Wednesday 11 February 2015 – Lunchtime seminar with Dr Laura Kilby (Psychology, SHU)

An image of Dr Laura Kilby (Psychology SHU)

Title: Symbols of Terror: 9/11 as the name of the thing and the thing of the name
Speaker: Dr Laura Kilby

Laura Kilby joined Sheffield Hallam University in January 2012 as a Senior Lecturer within the department of Psychology, Sociology and Politics. Her research interests centre upon examining the construction of identities within debates about terrorism, multiculturalism, and Britishness. She adopts a qualitative, primarily critical discursive approach to examine these issues across a range of media, political and lay contexts. Her prior published research includes analysis of power relations between lay and elite callers in terrorism talk; examining ‘new Liberal’ discourses of immigration, multiculturalism and the welfare state; and analysis of contemporary U.K. Conservative discourses of ‘failing multiculturalism’. Her current research moves slightly away from analysis of discourse in order to explore more symbolic aspects of contemporary representations of terrorism. Laura is the director of studies for Henry Lennon who is investigating issues of identity, migration and citizenship amongst Romanian migrants to the UK.

Social Representations Theory (Moscovici, 1981) proposes that, via the core processes of anchoring and objectification, social representations enable members of the ‘thinking society’ to arrive at common sense ways of understanding the world. Social representations are powerfully realised and perpetuated through dominant language activities, thus, communication is central to the life of social representations. Research has emphasized the discursive (Augoustinos & Penny, 2001; Gibson, 2012) and narrative (Bar-Tal, 2014; Jovchelovitch, 2012; Liu & Hilton, 2005) qualities of social representations. However, social representations are not solely realised through language, but through all semiotic activity. Verkuyten (1995) demonstrates the way in which social symbols are central to the mobilisation of public opinion such that symbols become normative expressions of ideology. Building on earlier work by Billig (1988), a particular feature of Verkuyten’s (1995) work is in the demonstration that social representations do not only objectify abstract concepts, they also transform objective ‘realities’ into abstract concepts.

In the current research Laura explores contemporary social representations of terrorism via examination of the name for the events of September 11th 2001: ‘9/11’. After disentangling the name from its everyday appearance in text and talk, Laura argues that this name is best understood as a particular kind of social symbol. Subsequently she outlines three functions that that this symbol fulfils in representations of terrorism. Firstly, it acts as a primary anchor through which to begin the business of building a representation; secondly, it provides a powerful resource for objectifying the abstract concept of terrorism. Finally, it facilitates a counter-process to objectification whereby the materiality of terrorism is transcended to allow participation in abstract meaning making. Laura concludes that the ‘9/11’ symbol is a significant force in the widespread mobilisation of easily apprehended notions of terrorism which seemingly define what terrorism is; which do not readily provoke contest; and which are widely accepted as mundane forms of ‘truth’.

1.00PM – 2.00PM

See here for details of other seminars in the series.

All SHU staff and students are welcome to attend the C3RI Lunchtime Research Seminars. If you are from outside of the University and would like to attend a seminar, please email C3RI Administrator to arrange entry.