Helen Haste's research interests


Research Activities

My research career has covered several domains which are underpinned by a common theoretical framework:
        the relationship between social/cultural and individual factors in the understanding and construction of meaning   
My work  is broadly within developmental, social and cultural psychology.  Much of it has focused on adolescence.

I classify my contributions under four interlocking webs of enterprise:

An overview

1. Theoretical orientations

My research career began in moral psychology, with the question:

My major research question has become:

2. Values, morality and politics

My work on political development began by exploring the relationship between political reasoning and moral reasoning [1980-86]. Several large-scale questionnaire studies yielded material on the relationship between a wide range of political, economic and social beliefs and values, and their relationship to such issues as gender issues, environmentalism and post-materialism. A particular finding is the fragmentation of the Right, and how this maps on to the diversity of current feminist positions.

I became interested in political and social activism, and in 'extraordinary moral responsibility' and the factors which facilitate this. I developed a model analysing coping and defense in the face of threat, and how these relate to the precipitation of activism and political commitment. [1983-90]. My more recent work has focused on critical issues in, and blueprints for, citizenship education. I have conducted a pilot study on the development of political and social competence (with Claire Tyrrell) [1995-]

I have recently been working on  communitarianism [1996], as part of the challenge to a dominant  ethic of  justice and the developmental 'goal' of individual autonomy. Communitarianism presupposes that moral concepts are formulated in  social processes, and therefore, the developmental 'goals' are the ethical management of social interactions. This forefronts the social context of individual reasoning.

In 1999-2002 I was part of an OECD initiative to develop 'future competences'. This involved a multi-disciplinary team generating a theoretical framework to underpin  future OECD policy on broad educational issues relating to competence. I was the psychology 'expert' on that team.

3. Gender and feminist theory

My initial work in gender was located within the 'socialist-feminist' perspective, whose main premises were that beliefs about sex difference served the needs of a patriarchal society, and were largely illusory distortions. This perspective had two main research implications:

The development of my appreciation of social and cultural processes made me increasingly interested in the research questions:

This led me to look at the linguistic and cultural-symbolic bases for defining masculinity and femininity, and to analysing how  conceptions of masculinity and femininity set the terms of reference for a very wide range of epistemological issues.  This is expressed as 'cultural feminism' in my 1993/4 book <EM>The Sexual Metaphor</EM>.  This work involves analysis of language, symbol and especially, metaphor.  A major feature of my argument is that the duality of gender maps on to the much deeper cultural metaphor of dualism which permeates Western thinking, and both reinforces it and is reinforced by it. To  challenge  distortiing stereotypes of gender requires  challenging the underlying cultural metaphor of dualism. [1984-97]

I have most recently written on the psychological and philosophical issues in different feminisms, and on how our concept of 'the human' is intertwined with the metaphors of gender.  My other research fields, moral and political development, and science and culture, have also been extensively informed by the question of gender.

4. Science and culture: the role of language and metaphor

My third strand of work, science and culture, began with my investigations of sex stereotyping of science, as part of the studies of gender and motivation [1975-84]. This data revealed cultural images of science and scientists. When I became interested in the metaphor of dualism it was clear that images of science were closely aligned with conceptions of rationality and culturally sensitive dualities like reason and emotion, order and disorder. This led to further research questions, particularly

My current work explores these in the context of science and culture, through studying the images of science and scientists portrayed in science fiction films, the relationship between this and public anxieties about science, and how these map on to ancient myths about hubris and human beings' relationships with nature. I have also studied adolescents' images of science and scientists, and gender dimensions of these [1993-].

___ Helen Haste's home page