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Cross-examining suggestibility: memory, childhood, expertise

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posted on 17.10.2014, 10:37 by Johanna F. Motzkau
Initially a central topic for psychology, suggestibility has been forgotten, rediscovered, evaded definition, sabotaged experimentation and persistently triggers epistemological short-circuits when interconnecting psychological questions of memory, childhood and scientificity, with concrete legal issues of child witnesses' credibility, the disclosure of sexual abuse and psychological expertise in courts of law. The aim of this study is to trace suggestibility through history, theory, research and practice, and to explore its efficacy at the intersection of psychology and law, by examining and comparing the. concrete case of child witness practice in England and Germany. Taking a transdisciplinary approach the study draws on two interrelated sources of 'data' combining historical, theoretical and research literature with the analysis of empirical data. A genealogy if theory and research is combined with the results of reflexive interviews, conducted in England and Germany with practitioners from all those professions involved in creating, applying or dealing with knowledge about child witnesses and suggestibility: judges, prosecutors, lawyers, police officers, psychologists (researchers, experts) and social workers. Drawing on the work of G. Deleuze and 1. Stengers this study shows how practical tensions around reliable witnesses, evidence and expertise merge pragmatically with theoretical movements employed to adjust the discipline, thereby causing frictions and voids. In this sense suggestibility provides a liminal resource: It transgresses disciplinary boundaries and pervades pragmatic and theoretical, global and personal, historical and actual considerations, creating voids that allow us to reconsider the pragmatics of change and to redefine the issue of critical impact, as well as to reformulate the problem of child witness practice and children's suggestibility. The study hopes to make a concrete contribution to facilitating the just prosecution of sexual abuse by adding transparency to the complex and at times unhelpfully polarised field of child witness practice. By exploring the 'pragmatics of change' the study furthermore hopes to give an unsettling and productive impetus to theoretical debates within critical approaches to psychology.



  • Social Sciences


  • Communication, Media, Social and Policy Studies


© Johanna Franziska Motzkau

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This work is made available according to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) licence. Full details of this licence are available at:

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.

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