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Dr Irene Bruna Seu

Reader in Psychosocial Studies MA, PhD (Lond)Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist (UKCP REg.)

Research and teaching

Introduction

  • Bruna Seu joined Birkbeck in 2000. Her first degree was in Philosophy and Social Sciences, her Masters in Social Psychology with a dissertation on R.D. Laing and the anti-psychiatric movement, and her PhD was in Social Psychology. She qualified as a Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist in 1989 and has practiced as a psychotherapist since. During that time she has maintained her commitment to anti-psychiatric practices and therapeutic communities through her involvement with the work of the Arbours Association, in North London. Her interest in power dynamics and discrimination, the complexities of moral existence and social responsibility, and suffering was further developed through her research on women’s shame, on which she has published widely and, more recently, through her work on public responses to human rights violations and humanitarian causes.

Research interests

  • Human Rights and humanitarianism; social responsibility and helping behaviour:
  • For some years I have researched public responses to mediated news of Human Rights abuses, both in the UK and Spain, thanks to the support of a Leverhulme Foundation Fellowship and Birkbeck College Research grants. With time, these have evolved into an interest in the related issues of moral and social responsibility, pro-social behaviour, moral boundaries and discursive constructions of the ‘Other’. I have used a psychosocial approach to bring together psychological work on altruism and denial ,as well as psychodynamic and discursive readings of emotional responses. This work has culminated in the publication of the monograph ‘Passivity Generation; Human Rights and Everyday Morality’ (2013), by Palgrave Macmillan. I have also published on these subjects in Psychological and Human Rights journals.
  • Since 2010 I have been Principal Investigator on the project ‘Mediated Humanitarian Knowledge; audiences’ responses and moral actions’ , funded by the Leverhulme Trust and ran in collaboration with Shani Orgad, LSE and the late Stanley Cohen, also from the LSE. This psychosocial project is interested in public emotional and cognitive responses to humanitarian communications, in public understanding of humanitarian problems and how their responses and actions relate to their everyday morality. The project also explores the biographical and psychodynamic underpinnings of these responses from members of the public, as well as the psychosocial schemas used by NGOs to communicate about humanitarian issues and whether these overlap or not with those used by the public.

Supervision

  • Areas of supervision
  • Psycho-social inquiry into moral apathy in response to human rights abuses; psychoanalytic and social psychological contributions to the understanding of oppression, race, discrimination, identity and helping behaviour; social constructions of femininity and gender; discourse analysis and social constructionism.
  • Current PhD and Doctoral Students
  • Sharon Shoesmith: Unpalatable truths: How does society cope?
  • Eva Cracow: Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy (DPsychotherapy)
  • Xena Leung: Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy (DPsychotherapy
  • Michael Mallaghan: “Negotiating gay Chinese subjectivities – shame, dilemmas and conflicts” (submitted)
  • Angeline Wallis: Child and adolescent psychotherapy (DPsychotherapy)
  • Flavia Anfolso: Child and adolescent psychotherapy (DPsychotherapy)
  • Mahnaz Sekechi: Iranian Diaspora: Patterns of early attachments and feelings of belongingness
  • Recently completed PhD's
  • Elizabeth Hughes: Psychosocial issues faced by adopted women who choose to reunite with their birth fathers (completed)
  • Marcus Averback: "Fatherhoods in Family Therapy; A Discourse Analysis of Family Therapists’ Contributions to the Constructions of Fatherhoods."
  • Janette Bennett: “(Dis)ordering Motherhood: Mothering a child with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)”
  • Martine Castagna-Shoo: “Helping adolescents; a discursive analysis of young adults’ talk of prosocial behaviour”
  • Andrew Middlecoat: “How are the existing biological relationships with families affected by fostering?”
  • Szilvia Minai: In the Shadow of the Oppressor: A psychopolitical study of subordination and resistance.
  • Lynn Moore: “Families’ talk about their first session of family therapy; a discursive analysis”

Publications

Books

  • Seu, I.B. (forthcoming) Bystanders to Human Rights abuses; the psychology of inaction. Cambridge University Press.
  • Seu, I.B. (2013) Passivity Generation; Human Rights and Everyday Morality. London: Palgrave Macmillan
  • Seu I. B. (ed.) (2000) “Who am I? The Self and Ego in Psychoanalysis.” Vol. V in the series 'Encyclopedia of Psychoanalysis,' London: Rebus Press/ Karnac
  • Seu, I. B. and Heenan, C. (eds.) (1998) Feminism and Psychotherapy; Reflections on Contemporary Theories and Practices. Vol. 3 in the series ‘Perspectives on Psychotherapy,’ London: Sage.

