Stephen Pattison, Professor of Religion, Ethics and Practice at the University of Birmingham, writes:

We live in what might be called a ‘facist’ era!  Faces are all around us, and form an important part of our everyday and clinical encounters.  However, strangely, it seems that they are so obvious that we tend not to think about them that much in a concerted way, so, strangely, they become effectively invisible.

It is the curious phenomenon of the ubiquity yet invisibility of faces that I began to explore at the Centre for Medical Humanities in Durham three years ago when I was lucky enough to have a visiting fellowship there.  Durham is a really great place for interdisciplinary work and I was able to access help from philosophers, clinicians, theologians, anthropologists and others as I tried to get a ‘fix on face’.

The result of my explorations is the book, Saving Face: Enfacement, Shame, Theology, published by Ashgate (£19 pbk) in September and available through the usual channels.  While situated in my own field of practical theology, the book is addressed to all of those who are interested in understanding and thinking about faces more concertedly, and particularly to people who want to think about how we work with faces in actual encounters.  Do we see justly, carefully, attentively, or just let our prejudices run our lives when we encounter faces that we find in some way difficult, eg, when we encounter people with damaged or immobile faces (strokes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s just to name a few of the many ways in which faces change in a way that can contribute to depersonalisation and social alienation).

Saving Face builds on my previous interdisciplinary work about shame and seeing things, both of which deal with what we exclude from our ordinary vision, to the detriment of the excluded (Shame (CUP 2000), Seeing Things (SCM Press 2007).  All this thinking relates to clinical and personal work with people.  The big question in my discipline is always, So what implications does that have for practice and everyday life?

I have been very lucky to have lots of opportunities to look at important human phenomena slant.  Thanks to the Centre in Durham for helping me to extend my curiosity into a new and very important area!

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