography of the English and German legal system and the analysis of interviews with legal and psychological practitioners and researchers in England and Germany.

Following up and expanding research into suggestibility and child witnessing.

  • Feedback research into practice and make findings relevant for child witness practice in England/Wales and Germany (explore possible impact on policy and/or practice)
  • Explore issues of 'application': How does practice critique relate to - affect practice

International research-practice conference (in collaboration with Barnardo’s tlc):

Lost in Application: Child witnesses and psychological research on trial
Held: June 10th, 2009, Hilton Hotel, Kents Hill, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, UK

This research-practice conference presented an opportunity for an international, interdisciplinary exchange between practitioners and researchers working with child witnesses. The conference included keynote addresses by:

  • HH Judge Maureen Roddy (Greater Manchester),
  • Joyce Plotnikoff (researcher, Lexicon Limited) 
  • Dr Sandra Loohs (German expert for credibility assessment)
  • Dr Johanna Motzkau (forensic psychologist, The Open University).

PhD supervision

I am interested in supervising work on theoretical and historical issues in psychology, as well as mixed methods or qualitative (particularly ethnographic or discursive) research in the area of memory, suggestibility, witnessing, psychology and law, child protection, child witnesses, children's rights, gender and sexual violence, practice research.

PhD students

Simon Jan Hutta (co-supervision with Prof K. Hetherington, Geography): "Geographies of Geborgenheit in a context of violence: queer struggles for safety in Rio de Janeiro" (completed Nov 2010)

Simon Wharne (co-supervision with Dr D. Langdridge): "Making decisions in mental healthcare: a phenomenological study" (completed Dec 2013).

Jade Levell: “The Road Home Research Project. Exploring the Intersection of ‘Gang’ Membership and Childhood Exposure to Domestic Violence and Abuse: Finding Themes from Stories of Survival.” (co-supervision with Dr R Earle, Dr. C Kubiak)-ongoing.

Sara Hammond: “Exploring children’s experience of participation in Family/Criminal Court proceedings – broadening the notion of resilience” (co-supervision with Dr Sarah Crafter, Prof Jo Phoenix)-ongoing.

Teaching interests

I am Qualification Lead for F73 (MSc in Forensic Psychological Studies) and I have chaired production of the new masters module ‘Investigating Forensic Psychology’(DD802), which presents as main part of F73 from 2018J.

I have contributed to production and presentation of DSE212 Exploring Psychology, DXR222 Exploring psychology project, DD307 Critical Social Psychology, and the more recent DD317 Advancing Social Psychology.

In the past I have chaired production and presentation of the now discontinued D873 Forensic Psychology: witness, experts and evidence on trial (D873), and D872 Forensic psychology: crime, offenders and policing (D872).

Research groups

NameTypeParent Unit
CCIG: Psycho-Social ProgrammeProgrammeFaculty of Social Sciences
Centre for Citizenship, Identifies and Governance (CCIG)CentreFaculty of Social Sciences
International Centre for Comparative Criminological Research (ICCCR)CentreFaculty of Social Sciences


Kinderschutz im Blick der Forschung: Konstruktive Zusammenarbeit und kritische Auseinandersetzung (2023)
Komesker, Gabriele; Motzkau, Eberhard and Motzkau, Johanna
Sozial Extra, 46 (pp. 472-478)

Cultures of Listening: Psychology, Resonance, Justice (2022)
Motzkau, Johanna F. and Lee, Nick M.
Review of General Psychology, 27(1) (pp. 3-25)

Cultures of Listening, Dark Listening and a Plea for Theory (2021-12)
Motzkau, Johanna
Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 51(4) (pp. 689-694)

Managing suspended transition in medicine and law: Liminal hotspots as resources for change (2017-04-01)
Motzkau, Johanna F. and Clinch, Megan
Theory and Psychology, 27(2) (pp. 270-289)

Suspended transitions and affective orderings: From troubled monogamy to liminal polyamory (2017-04-01)
Enciso Domínguez, Giazú; Pujol, Juan; Motzkau, Johanna F. and Popper, Miroslav
Theory and Psychology, 27(2) (pp. 183-197)

Introduction to the Special Issue on Liminal Hotspots (2017-04)
Stenner, Paul; Greco, Monica and Motzkau, Johanna
Theory and Psychology, 27(2) (pp. 141-146)

Varieties of biosocial imagination: reframing responses to climate change and antibiotic resistance (2013-07)
Lee, Nick and Motzkau, Johanna
Science, Technology & Human Values, 38(4) (pp. 447-469)

The biosocial event: responding to innovation in the life sciences (2012)
Lee, Nick and Motzkau, Johanna
Sociology, 46(3) (pp. 426-441)

Decision-making in mental healthcare: a phenomenological investigation of service user perspectives (2012)
Wharne, Simon; Langdridge, Darren and Motzkau, Johanna
The Humanistic Psychologist, 40(2) (pp. 153-165)

Navigating the bio-politics of childhood (2011-01-13)
Lee, Nicholas and Motzkau, Johanna
Childhood: A Global Journal for Childhood Studies, 18(1) (pp. 7-19)

Exploring the transdisciplinary trajectory of suggestibility (2009-07)
Motzkau, Johanna
Subjectivity, 27 (pp. 172-194)

The semiotic of accusation: thinking about deconstruction, development, the critique of practice, and the practice of critique (2009-01)
Motzkau, Johanna
Qualitative Research in Psychology, 6(1-2) (pp. 129-152)