Journal articles

  • Seu, I.B. (in press) The ‘Good Samaritan’ and the ‘Marketer’: public perceptions of humanitarian and international development NGOs. International Journal of Non-profit and Voluntary Sector Marketing.
  • Seu, I.B. (in press) A double-edge sword; the role of Psychoanalysis in public responses to Human rights violations; denial, justifications and passivity Psychodynamic Practice
  • Orgad, S. and I.B. Seu (in press) 'Intimacy at a distance' in humanitarian communication’. Media, Culture and Society.
  • Seu. I. B. and L. Cameron (2013) Empathic mutual positioning in reconciliation work. Special Section: Encountering the Narrative of the Other. Peace and Conflict; Journal of Peace Psychology.Vol.19 (3), 266-280
  • Orgad, S. and I. B. Seu (2013 ) The Humanitarian Emergency at Work: A critique of current research on the mediation of distant suffering. Communication, Culture and Critique Vol. 6 (4)
  • Phoenix, A. and I. B. Seu (2013) Negotiating daughterhood and strangerhood: Retrospective accounts of serial migration. Feminism and Psychology. Vol.23 (3), 299-316
  • Cameron, L and I. B. Seu (2012) Landscapes of empathic understanding: Spatial metaphors and metonymies in responses to distant suffering. Text & Talk, 32 (3), 281–305.
  • Seu, I. B. ( 2012) ‘In countries like that…The symbolic construction of moral boundaries in Human Rights talk. The Sociology of Human Rights, Special Issue. The International Journal of Human Rights
  • Seu, I. B. (2011) ‘Shoot the Messenger’: Dynamics of Positioning and Denial in Response to Human Rights Appeals. Journal of Human Rights Practice. 3 (2), 139-161.
  • Moore, L and I. B. Seu (2011) Giving children a voice: Children’s positioning in Family Therapy. Journal of Family Therapy. 33 (3).
  • Seu. I.B. and Cameron, L. (under review) The role of empathic mutual positioning in reconciliation work. Journal of Peace Research
  • Seu. I.B. (in press) “Everybody is welcome but nobody is living next to me”; talking of emotions and with emotions about refugees. Special issue on ‘Asylum and Refugees’ Annual Review of Critical Psychology.
  • Seu, I.B. (in press). Bystanders to Human Rights appeals: A critical reappraisal of the ‘Passive Bystander’ phenomenon. Human Relations.
  • Seu, I.B. (under review) Bystanders to Human Rights appeals: a critical reappraisal of the ‘Passive Bystander’ phenomenon. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology
  • Moore, L and Sue, I. B. (accepted for publication) Giving children a voice; children’s positioning in Family Therapy. Journal of Family Therapy
  • Moore, L and Sue, I. B. (2010) ‘Doing family therapy’: A Foucauldian Discourse Analysis. European Journal of Psychotherapy and Counselling. 12 (4).
  • Seu, I. B. (2010) Doing Denial: Audiences’ Reactions to Human Rights Appeals. Discourse and Society. 21 (4), 438-457.
  • Seu, I. B. (2010) The ‘anti-social’ nature of prosocial research: a psychosocial critique. Psychology Compass.
  • Moore, L and Seu, I. B. (2010) ‘Doing family therapy’; a Foucauldian Discourse Analysis. European Journal of Psychotherapy and Counselling. Vol.12 (4)
  • Seu. I.B. (2008)“Everybody is welcome but …”. Talking of emotions and with emotions about refugees; a psychosocial discursive analysis. In Callaghan, J and R. Capdevila (Eds.) Special issue on Globalization, Migration & Asylum: the peril of the alien and the safety of the familiar. Annual Review of Critical Psychology. Vol.6; 71-88

Chapters in edited books

  • Seu, I.B. (forthcoming) Learning from the public; UK audiences’ responses to humanitarian appeals. In: Cottle and Cooper (eds.)Humanitarianism, Communications and Change
  • Seu, I.B. (forthcoming) Knowing and not knowing; implicatory denial and defence mechanisms in response to human rights violations. In: Frosh, S. (ed.) Psychosocial Imaginaries. Series: Studies in the Psychosocial, Palgrave MacMillan
  • Seu, I.B. (forthcoming) Ambivalence, Denial and Resistance in humanitarian helping; a psychosocial critique of the bystander effect. In Levine, Dixon and Dovidio (Eds.) Beyond Helping: Theory, Methods and Practice in Helping Research
  • Seu, I. B. (2011) Virtual Bystanders to Human Rights abuses: A psychosocial analysis. (ch.47, 533-547) In T. Cushman (ed.)Handbook of Human Rights. London and New York:Routledge.
  • Seu, I. B. (2009) Shameful silences: Self-protective secrets and methodological omissions. In R. Ryan-Flood and R. Gill (eds.)Secrets and Silences in the Research Process: Feminist Reflections. London: Routledge.

