The Magic of Social Life

January 28, 2021

This is an edited version of Dr. Brian Rappert’s work, The Magic of Social Life, which can be found in full on his site here.


SPIN is proud to feature the latest work of our long-time member, Dr. Brian Rappert, and his journey over the last few years learning entertainment magic. In light of his hard work, he has produced a series of magic shows for the general public. In the sessions below, he uses the play of secrecy, disclosure and deception in magic to discuss the role of secrecy, disclosure and deception in art, science, war and everyday life. This series employs magic as a way of illustrating theories and concepts in the social sciences as well as using those theories and concepts as ways of appreciating magic as a form of social interaction. Follow along through the summaries and videos below:




This video considers the possibility for witnessing. Rather than understanding witnessing only as a physical ability, we discuss it as a social accomplishment. To describe it in this way is to suggest what counts as correct, astute, proper, etc. witnessing is matter that is worked out through interactions between people.





Secrecy has often been defined as a form of intentional concealment. Concealment and secrecy are, in turn, often thought about as the polar opposite to disclosure and transparency. In practice, however, these notions are often entangled. This video undertaken with members of the University of the Third Age (Exeter) explores some of the ways audiences and magicians orientate to concealment and revelation. The effect followed on directly from the one in ‘Witnessing’ video, so watch that one first.





Labels, distinctions and classifications are indispensable in making sense of what is taking place around us. In this video, students at the University of Exeter and I illustrate the ways in which apparent opposites can be entangled together. The card handling is taken from the ‘Happiness’ effect in the book Verbal Magic by Juan Tamariz (with permission). Before watching the video, please get out a deck of playing cards, because this is one you can do yourself!





When situations in life do not work out as planned, what can come to the fore is a sense of the vulnerability that underpins all social relations. The Duality effect involved coordinated action between the participants and I in order to achieve a surprising result: the creation of order in the midst of apparent chaos. This clip involves same effect — ‘Happiness’ by Juan Tamariz. This video starts near the culmination of the effect. However the outcome achieved is very different. No one’s cards are in the correct order.





How do some people become regarded as skillful? What qualities do others look for in order base their judgements? This video with students at the University of Exeter explores how the display of skill is linked to judgements about the skillfulness of varied forms of performers.



Challenge is integral to many situations in life. When a teacher, comedian, or politician stands up in front others, then contests, disruptions and objections can be welcomed because they serve to enhance the overall performance. Or at least challenge can work in this way. The trick is that what counts as going ‘too far’ can be uncertain, shifting and a matter of disagreement.




As considered in this video with students at the University of Exeter, bullshit can be understood as much more pervasive. Sociologist and social psychologists have long been interested in the tactful words, discretion, and other ways of maintaining polite fictions are commonplace in social interactions. As in common responses to the everyday greeting ‘How are you?’, setting aside concerns for the truth can be one way of promote harmonious relations.




As a way to bring out the mutual dependency between audiences and magicians, the Reciprocity video presents an effect that each participant from the University of the Third Age (Exeter) was able to do for themselves in their own home. Before watching the video, please get out a deck of playing cards and take part yourself!



Funding for The Magic of Social Life was provided under a small grant from the ESRC Festival of Social Science, with additional support from the University of Exeter. You can find full details, articles, and videos of Brian’s research and magic over at his interactive site here. You can also hear him further discuss learning entertainment magic in his featured SPIN blog here.


%d bloggers like this: