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Green Templeton College | Oxford

The Tyranny of the Normal

The Tyranny of the Normal asks: is normality - or conformity to certain parameters of behaviour and appearance - a necessary condition of all advanced societies or a tyranny which constrains individual aspiration and social evolution?  Do conceptions of normality have any objective basis or are they merely social constructions, inexorably tied to the exercise of political and economic power?

These questions have troubled some of the influential minds of the last two centuries but are they still relevant today, as conceptions of normality are challenged by advances in genomics and new technologies of human enhancement?  Are we moving towards new regimes of normality or has the border between the normal and the pathological become blurred and irrelevant in an increasingly individualised and culturally reflexive global community?

Download the lecture series poster


Monday 27 January
Cinematically Challenged

Photo: Sarah Lee / FaberMainstream Hollywood cinema, the dominant medium of the twentieth century, represented the disabled more fully than most minorities, but what (or who) are these images really about?

This lecture traced a paradoxical cultural history with the help of half a dozen film clips, from directors as different as William Wyler, Robert Altman and John Carpenter.

Speaker: Adam Mars-Jones, novelist.

More information about Adam Mars-Jones.



Monday 3 February
"I Don't Like the Way I Look": the Psychological Consequences of Appearance Norms

Professor Nichola RumseySocietal interest in 'looks' has a long history. Until recently, this interest has been considered largely benign: however, norms of appearance have become progressively more extreme and are now unattainable for the vast majority of people.  High levels of dissatisfaction with appearance are now normative in the UK, US, Australia and many other developed countries. Experts consider this to be an 'epidemic' - one which is causing significant concern amongst researchers, educationalists and politicians.

This lecture summarised research evidence charting the extensive and damaging impacts of dissatisfaction with appearance on physical and psychological health and the negative consequences for children, young people and adults in key areas of living including social, educational and vocational functioning.

Speaker: Professor Nichola Rumsey, Co-Director of the Centre for Appearance Research (CAR) at the University of the West of England.

More information about Professor Nichola Rumsey.



Monday 10 February
Feeling Norms, Feeling Normal?

Professor Sara AhmedIn feminist and queer theory, social norms have been understood as investments, as what subjects become invested in over time.

In this lecture Sara Ahmed explored the relation between norms and feelings, with specific reference to comfort and discomfort. Drawing on her research into diversity work (published as On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life in 2012) as well as her investigation of will and willfulness (to be published as Willful Subjects in 2014) the lecture explored how institutional norms become somatic norms, and reflected on how we might feel norms most acutely when we do not quite inhabit them.

Speaker: Professor Sara Ahmed, Goldsmiths College, University of London.

More information about Professor Sara Ahmed.



Monday 24 February
Ordinary People do Extraordinary Things: What Do the Lives of Olympians Tell Us About the Champion in Us All?

Peter Keen CBEThe traditional narrative of Olympic success emphasises hard work, discipline and sacrifice but above all the unique talents of medal winners.

Does this stand up to scrutiny? What drives individuals to seek such levels of mastery in such a narrow domain, and are the qualities they possess as rare as their achievements or latent within most of us?

This lecture provided an insider's synopsis of the life journeys of successful athletes, from which a number of generalisations were explored concerning the nature of human performance and the apparent need for mastery and autonomy for humans to feel fulfilled.

Speaker: Peter Keen CBE, Director of Sport, Loughborough University.

More information about Peter Keen.