Liam Hudson

Iconoclastic researcher in psychology
Click to follow
The Independent Online

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.

Liam Hudson, psychologist and writer: born Sutton, Surrey 20 July 1933; Fellow, King's College, Cambridge 1966-68; Bell Professor of Educational Sciences, Edinburgh University 1968-77; Professor of Psychology, Brunel University 1977-87; Visiting Professor, Tavistock Clinic, London 1987-96; married 1955 Elizabeth Ward (died 1965; marriage dissolved 1965), 1965 Bernadine Jacot de Boinod (three sons, one daughter, and one daughter deceased); died London 19 February 2005.

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. We quite rapidly became friends, as did our partners. Few academics ask empathetic yet penetrating questions of their peers, in appointment panels, or otherwise. Even less do so and then generate personal relationships with the appointee. Hudson wrote a paper on the "Stereotypical Scientist" (Nature, 1967), illuminating these perspectives (happily not using me as part of the data). He wrote many essays about the nature of academia, and that of scientists and artists.

Hudson "forced" me into personal juxtaposition with some of those who in the early 1990s questioned the Popperian ideal of science, not just philosophically, but by observing and analysing the ethnography and sociology of the "hard science" laboratory. Some of their observations were scathing, yet eventually uplifting. I now realise that the method of "science" needs to be employed with a level of self-questioning few possess; and that the artistic endeavours Hudson pursued (such as his enthusiasm for Bonnard, photography and jazz) are questioning complements.

He left Brunel in 1987 and committed to working "at home" with his collaborator and wife Bernadine Jacot, while also holding a visiting professorship at the Tavistock Clinic in London. Their "Balas Copartnership" focused on projects in psychology and in the arts. Together they were involved in creating, and acquiring, visual objects that challenged the mental "boundaries" his research brought into focus. Hudson's great enthusiasm for bric-à-brac shops led to his and Bernadine's no doubt economical purchase of "an eighth-century Mayan jade necklace": sold to them as "plastic".

Liam Hudson was a brilliant writer: as he says, he was released (after his first marriage) into a verbal fluency which few can match. His most recent pair of books, written with Bernadine Jacot, explored the way men and women think (Intimate Relations: the natural history of desire, 1995, and The Way Men Think: intellect, intimacy and the erotic imagination, 1991). Hudson also fulfilled his implicit ideals of combining science and art, by writing a novel, The Nympholepts (1978), about changing relationships in the face of the abrupt pressure of a lethal road accident; or is it about relationships revealed after the "boundary" of death is passed?

Happily there is more of Hudson's writing to come, texts completed or in advanced draft before his death.

Roger T. Dean



Comments