Reports

  • Executive Summary: Meditated Humanitarian Knowledge: Audience ' Reactions and Moral Action
  • Final Report: Meditated Humanitarian Knowledge: Audience ' Reactions and Moral Action

Recent lectures

  • Helping distant sufferers; the role of ‘lived ideologies’ in public responses to humanitarian communications.2014 Annual Scientific Meeting of the International Society of Political Psychology (ISPP), Rome, Italy, July 4-7 2014
  • ‘The role of acknowledgement and denial in public passivity’Social Action and Change: Opportunities, Resistance, Inertia, and Mobilization. Biennial conference of The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI). Portland, Oregon, USA, 27-29 June 2014
  • Moral boundaries and implicatory denial in public responses to human rights appeals’ Invited talk to the ‘International Human Rights Clinic’, School of Law, SOAS, University of London. 20 February 2014
  • Caring in Crisis? Communications and Public Reactions to Humanitarian Crises and International
    Development Causes. End of Project Colloqium 7th June 2014, BISR, Birkbeck, University of London.http://www.bbk.ac.uk/bisr/events/bbk-local?uid=d3c5b41958807b5dd3721638e99b3bbc
  • The Double edge sword; the dual role of psychoanalysis in public responses to human rights violations’ Keynote at the annual conference of the Society of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, Bilbao, Spain, 16 June 2014
  • ‘Denial and human rights violations’ Keynote, Research seminar ‘Denialism and Human Rights’
    at Maasticht Centre for Human Rights, Maastricht University, The Netherlands, 18th June 2014.
  • Seu, I. B. (2013) ‘The deserving victim’; public responses to humanitarian communication in the UK’. Panel on ‘Audiences in the face of distant suffering; new challenges for old idea(l)s?.International Communication Association Annual Conference, London 17-21 June.
  • Seu, I. B. (2013) Denial and Human Rights violations. Invited talk at the Department of International Relations and Politics. Manchester Metropolitan University.
  • Cameron, L. and Seu, I. B. (2012) Landscapes of empathic understanding: Spatial metaphors and metonymies in responses to distant suffering. End of ESRC Project conference on ‘Living with Uncertainty’ 11th June 2012. London.
  • Seu, I. B. and Cameron, L. (2012) Empathic mutual positioning in conciliation work, presented at the ‘Empathy: Dynamics, Dialogue, Conflict’ Conference.
  • Seu, I. B. and Cameron, L. (2011) Empathic mutual positioning in reconciliation work. ‘Languages of Emotions’ Conference, Free University of Berlin, 21-22 November 2011.
  • Seu, I. B. (2011) Emotions, defences and denial in response to Human Rights abuses. ‘International NGOs’ Representations of Global Poverty and Development. Goldsmith College. 8th September 2011
  • Seu, I. B. and S. Orgad (2011) Mediated Humanitarian Knowledge: Audience response and moral action. Centre for Atrocities and Human Rights, LSE. 17 May 2011.
  • Seu, I.B. (2011) Emotions, defences and denial in response to Human Rights abuses. Centre for Psychosocial Studies, University of the West of England. 30 March 2011
  • Seu, I.B. (2011) Emotions, defences and denial in response to Human Rights abuses. Representing Atrocity. Public lecture organized by the Centre for the Study of Human Rights. LSE 16 February 2011
  • Seu, I.B. (2011) Emotions, defences and denial in response to Human Rights abuses. Centre for Psychosocial Studies, University of the West of England. 30 March 2011
  • Seu, I.B. (2011) Virtual Bystanders to Human rights abuses; a psychosocial analysis. In T. Cushman (ed.) International Handbook of Human Rights. Routledge

