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Disruption, self-presentation and defensive tactics at the threshold of learning

Gillespie, Alex ORCID: 0000-0002-0162-1269 (2020) Disruption, self-presentation and defensive tactics at the threshold of learning. Review of General Psychology, 24 (4). pp. 382-396. ISSN 1089-2680

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Identification Number: 10.1177/1089268020914258


Disruptive experiences are opportunities for learning, yet, people often resist them. This tendency is evident in individual experience, organizational behavior, and denialist discourses. Research has been hampered by conceptualizing this defensiveness in terms of unconscious defense mechanisms or underlying cognitive processes. In contrast, I conceptualize defensiveness in terms of observable defensive tactics, namely, the actions and utterances that are used to resist disruptive meanings. I introduce the analogy of the semantic immune system to conceptualize three layers of defensive tactics: avoiding, delegitimizing, and limiting the impact of disruptive meanings. Defensive tactics are cultural–historical creations that, like the immune system, have adapted over time to neutralize disruptive meanings. I use this tripartite conceptualization to review the fragmented literature on defensive tactics. The observability of these tactics gives centrality to the audience who either calls out or does not call out the use of defensive tactics—questioning or implicitly supporting the legitimacy of the defended views. The vigilance of the audience pushes the tactics toward increasingly subtle forms that seek to pass undetected. Reconceptualizing defensiveness in terms of observable tactics reveals the importance of the audience and opens these tactics up to empirical research, calling upon researchers to identify the increasingly subtle ways in which learning through dialogue is inhibited.

Item Type: Article
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Additional Information: © 2020 The Author
Divisions: Psychological and Behavioural Science
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Date Deposited: 10 Feb 2020 15:42
Last Modified: 13 Jun 2024 20:03

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