I am a psychologist with main interests in how individual minds relate to their social, cultural and ecological environments. The principal direction from which I address these issues is informed by evolutionary thinking, cognitive science and social psychology.
This work is part of a new metatheoretic field labelled "cognition and culture", which aims to integrate the insights of areas including cognitive science, philosophy, communication, anthropology and social psychology, under the umbrella of evolutionary thinking. Such ambitious work must be highly collaborative, and the ideas continue to be developed with successive generations of talented and enthusiastic PhD students as well as academic colleagues (see http://www.lse.ac.uk/anthropology/research/PCC/ ) .
In my interests and location, my academic career has come full circle. My first degree was in Social Psychology from LSE. Fascinating in offering in-depth descriptions of social phenomena, though the theories had often not kept pace with developments in cognitive scientific understanding of the mind. My final year dissertation attempted, in a very small way, to integrate ideas from cognitive science and social representations. Moving on to the University of Edinburgh to study Cognitive Science at Masters' level enabled a whole range of interdisciplinary interests to blossom. Whilst an integrated explanation of how the mind works (employing, e.g., cognitive psychology, linguistics, philosophy, neuropsychology, logic, and computation) would be more complicated than had been thought in the past, it may nonetheless be an achievable proposition.
My Masters' thesis attempted to relate some ideas of Kant and Piaget to the emerging field of cognitive science. I stayed in Edinburgh to complete a PhD thesis on understanding how people represent knowledge of categories of things ("concepts"), and how that representation connects to knowledge and use of language. The core idea was that concepts hold quite limited content which, with appropriate pragmatic processing mechanisms, delivers highly flexible, context-dependent representations of meaning.
Returning to LSE as a member of staff, recent developments reflect a growing interest in evolutionary explanations of mind and social relations. Despite wide agreement that evolutionary adaptations provide structure and directions for the content of thought and culture, it is not yet clear precisely what form this takes. Most recently I have become interested in developing an evolved, "embodied" approach to cognition and culture.
My recurrent research interests are in the connections between mind and culture. There are currently two aspects to this.
The first relates to a general theoretical approach to the cognition and culture project that involves the twin roles of "embodiment" in mind in which mind is simultaneously intertwined with "internal" bodily states (such as perception, emotion, and motivation), and "external" aspects of the ecological and cultural environment. This promises to lead to exciting insights into the interdependence of mind and culture. It is the focus of a book that I am working on, to emerge soon.
The second relates to investigations into specific areas:
The connections between evolution, cultural transmission, communication and mind: the view I am developing suggests that culture offers important adaptive benefits regarding sharing mental states, which can overcome some of the limits on sharing mental states that arise from social relations and verbal communication.
The role of evolution and essentialism in representations of natural and social categories, and how they interact with context to handle uncertain or borderline cases of category membership. Culture and embodied states have an important role in characterising what is uncertain, and how such uncertainty is resolved. This has implications for how people understand social categories such as gender and race, as well as the self and identity.
Religious beliefs and rituals, where one of the effects of embodied aspects of ritual seems to be to temporarily reduce uncertainty in religious beliefs. A current interest relates to whether this effect extends beyond descriptive beliefs about the properties of gods, souls, etc, to include normative beliefs about the right ways to behave. This has implications for ideas concerning "radicalization" and the cultural spread of extreme religious ideas.
LSE's emphasis on research-led teaching allows us to teach on topics in which we are actively researching. Our students are lively, critical and intelligent, making seminars enjoyable and interesting and challenging for teachers as well as students, and a place where new ideas can be explored in depth
I teach on a wide range of topics. At the undergraduate level, I organize Self, Others and Society: Perspectives on Social and Applied Psychology (PS102), and teach on Societal Psychology (PS203). At the postgraduate level I organize Current Issues in Communication Research: Culture and Communication (PS411, [Watch Video]), as well making teaching contributions to Contemporary Social and Cultural Psychology (PS400) and the Social Psychology of Communication (PS429).
I also support Cathy Campbell in co-ordinating the MPhil/PhD Programme for the Psychology@LSE.
PhD supervision is one of the major challenges and pleasures of being at the Psychology@LSE Department – topics on which I have supervised or currently supervise include evolution and essentialism in representations of social categories (e.g., gender and race) and status and hierarchies, power and the self, religious beliefs and counter-intuitiveness, the cultural transmission of extreme religious beliefs, contradictory beliefs concerning animals.
Braisby, N. R., Franks, B., & Hampton, J. A. (1996). Essentialism, word use, and concepts. Cognition, 59, 247-274.
Cooper, R., & Franks, B. (1996). The iteration of concept combination in sense generation. In Proceedings of the Cognitive Science Society.
Braisby, N. R., Franks, B., & Harris, J. (1997). Classification and concepts: Fuzzy or perspectival?. Chapter 9 in D. Dubois (Ed.). Papers from CaReSSes. Paris: Editions Kime.
Braisby, N. R., Franks, B., & Hampton, J. A. (1997). Essential Contradictions: Psychological essentialism and concepts. Chapter 12 in D. Dubois (Ed.). Papers from CaReSSes. Paris: Editions Kime.
Braisby, N. R., & Franks, B. (1997). What does word use tell us about conceptual content? Psychology of Language and Communication, 1 (2), 1-12
Franks, B. (1995). Sense Generation: a 'quasi-classical' approach to concepts and concept combination. Cognitive Science, 19 (4), 441-506.
Franks, B., & Braisby, N. (1997). Concepts in action: the evolutionary role of concepts and similarity. In Ramscar, M., Hahn, U., Cambouropolos, E., & Pain, H. (Eds.), Proceedings of SimCat 97: Interdisciplinary Workshop on Similarity and Categorisation, Edinburgh. pps. 91-98.
Franks, B. (1999). Idealizations, competence and explanation: a response to Patterson. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 50 (4), 735—746.
Franks, B. (2003). The nature of unnaturalness in religious representations: Negation and concept combination. Journal of Cognition and Culture, 3, 41—68.
Franks, B. (2004). Negation and doubt in religious representations: Context-dependence, emotion and action. Evolution and Cognition, 10 (1), 74—86.
Franks, B. (2005). The role of the environment in evolutionary and cognitive psychology. Philosophical Psychology, 18(1), 59—82.
Franks, B. (2009/forthcoming). Culture, Cognition and Evolution. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Franks, B. & Green, H. A. (2009/forthcoming). Culture, communication and pragmatics. Chapter 2 in Hook, D.W., Franks, B. & Bauer, M. B. (Eds.), Communication, Culture and Social Change..
Franks, B. (2009/forthcoming). Evolution and cultural transmission: the Role of Embodied Mind. Chapter 6 in Hook, D.W., Franks, B. & Bauer, M. B. (Eds.), Communication, Culture and Social Change..
Franks, B. (2009/forthcoming). Embodiment in a real-world context for complex concepts? Ritual and its impact on religious representations.
Franks, B., & Rigby, K. (2006). Deception and mate selection: Some implications for relevance and the evolution of language. Chapter 10 in Tallerman, M. (Ed.), Language Origins. Oxford: OUP.
Outside academia, I have a range of interests. I am very fond of poetry and fiction, music (I would form a Poor Cellists Club if anyone else could bear to be in the same room when I play), and good wine. I am a keen fan of football (Liverpool FC) and cricket.
I also enjoy walking in the country. I would form a Poor Attenders of the Gym Club if I went more often. My wife and son also do their best to ensure that I remain reasonably grounded in the non-academic world. My favourite colour is green, though I am colour-blind.