OBITUARY: LIAM HUDSON ; Iconoclastic Researcher in Psychology

By Dean, Roger T. | The Independent (London, England), May 3, 2005 | Go to article overview
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OBITUARY: LIAM HUDSON ; Iconoclastic Researcher in Psychology

Dean, Roger T., The Independent (London, England)

Liam Hudson was an innovative, iconoclastic and influential researcher in psychology, and in areas abutting sociology and philosophy. He was also a creative artist in photography, painting, sculpture and writing, and could inter-relate all these facets of his activities as part of a questioning apprehension of the world.

Hudson was born in Sutton, Surrey in 1933, and educated at Whitgift School. His father was a salesman and manager, his mother an art teacher. After National Service, he won a scholarship in 1954 to read Modern History at Exeter College, Oxford, later switching to Philosophy and Psychology. He acquired a PhD, nominally in Psychology, from Cambridge University in 1961. He then became Director of the Research Unit of Intellectual Development at Cambridge in 1964, and later took a Chair in Educational Sciences at Edinburgh, leading a research institute there from 1968 to 1977. After Edinburgh, Hudson held a Chair at Brunel University, London, in the burgeoning Human Sciences department.

In 1966 he published Contrary Imaginations: a psychological study of the English schoolboy. With this book, Hudson changed British understanding of how to educate schoolboys so as to enhance their opportunities. The influence of the central concept of 'convergers' and 'divergers' was strong. Convergers " those with high IQ, but found to have limited diversity of response to questions such as what one could do with a brick " became almost a stereotype; they were often practitioners of the 'physical sciences'. Divergers were those schoolboys who had lower but reasonable IQ, yet more diverse responses to the challenge of the brick.

Hudson, perhaps modestly, viewed himself as a diverger, and was certainly committed to moving across imagined boundaries. He challenged the whole of the empirical psychology movement and indicated that anthropology and sociology were necessary complements; more importantly, he used personal and interpersonal challenge as part of his method. Understanding the views of individuals is the real subject of psychology's endeavours.

His ideas were embodied in a series of books: for example, after Contrary Imaginations, came Frames of Mind: ability, perception and self- perception in the arts and sciences (1968), which dealt partly with the surprisingly different response to 'the brick', or comparable challenges revealed by schoolboys invited to be 'John McMice' (who 'liked to shock . . . with gruesome jokes'). Later books explored the dream lives of people, in relation to the converger concept, and the 'psychological significance of the nude in art' (Bodies of Knowledge, 1982).

To begin with, these books had their counterparts in hard 'empirical' science publications, in Nature and many other journals. But gradually Hudson began to question the empirical approach, and he noted that often those people who were unconvinced of the empirical approach were the most productive.

I met Liam Hudson first when he was part of an interview panel as I sought a Readership in Cell Biology at Brunel.

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OBITUARY: LIAM HUDSON ; Iconoclastic Researcher in Psychology


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