Grants and Awards

  • 2010 – 13 : Mediated humanitarian knowledge, audiences' responses and moral actions. In collaboration with Dr. S. Orgad and Prof. S. Cohen, LSE Research Grant submitted to The Leverhulme Trust (232,211.00, three years). Awarded
  • 2008: Moral Enterprise and Moral Response: The Production and Reception of Humanitarian Appeals. (In collaboration with). ESRC (£531,360.00). Alpha rated
  • 2008: Apathy towards Human Rights abuses; a comparative study (UK – SP; Phase II). The Nuffield Foundation. £8,272
  • 2002: Bystander Intervention in response to Human Rights campaigns; a UK/Spain comparative pilot study (Phase I).Faculty of Science Research Grant – Birkbeck £4,800
  • 2000: A multidisciplinary investigation of Bystanders and Human Rights abuses. The Leverhulme Trust £16,440
  • 1997: Public’s Response to Human Rights abuses – a Pilot study.BRIEF Award

Talks and Conference contributions

  • Knowing and not wanting to know exploring the moral and psychological boundaries that distance us from suffering others. The Baobab Centre for young refugees and victims of torture. Oct 2014
  • Helping distant sufferers; the role of ‘lived ideologies’ in public responses to humanitarian communications.2014 Annual Scientific Meeting of the International Society of Political Psychology (ISPP), Rome, Italy, July 4-7 2014
  • ‘The role of acknowledgement and denial in public passivity’Social Action and Change: Opportunities, Resistance, Inertia, and Mobilization. Biennial conference of The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI). Portland, Oregon, USA, 27-29 June 2014
  • Moral boundaries and implicatory denial in public responses to human rights appeals’ Invited talk to the ‘International Human Rights Clinic’, School of Law, SOAS, University of London. 20 February 2014
  • Caring in Crisis? Communications and Public Reactions to Humanitarian Crises and International Development Causes. End of Project Colloqium 7th June 2014, BISR, Birkbeck, University of London.http://www.bbk.ac.uk/bisr/events/bbk-local?uid=d3c5b41958807b5dd3721638e99b3bbc
  • The Double edge sword; the dual role of psychoanalysis in public responses to human rights violations’ Keynote at the annual conference of the Society of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, Bilbao, Spain, 16 June 2014
  • ‘Denial and human rights violations’ Keynote, Research seminar ‘Denialism and Human Rights’
    at Maasticht Centre for Human Rights, Maastricht University, The Netherlands, 18th June 2014.
  • Seu, I. B. (2013) ‘The deserving victim’; public responses to humanitarian communication in the UK’. Panel on ‘Audiences in the face of distant suffering; new challenges for old idea(l)s?.International Communication Association Annual Conference, London 17-21 June.
  • Seu, I. B. (2013) Denial and Human Rights violations. Invited talk at the Department of International Relations and Politics. Manchester Metropolitan University.
  • Cameron, L. and Seu, I. B. (2012) Landscapes of empathic understanding: Spatial metaphors and metonymies in responses to distant suffering. End of ESRC Project conference on ‘Living with Uncertainty’ 11th June 2012. London.
  • Seu, I. B. and Cameron, L. (2012) Empathic mutual positioning in conciliation work, presented at the ‘Empathy: Dynamics, Dialogue, Conflict’ Conference.
  • Seu, I. B. and Cameron, L. (2011) Empathic mutual positioning in reconciliation work. ‘Languages of Emotions’ Conference, Free University of Berlin, 21-22 November 2011.
  • Seu, I. B. (2011) Emotions, defences and denial in response to Human Rights abuses. ‘International NGOs’ Representations of Global Poverty and Development. Goldsmith College. 8th September 2011
  • Seu, I. B. and S. Orgad (2011) Mediated Humanitarian Knowledge: Audience response and moral action. Centre for Atrocities and Human Rights, LSE. 17 May 2011.
  • Seu, I.B. (2011) Emotions, defences and denial in response to Human Rights abuses. Centre for Psychosocial Studies, University of the West of England. 30 March 2011
  • Seu, I.B. (2011) Emotions, defences and denial in response to Human Rights abuses. Representing Atrocity. Public lecture organized by the Centre for the Study of Human Rights. LSE 16 February 2011
  • Seu, I.B. (2010) Respondent to Craig Calhoun ‘The Emergency Imaginary and the Future of Humanitarian Action’ organized by Dept of Media and Communications and POLIS. 13th May 2010. London School of Economics and Political Sciences
  • Seu, I.B. (2009) Why help; Psychosocial factors in audiences’ responses to humanitarian appeals. “Dispatches from disaster zones” event organized by the British Red Cross, 16th December 2009, The Royal Society
  • Seu, I.B. (2009) Doing denial; justifications for unresponsiveness to Human Rights appeals. Psychology Department seminar, The Open University, 10th November 2009
  • Seu, I.B. (2009) A discursive analysis of resistance to empathy in Human Rights appeals. First meeting of the International Empathy Network. The Open University, 1st October 2009
  • Seu, I.B. (2009) On Bystanders. Panel on Victims, perpetrators, bystanders. “Responsibility to the Story” conference, Centre for Applied Human Rights, The University of York, 9-11 September 2009
  • Seu, I.B. (2008) Doing denial; justifications for unresponsiveness to Human Rights appeals. Interrogating Trauma; Arts and Media responses to Collective suffering Conference. Curtin and Murdock University, Perth, Australia. December 2008
  • Seu, I.B. (2008) ‘Switching off? Emotional reactions to Media reports of Human Rights abuses’ BISR Autumn Colloquium: ‘Moving citizens: exploring worlds of emotional politics’.24 October 2008
  • Seu, I.B. (2008) "Metaphorical bystanders: the mediation of distant suffering and audiences reception." Humanitarian Communication and campaigning Seminar Series. Polis, LSE, London. November 2008
  • Seu. I.B. (2008) In dialogue with Amnesty Scotland – feedback from Human Rights and moral apathy project. ESRC Workshop on Social Responsibility. University of St. Andrews. July 2008
  • Seu I.B. (2007) Doing denial; Justification for unresponsiveness to Human Rights appeals. Invited paper to ESRC Seminar on ‘Promoting Helping in emergencies’ Lancaster University, Sept 2007

