Sharing values as a foundation for collective hope. Niki Harré, Helen Madden, Rowan Brooks, Jonathan Goodman, Journal of Social and Political Psychology, 2017.

A widespread “tale of terror” amongst those seeking social change is that people in modern Western societies are caught in a neo-liberal paradigm and have come to care most about materialism, individual success and status. Our research attempted to challenge this tale. Study 1 involved New Zealand participants (N = 1085) from largely, but not exclusively, left-leaning groups. We used an open-ended process to identify their “infinite” values (that which they consider of value for its own sake); and found these concerned connection to people and other life forms, expression, nature, personal strengths, vitality, and spirituality. Systems and regulations, success and status, money, ownership and domination were named as of “finite” value (of value because of what they signify or enable). These findings suggest that our participants readily distinguished between what is inherently valuable and what is of instrumental value or signifies social status. Study 2 (N = 121) investigated participants’ responses to a word cloud that displayed the infinite values identified in Study 1. These were predominantly a sense of belonging to a human community, reassurance, and feeling uplifted and hopeful. We suggest that the word cloud offered a “tale of joy” showing that, contrary to standard neo-liberal rhetoric, people do care deeply about the common good. We also suggest that such a tale is critical to social movements that depend on a sense of collective hope.

Open access, available here.

The university as an infinite game, Niki Harré, Barbara M. Grant, Kirsten Locke, Sean Sturm. Australian Universities' Review, 2017.

We offer here a metaphor of the university as an 'infinite game' in which we bring to life insight, imagination, and radical inclusion; and resist the 'finite games' that can lead us astray. We suggest that keeping the infinite game alive within universities is a much-needed form of academic activism. We offer four vignettes that explore this further: our responsibility to be 'critic and conscience of society' and how that responsibility must also turn inwards onto our own institution, the dilemmas of being a woman with leadership responsibilities in an institution that proudly shows off its 'top girls', the opportunities we have as teachers to 'teach the university' and be taught by our students, and the contradictions we face as activist scholars in our relentlessly audited research personas. We draw on the infinite/finite game metaphor, our own affective experiences as tenured academics, and feminist critiques.

See here for the online article, email for a copy if you do not have institutional access.

The infinite game: A symbol and workshop for living well together. Niki Harré and Helen Madden, Ecopsychology, 2017.

People are symbolic creatures, and generative symbols can help us understand the present and imagine the future. Here we describe a workshop based on the (symbolic) premise that life is composed of at least two kinds of games: the infinite game in which the key purpose is to keep the game in play and invite others in, and finite games in which the purpose is to win. The infinite game envisages a world in which all life-forms are celebrated and nurtured; finite games offer social structures that may facilitate or impede this. Using a game-like approach, the workshop invites participants to consider the values attached to the different games and takes them through a series of paper dart games that mimic infinite and finite play. Observations of 30 workshops with New Zealand adult participants (N = 1,085) and the written responses of subsamples of participants to specific exercises were used to understand the transformative potential of the workshop. It appeared to prompt awareness, reflection and choice, sharing and praxis, accompanied by a sense of depth and joy or agitation. The workshop also provided insight into how the intrinsic value of natural phenomena is appreciated under infinite game conditions and why nature becomes a “resource” under highly competitive finite game conditions. Readers are invited to obtain the workshop materials and be part of an ongoing project to develop and share the infinite game symbol.

See here for the online article, email for a copy if you do not have institutional access.