Researchers at UCD


Ciarán Benson


Tel: +353 1 7168408


Ciarán Benson BA, MA (Sussex), PhD (NUI), FPsSI.

Born 1950 in Dun Laoghaire, Ireland. Studied psychology, social-developmental psychology, philosophy and aesthetics at University College Dublin and at Sussex University.

He began his career as a research assistant in The Economic and Social Research Institute working on national surveys of education (1971-1973). Subsequently he taught and researched in areas of education and teacher education in The Mater Dei Institute, St Augustines, The Arts Council, The Higher Education Authority, and University College Dublin.

From November 1992 to November 2009 he was Professor of Psychology, and holder of the Chair of Psychology, at University College Dublin where, for more than two terms of office, he was Head of School. He held the invited Royden Davis Chair of Interdisciplinary Studies in Georgetown University (Washington DC) in 2007. He is now Emeritus Professor of Psychology at UCD.

His interests include the cultural psychology of self and identity, psychology and philosophy of the visual arts, and psychological dimensions of society and social/cultural policy. Following the inspiration of intellectual mentors like William James and John Dewey, Benson has long been interested in the pragmatic contribution of ideas to ideals of the public good. His own loves include gardens, birds and jazz.

Benson has been intimately involved in Irish cultural policy formation since the late 1970s. As well as developing the first national framework for the arts in Irish education in 1978  (The Place of the Arts in Irish Education, Dublin, The Arts Council, 1979), he was also the founding Chairman of the Irish Film Institute (1980-84) and of the City Arts Centre in Dublin (1985-91). He chaired Arts Council inquiries into music and education (Deaf Ears, 1985) and arts in the community (Art and the Ordinary, 1989).

He was appointed Chairman of the Irish Arts Council/An Chomhairle Ealaíon - the body entrusted by Government to fund all contemporary arts in Ireland - by the Irish Government in 1993 on the recommendation of the then Minister for Arts, now President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins. During his five-year tenure (1993-98) he and the council favoured an evidence-based cultural democratic approach to arts policy-making. Amongst other initiatives, the Council produced the first ever Arts Plan for Ireland (The Arts Plan, 1995-1997), as well as research reports on the arts and society including Joe Durkan's The Economics of the Arts In Ireland (1994), Paula Clancy et al's the Public and the Arts: A Survey of Behaviour and Attitudes in Ireland (1994), a major review of theatre (Views of Theatre in Ireland, 1995), Poverty: Access and Participation in the Arts (1997) funded jointly with Combat Poverty, as well as reports on dance, film, art & disability, and the role of local authorities in arts funding. With Sir Donnell Deeny and Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith he helped envisage and establish The Ireland Chair of Poetry. The budget for contemporary arts in Ireland doubled during those five years.

He has been a director of, amongst other things, The Gate Theatre, The Wexford Festival Opera, the Lewis Glucksman Gallery in University College Cork, The Irish Museums Trust. With Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith, he initiated and chaired the programming committee for 'Island - Arts from Ireland: A Kennedy Center Festival', in Washington DC (May 13-28 2000). He curated the In the Time of Shaking exhibition in support of Amnesty International in the Irish Museum of Modern Art (May 2004), and edited the accompanying book In the Time of Shaking: Irish Artists for Amnesty International (Dublin, Art for Amnesty, 2004). He has twice served as a judge for the Architectural Association of Ireland annual awards, and has served on many other academic and cultural panels. Benson is a member of the International Association of Art Critics (AICA).

He has written extensively on psychology, philosophy and education, as well as on cultural policy and art criticism. His books include The Cultural Psychology of Self: Place Morality and Art in Human Worlds (London/New York, Routledge, 2001) and The Absorbed Self: Pragmatism, Psychology and Aesthetic Experience (London, Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1993).  Recent/current publications include commentaries/chapters on Brian O'Doherty/Patrick Ireland (The Dublin Review of Books, Spring, 2011), Ian Paisley (Praeger, 2010), the idea of secular 'spirituality' (University of Notre Dame Press, 2012), visual art, neuro-culture and identity (Rodopi, 2012), phantasy and memory in the work of Richard Wollheim (Praeger, 2013), and ideas on possible radical changes to memory and identity likely to be enabled by coming technologies of 'art' in the twenty-first century (Cambridge University Press, 2013).

He has been an ESRI Research Fellow, a Fellow of the Salzburg Seminar, A Royal Irish Academy-British Academy Exchange Fellow, A Fulbright Fellow, a UCD President's Research Fellow and a Fellow of the Stone Theory Institute Chicago. He is an Honorary Life Member of the Irish Film Institute and a Fellow of the Psychological Society of Ireland.