Research

  • My main research interests, grouped under the four broadly defined areas listed below, reflect my multidisciplinary background and expertise (Honours degree in Philosophy, MA and PhD in Psychology, UKCP Registered Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist), my intellectual interest in Western culture and values, and political commitment to feminism and the attainment of a just society.
  • These concerns fuel my overall interest in epistemological debates around the ontological and epistemological status of knowledge in social sciences in contemporary western society and how these debates are affected by post-structuralism, psychoanalysis and feminism.
  • Connected to these is my commitment to developing and applying qualitative research methods, in particular Grounded Theory and Discourse Analysis, to the investigation of social phenomena.
  • 1. Human Rights, social responsibility and helping behaviour.
  • For some years I have researched public responses to mediated news of Human Rights abuses, both in the UK and Spain, thanks to the support of a Leverhulme Foundation Fellowship and Birkbeck College Research grants. With time, these have evolved into an interest in the related issues of moral and social responsibility; prosocial behaviour; moral boundaries and discursive constructions of the ‘Other’. I have used a psychosocial approach in bringing together psychological work on altruism, psycho-social understanding of denial as well as psychodynamic and discursive readings of emotional responses. I have published on these subjects in Psychological and Human Rights journals.
  • 2. Gender
  • I am particularly interested in exploring how current social constructions of femininity and gender affect women’s lives. In particular I have conducted in-depth feminist qualitative research into women's experience of shame and critically explored socio-psychological and psychoanalytic theories of femininity, mainly through a social constructionist/discursive approach.
  • 3. Psychoanalysis
  • My interest in psychoanalysis is two-fold. I am concerned with psychoanalysis both as a body of theory that has greatly affected the way we understand human behaviour and motivation, and as a clinical technique.
  • As far as the latter is concerned, in my writing I have investigated the complex relation between feminism and psychoanalysis particularly in clinical practice.
  • I am also interested in applying psychoanalytic ideas to the understanding of social phenomena, in particular oppression, discrimination and bystander behaviour.
  • My critical interest in psychoanalytic theory and practice on the one hand and gender issues on the other has been further developed in ‘Feminism and Psychotherapy; Reflections on Contemporary Theories and Practices’ (Sage, 1998), co-edited with C. Heenan and in the edited book "Who am I? The ego and the self in psychoanalysis" (Rebus Press/Taylor and Francis 2000).
  • 4. Discursive analyses and psychoanalytic readings of text
  • The substantive interests listed above have found best methodological expression in discursive analyses and psychoanalytic readings of text. I am currently working on the complementarities and potential benefits of bringing together these epistemologically different readings of text, in grappling with the complexities of subjectivity and power dynamics.

Contact details

Room 502B, 30 Russell Square
Department of Psychosocial Studies
Birkbeck College, University of London
London
WC1B 5DT

Tel: +44 (0)20 7 631 6539
Email: b.seu@bbk.ac.uk