Potter, Jonathan


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I started life as a psychology undergraduate at Liverpool University in the mid 1970 s trying to persuade sceptical lecturers of the virtues of humanistic psychology and anti-psychiatry. Three unsuccessful years of that task led me to the work of John Shotter, Rom Harré, Ken Gergen and others, and made me think that philosophy rather than holding hands was the answer to psychology's ills. (I was sure it had ills!). An MSc in Philosophy of Science at the University of Surrey was the direct result of that - although philosophy turned out to be less of an answer in itself than a pathway to research in sociology of scientific knowledge. By the close of the decade I was working on a PhD with Mike Mulkay at the University of York on the rhetorical construction of psychologists' conference talk. It was there that I started writing about something we now understand as discourse analysis. My first employment was teaching statistics to psychology students at the University of St Andrews ( I taught other things as well – it was the opportunity of teaching a course called simply Language that led me to read and integrate many of the things that are still central to my work). During that time in Scotland I was strongly influenced by Margaret Wetherell. We wrote the book Discourse and Social Psychology together there, and it is still one of the things I am most proud of. With some 600 citations (and still going strong) it continues to have a major impact in social psychology and other social sciences. In 1988 I was attracted away from Scotland by the prospect of working with Michael Billig and Derek Edwards in Loughborough. This was a very engaged period of academic work for me and in 1992 resulted in the books Discursive Psychology (with Derek Edwards) and Mapping the Language of Racism (with Margaret Wetherell). These books, too, continue to have an impact in psychology, and help define the emerging field of discursive psychology. The Social Sciences Department at Loughborough provided a very supportive environment and the collea gues (which included, in time Malcolm Ashmore, Sue Wilkinson, Celia Kitzinger and Charles Antaki) were continually challenging, entertaining and stimulating. I have never had so many intense academic lunches! I was awarded a personal chair in Discourse Analysis in 1996 and in the same year published Representing Reality, an attempt to provide a coherent conceptual and analytic base for social constructionism from a discursive point of view. For the last few years I have continued to develop the perspective of discursive psychology, with a focus on criticising basic cognitive theory in psychology, and developing work on interaction in practical settings, such as calls to abuse helplines (in combination with Alexa Hepburn). The aim here is not only to improve our understanding of how things happen but to do work that is useful in developing the counsellor's skills. Author: Jonathan Potter