Provocative Containment and the Drift of Social-Scientific Realism

Javier Lezaun, Fabian Muniesa, Signe Vikkelsø

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


The post-World War II period gave rise to a large number of social-scientific techniques for investigating and intervening in social reality. A particular group of these, exemplified here by the experiments of Moreno, Lewin, Bion, Milgram and Zimbardo, worked by establishing suggestive micro-realities in which participants were exposed to, or experimented with, selected ‘social problems’. We investigate the nature of these techniques – being simultaneously highly artificial and disturbingly realistic – and propose the notion of ‘provocative containment’ to understand their operation and effects. We point to five ingredients of their characteristic mode of operation – expressionism, incitement, trauma, distillation and technology – and argue that they do not serve to represent a simplified version of social reality, but rather to ‘realize’ particular forms of social life intrinsic to the medium of provocative containment.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Cultural Economy
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)278-293
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Experimental Methods in the Social Sciences
  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental Psychology
  • Jacob L. Moreno
  • Kurt Lewin
  • Stanley Milgram
  • Wilfred Bion
  • Philip G. Zimbardo
  • Realism
  • Social Reality
  • Provocation

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