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Professor Kesi Mahendran

Kesi Mahendran sat in the Open University legacy garden in front of her office

Profile summary

Professional biography

I am a social and political psychologist whose research seeks to support dialogue between citizens and their governments on vexed political questions such as migration, sovereignty, European and Global citizenship.  I am currently coordinating the OppAttune project which is funded by Horizon-Europe and the Innovate UK Horizon-Europe Guarantee.

OppAttune: Countering Oppositional Political Extremism through Attuned Dialogue - Track, Attune, Limit is a three-year project involving 17 partners from the Europe Union and beyond.  OppAttune tracks the evolution of oppositional extreme ideologies and protectionist decision-making, develops an innovative attunement model and tests a series of interventions at the national and transnational levels which limit the spread of extremism. Please follow #OppAttune for more details. 

I moved from the Scottish Government to the Open University in 2007. As a psychologist my research programme investigates the de-politicization that can occur within psychological research.  Equally it foregrounds the social/relational features of hot-button topics which have become overly politicized e.g. migration.  I am particularly interested in the question of what conditions and contexts promote the move from public opinion to public dialogue. 

My starting point is that public decision-making on fields such as migration, citizenship and the boundaries of belonging often inter-relate with an individual's own degree of migration-mobility. I measure this migration-mobility using a 10-point Migration-Mobility Continuum (MMC - see banner above). The relationship between the MMC and integration, citizenship, populism, sense of home and one-world narrative (OWN) is available in a series of open-access publications. 

The fourth phase of my research programme began in 2020 with the establishment of PDPC the Public Dialogue Psychology Collaboratory. Home | PDPC ( This phase brings together an on-line interative mapping study focused citizen worldviews and consensus and dissensus in public decision-making on international relations with collaborative studies into public dialogue psychology. PDPC consists of two PhD students, a post-doctoral researcher and myself, together we are examining (i) public narratives and decision-making on international relations and (ii) the contexts and conditions within which people sustain dialogue with others who they may have strong disagreements. This phase includes the Rachael Webb Political Psychology PhD Studentship into consensus and dissensus in the UK public's decision making on Europe and beyond - a study led by Anthony English completed in 2022. A PhD thesis into the political decision-making of the Silent Generation on Europe and Beyond which Sue Nieland began investigating in October 2019. It also includes the research activities of Dr Nicola Magnusson who is currently working with me on a new project Mapping Quali-Quantification Pathways in Psychology. It now involves leadership of the OppAttune consortium from 2023 to 2026. 

Research interests

Research projects and supervisory interests relate to:

  • Dialogical approaches to understanding the relationship between citizens and governments
  • From public opinion to public dialogue - via public narratives
  • Social psychological processes relating to self-other relations, categorisation and reification
  • Narratives of European & Global citizenship - including a one world narrative (OWN)
  • Migration, Integration & Citizenship within European Union - reflexive methods
  • Public Dialogue on International Relations
  • Evolution of Extreme Political Narratives
  • Public narratives of Brexit and the parameters of UK-EU relations
  • The psychology of "home"
  • Comparative Methods & Online Interactive Mapping Methods. 

I welcome applications from PhD students in any of these areas. 

A repository of research publications and other research outputs can be viewed at The Open University's Open Research Online.

Teaching interests

I have a longstanding passion for teaching adults psychology having taught at Southwark College London, University of Stirling and University of Edinburgh.  I am currently Qualification Lead of Q83 BSc (Hons) Social Psychology.  I was the chair of DD801 Principles of Social and Psychological Inquiry. This module develops a set of principles of social and psychological inquiry. It provides an opportunity to understand the iterative cycles by which research is conceived (the concepts & categories it uses and assumes), created (the methods it employs) and received by a variety of publics  (general public, media and governments).

DD801, is currently chaired by Sue Nieland, it is the first module for PG studies into Forensic Psychological Studies (F73), Psychology (F74), Crime & Justice, (F75). It can also be taken as a part of the MA in Open Studies and as a PG(Cert) module leading to a PG (Cert) in Social and Psychological Inquiry. If you would like to access a free 'Open Learn' taster from the module - link to the right. 

I am a member of the Open University's Racial Equality Steering Group as well as its WISE Steering Group.  

Impact and engagement

Talks, Films and Short Articles for the public - linked to the right. 


External collaborations

I am a chartered member and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. I am a founding member and Chair of the new BPS Political Psychology Section which bridges BPS and PSA for academics and practitioners interested in connections between psychology and politics.

If you would like to join the section more information can be found here:

I am a Section Editor of the Journal of Social and Political Psychology.

I am a former convenor of the PSA Comparative European Politics Specialist Group until 2018.

I sit on the board of the IMISCOE Standing Commitee on Reflexivities in Migration Studies. I am a member of the Society for Theoretical Psychology as well as member of the ISPP - International Society of Political Psychology.


