Clifford van Ommen is awarded DLitt et Phil

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The department takes great pleasure in congratulating Clifford van Ommen who was awarded his doctorate from Unisa recently. Entitled “‘My brain will be your occult convolutions’: Toward a critical theory of the biological body”, the project forms part of a growing engagement with biology by critical psychology and, more broadly, body studies.

The specific focus of the doctorate is on the neurological body which has tended to be dogmatically excluded from critical endeavours. This exclusion is challenged by arguing that neuroscience actually offers a vital resource for emancipatory agendas. However, rather than simply treating biology as a site for the factual supplementation of social theory the aim is to engage with neuroscience more directly and critically. In this process a discursive reductionism and attempted escape from complicity associated with critical psychology is addressed. Similarly, a naïve and apolitical empiricism claimed by neuroscience is disrupted. The objective of the doctorate is primarily to demonstrate the utility of neuroscience in developing critical theory. These objectives are pursued through the ‘method’ of deconstruction, (mis)reading several highly regarded neuroscience texts written by prominent neuroscientists, working within the convolutions of these texts so as develop openings for critical conceptualisations of (neural) corporeality.

Supervised by Professor Vasi van Deventer, the thesis was examined by three examiners (Canada, UK and SA). One examiner described it as “a substantial and authoritative piece of work, excellent in quality and impressive in scope” which provides “a powerful strategy that could facilitate further critical analysis of the neuroscientific literature”. Another examiner described it as an “exciting and riveting document” and “an innovative, brave and sophisticated piece of work”. Clifford plans to publish several articles from his thesis over the next two years. Partly due to this significant achievement, Clifford was also recently promoted to Senior Lecturer in the department.