Dirk Lindebaum

Understanding emotions in everyday life

What would life be like without emotions? One possible response is that life without emotions would lack purpose, individual or social identities, and motivations to improve individual and collective well-being, including all the struggles we experience to negotiate the inner (individual) well as outer (social) worlds. Simply put, in an emotionless life, we would fail to engage with the world.

As an engineer-turned emotion researcher, I am interested in better understanding emotions in everyday life in order to help individuals and social groups live a good and happy live. The expediency of pursuing engineering degrees previously could only trump the emotional paleness of these degrees up to a certain moment in time. There is not much fun in writing exams on soil mechanics, mechanics, statics or waste management. Deterred by the prospect of an emotionless professional future, I gradually developed a wider curiosity for diverse notions, constructs, methods and controversies, an appetence for learning and searching for specific ways of justifying and understanding (often controversial) individual and organizational phenomena with emotional connotations.

It is safe to say that it was this curiosity – and its intensity is unabated – that led me to focus on how a better understanding of emotions in everyday life can help individuals and social groups live a good and happy live. However, this has nothing to do with positive psychology and its prescriptive emphasis upon positivity as often advocated by researchers and consultants alike. On the contrary, instead of a simple aspiration toward happiness (a mere glossing over), the development of a deeper understanding of what gives us pain (very, very broadly conceived) is an important precondition for individual and societal happiness. Can there be happiness in the presence of lasting pain?

I maintain that a better understanding of the causes and consequences of emotions – as well as the processes linking them – offers enormous therapeutic value for a happy and good life. For example, when our jobs prescribe certain ways of behaviour that are at odds with our preferred ways of behaviour, or when social attitudes toward the expression of a specific emotion deny its very socially important function. That is, social norms sometimes cast the public expression of anger in a negative light, even though it is vital for corrective action against injustice and unfairness to take place. Finally, guilt and shame are key to social control (imagine being shamed into higher performance by having a cabbage placed on your desk). In these instances, the prospect of being publicly shamed can generate fears of being excluded from a social group. And where there is control, power and resistance are always lurking in its shadow.

But studying emotions also taught me some lessons about my own engagement with the world; they provide the moral compass to steer attention to scientific claims that require ethical debate. This has been the starting point for my sceptical engagement with what has come to be known as organizational neuroscience. The knowledge claims associated with some of the advocating studies – if accepted at face value – have the potential to adversely affect individuals at work and beyond (e.g., when studies pathologise otherwise ‘healthy’ individuals for their lack or inspirational leadership potential). I felt awkward and angry about the emancipatory imbalance between researchers and the ‘subjects’ they study, especially if researchers carelessly use words such as ‘brain profile deficiency’. And the emancipatory imbalance is likely to deteriorate further vis-à-vis the lack of appropriate data protection governing the collection, analysis and storage of commercially used neuro-data.

    Academic Positions

    • -04/2016

      Professor in Management & Organisation

      Cardiff Business School

    • 12/201510/2015

      Visiting Full Professor

      Hanken School of Economics

    • 03/201612/2012

      Reader in Management

      University of Liverpool Management School

    • 11/201204/2012

      Senior Lecturer in Management

      University of Liverpool Management School

    • 03/201210/2010

      Lecturer in Management

      University of Liverpool Management School

    • 12/200911/2009

      Visiting research fellow

      Griffith University (AUS)

    • 09/201011/2008

      Post-Doctoral Fellow in Organisational Psychology

      Manchester Business School

    Education & Training

    • Ph.D 2008

      Ph.D in Organisational Psychology (ESRC-funded)

      Manchester Business School

    • MSc 2004

      MSc Construction Project Management (distinction)

      London South Bank University

    • Dipl.-Ing 2002

      Dipl.-Ing. (FH) Civil Engineering

      University of Applied Science Münster (GER)


    • 2004: Ph.D Studentship (Manchester Business School)
    • 2006: Campion Grant (Statistical Society of Manchester)
    • 2005 - 2007: ESRC Ph.D Studentship
    • 2005 - 2007: Northern Leadership Academy Fellowship
    • 2011: Seed-Corn fund (ULMS)
    • 2013 & 2014: NARTI-funded PhD seminars
    • 2017: Society for the Advancement of Management Studies (SAMS) Grant to run NARTI writer workshop (with C. Gatrell)