Editorial: Research as practice: on critical methodologies (2009-01)
Motzkau, Johanna F. and Jefferson, Andrew M.
Qualitative Research in Psychology, 6(1-2) (pp. 1-11)

Matters of Suggestibility, Memory and Time: Child Witnesses in Court and what really happened (2007-01)
Motzkau, Johanna F.
Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 8(1, Art)

Feminisms and activisms: reflections on the politics of writing and the editorial process (2005)
Biglia, Barbara; Clark, Jude; Motzkau, Johanna and Zavos, Alexandra
Annual Review of Critical Psychology, 4

The visual in psychological research and child witness practice (2021)
Motzkau, Johanna
In: Reavey, Paula ed. A Handbook of Visual Methods in Psychology: Using and Interpreting Images in Qualitative Research (Second Edition) (pp. 148-165)
ISBN : 9781138491793 | Publisher : Routledge

Children as Witnesses (2020-07)
Motzkau, Johanna
In: Cook, Daniel T. ed. The SAGE Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood Studies
ISBN : 9781473942929 | Publisher : SAGE | Published : Canada

Children as Victims (2020-07)
Motzkau, Johanna
In: Cook, Daniel T. ed. The SAGE Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood Studies. The SAGE Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood Studies
Publisher : Sage | Published : Canada

Kritische Psychologie: psychology from the standpoint of the subject (2015)
Motzkau, Johanna and Schraube, Ernst
In: Parker, Ian ed. Handbook of Critical Psychology (pp. 280-289)
ISBN : 978-1-84872-218-7 | Publisher : Routledge | Published : New York

Forensic Psychology (2014)
Motzkau, Johanna
In: Teo, Thomas ed. Encyclopedia of Critical Psychology (pp. 741-747)
ISBN : 978-1-4614-5582-0 | Publisher : Springer Science | Published : New York

Tweak: Biosocial Imaginations and Educational Futures (2013)
Lee, Nicholas Mark and Motzkau, Johanna Franziska
In: Selwyn, Neil and Facer, Kerry eds. The Politics of Education and Technology: Conflicts, Controversies, and Connections. Palgrave Macmillan’s Digital Education and Learning (pp. 191-207)
ISBN : 978-1-349-44095-5 | Publisher : Palgrave McMillan | Published : New York

Visualising children’s credibility: the role of the visual in psychological research and child witness practice (2011-07-06)
Motzkau, Johanna
In: Reavey, Paula ed. Visual Methods in Psychology: Using and Interpreting Images in Qualitative Research
ISBN : 9780415483483 | Publisher : Routledge | Published : Abingdon, U.K.

Around the day in eighty worlds: Deleuze, suggestibility and researching practice as process (2011)
Motzkau, Johanna
In: Stenner, Paul; Motzkau, Johanna; Cromby, John and Yen, Jeffery eds. Theoretical Psychology: Global Transformations and Challenges
ISBN : 9781553222408 | Publisher : Captus Press | Published : Toronto, Canada

Speaking up against justice: credibility, suggestibility and children's memory on trial (2010)
Motzkau, Johanna
In: Haaken, Janice and Reavey, Paula eds. Memory Matters: Contexts for Understanding Sexual Abuse Recollections (pp. 63-85)
ISBN : 978-0-41544491-0 | Publisher : Routledge | Published : London

Cross-examining suggestibility: memory, childhood, expertise - children’s testimony between psychological research and juridical practice (2005)
Motzkau, Johanna
In: Czerederecka, A.; Jaskiewicz-Obydzinska, T.; Roesch, R. and Wojcikiewicz, J. eds. Forensic psychology and law: facing the challenges of a changing world (pp. 201-212)
ISBN : 8387425178 | Publisher : Krakow: Institute of Forensic Research Publishers | Published : Crakow, Poland

Die Beschuldigungssemiotik: Überlegungen zur Sprache der Dekonstruktion (2005)
Motzkau, Johanna
In: Mattes, Peter and Musfeld, Tamara eds. Psychologische Konstruktionen: Diskurse, Narrationen, Performanz (pp. 181-199)
ISBN : 978-3-525-49076-1 | Publisher : Vandenhoek & Ruprecht | Published : Göttingen

Reintegrating sense into subjectification (2001)
Hildebrand-Nilshon, Martin; Motzkau, Johanna and Papadopoulos, Dimitris
In: Morss, John R.; Stephenson, Niamh and Rappard, Hans van eds. Theoretical issues in psychology (pp. 289-300)
ISBN : 792373375 | Publisher : Kluwer Academic Publishers | Published : Boston, USA

Doing Psychology under New Conditions: Proceedings of the International Society for Theoretical Psychology Conference 2011 (2013)
Marvakis, Athanasios; Motzkau, Johanna; Painter, Desmond; Ruto-Korir, Rose; Sullivan, Gavin; Triliva, Sofia and Wieser, Martin eds.
ISBN : 978-1-55322-279-8 | Publisher : Captus Press | Published : Toronto, Canada

Theoretical psychology: global transformations and challenges (2011)
Stenner, Paul; Cromby, John; Motzkau, Johanna; Yen, Jeffrey and Haosheng, Yu eds.
ISBN : 978-1-55322-240-8 | Publisher : Captus | Published : Ontario, Canada

Response to the Northern Ireland Office and DHSSPS consultation entitled “Hidden Crimes Secret Pain” (2007)
Lazard, L.; Buys, D.; Callaghan, J.; Motzkau, J. and Keating, S.
British Psychological Society