Research groups

NameTypeParent Unit
Centre for Citizenship, Identifies and Governance (CCIG)CentreFaculty of Social Sciences


Social Psychology of and for World-Making (2023-11)
Power, Séamus A.; Zittoun, Tania; Akkerman, Sanne; Wagoner, Brady; Cabra, Martina; Cornish, Flora; Hawlina, Hana; Heasman, Brett; Mahendran, Kesi; Psaltis, Charis; Rajala, Antti; Veale, Angela and Gillespie, Alex
Personality and Social Psychology Review, 27(4) (pp. 378-392)

Multilateralism under Fire: How Public Narratives of Multilateralism and Ideals of a Border-Free World Repudiate the Populist Re-Bordering Narrative (2023-10-10)
Mahendran, Kesi; English, Anthony and Nieland, Sue
Social Sciences, 12, Article 566(10)

Volpower Panel of Integration Discussion (2023-06)
Favell, Adrian; Fox, Jon; Mahendran, Kesi; Phillimore, Jenny; Scholten, Peter; Korkut, Umut; Atalay, Doga and Nicolson, Marcus
Central and Eastern European Migration Review, 12(1) (pp. 103-113)

No borders on a fragile planet: Introducing four lay models of social psychological precarity to support global human identification and citizenship (2023-01)
Mahendran, Kesi; Nieland, Sue; English, Anthony and Goodman, Simon
British Journal of Social Psychology, 62(S1) (pp. 160-179)

Everyday Narratives of Resistance and Reconfigurations of Political Protest after the Pandemic—Editors’ Introduction (2023)
Andrews, Molly; Nesbitt-Larking, Paul and Mahendran, Kesi
Social Sciences, 12, Article 427(8)

No Obvious Home: the Public’s Dialogical Creation of Home During the Third Wave of Decolonization (2022)
Mahendran, Kesi; English, Anthony and Nieland, Sue
Human Arenas, 5 (pp. 634-653)

Populism vs. the People: How citizen’s social representations of home destabilize national populism’s territorial vision (2021-04)
Mahendran, Kesi; English, Anthony and Nieland, Sue
Journal of Theoretical Social Psychology, 5(2) (pp. 146-158)

I'll never forget: remembering of past events within the Silent Generation as a challenge to the political mobilisations of nostalgia (2021)
Nieland, Sue; Mahendran, Kesi and Crafter, Sarah
Culture & Psychology, 29(1) (pp. 67-80)

Reification and the Refugee: using a counterposing dialogical analysis to unlock a frozen category (2019-07-03)
Mahendran, Kesi; Magnusson, Nicola; Howarth, Caroline and Scuzzarello, Sarah
Journal of Social and Political Psychology, 7(1) (pp. 577-597)

From polarized we/they public opinion on European Integration towards social representations of public dialogue (2018-12)
Mahendran, Kesi
Political Psychology, 39(6) (pp. 1339-1355)

Public narratives on human mobility: Countering technocratic and humanitarian refugee narratives with a "one-world" solidarity narrative (2017-03-13)
Mahendran, Kesi
Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 27(2) (pp. 147-157)

Introduction: Discursive governance: operationalization and applications (2015-09-10)
Korkut, Umut; Mahendran, Kesi; Buckan-Knapp, Gregg and Cox, Robert Henry
In: Korkut, Umut; Mahendran, Kesi; Buckan-Knapp, Gregg and Cox, Robert Henry eds. Discursive Governance in Politics, Policy and the Public Sphere (pp. 1-11)
ISBN : 9781137495778 | Publisher : Palgrave Macmillan | Published : Basingstoke

Public Narratives Of European Citizenship – The Dialogical Citizen In The European Public Sphere. (2015-09-10)
Mahendran, Kesi; Jackson, Ima and Kapoor, Anubhuti
In: Korkut, Umut; Mahendran, Kesi; Buckan-Knapp, Gregg and Cox, Robert Henry eds. Discursive Governance in Politics, Policy and the Public Sphere (pp. 147-162)
ISBN : 9781137495778 | Publisher : Palgrave Macmillan | Published : Basingstoke

“A two-way process of accommodation” Public perceptions of integration along the migration-mobility continuum (2013-07)
Mahendran, Kesi
In: Korkut, Umut; Bucken-Knapp, Greg; McGarry, Aidan; Hinnfors, Jonas and Drake, Helen eds. The Discourses and Politics of Migration in Europe. Europe in Transition (pp. 109-131)
ISBN : 9781137310897 | Publisher : Palgrave Macmillan | Published : New York

Introducing four psychologies of unemployment and their implications for intervention (2012-12-20)
Mahendran, Kesi
In: Kieselbach, Thomas and Mannila, Simo eds. Unemployment, Precarious Work and Health - Research and Policy Issues (pp. 53-71)
ISBN : 978-3-531-18509-5 | Publisher : VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften | Published : Germany

The transition of a Scottish Young Persons’s Centre — a dialogical analysis (2003)
Mahendran, Kesi
In: Grant, Colin B. ed. Rethinking Communicative Interaction: New Interdisciplinary Horizons. Pragmatics and Beyond New Series (pp. 235-256)
ISBN : 978 90 272 5358 3 | Publisher : John Benjamins | Published : Amsterdam/Philadelphia

Discursive Governance in Politics, Policy and the Public Sphere (2015-09-01)
Korkut, Umut; Mahendran, Kesi; Bucken-Knapp, Gregg and Cox, Robert Henry eds.
ISBN : 9781137495778 | Publisher : Palgrave Macmillan | Published : Basingstoke

Sustaining Dialogue in Polarised Political Contexts: Moving beyond Shared-Identity to Dialogical Position Exchanges (2021-12-13)
English, Anthony and Mahendran, Kesi
In : Measured Lives: Theoretical Psychology in an Era of Acceleration (18-23 Aug 2019, Aarhus University/ Copenhagen) (pp. 21-39)