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Psychology, society and Subjectivity traces the history and development of German critical psychology. Its author, Charles Tolman, charts the.
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As Young explains, the causes of oppression "are embedded in unquestioned norms, habits, and symbols, in the assumptions underlying institutional rules and the collective consequences of following those rules" , p. When we invoke emancipation, we refer to the person's life opportunities as they relate to power Teo, a. Liberation involves a dialectical relationship between "subjective experience" and "power".

As psychologists dealing with subjective experience, it is essential that we concern ourselves with power. Similar to the definition of oppression, emancipation can be conceptualized both as a state and a process that includes psychological and political dimensions. Emancipation is the experience of symmetric power relations characterized by equitable and respectful alliances between persons, communities, and nations whereby people are free from internal and external sources of oppression and free to express and explore their physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual human qualities.

This notion of emancipation builds on Fromm's dual conception of freedom; freedom from social and psychological sources of oppression, and freedom to pursue one's objectives in life. Freedom from social oppression entails the experience of liberation from class exploitation, gender domination, and ethnic discrimination, for instance. Freedom from internal and psychological sources includes overcoming fears, obsessions, or other psychological phenomena that interfere with a person's subjective experience of well-being.

The promotion of freedom and the elimination of oppression are foundational concepts for critical psychology. These foci derive from diverse but converging traditions, not only within psychology, but in other disciplines as well. We briefly review the origins of critical psychology in order to understand its present challenges. Diverse Origins: Critical Theory.

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The Frankfurt Institute of Social Research, founded in , was the place where the concept of a critical theory emerged. The work that came from the Frankfurt school in Germany is often cited in the published literature as having played a prominent role in critical psychology.

The first generation of Frankfurt school theorists Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse, Loewenthal, Pollock, and Fromm sought to establish a social science that went beyond the positivist tradition and thus criticized the very status, structure and goal of traditional social science Geuss, ; Teo, Concerned with "critically reexamining the basic assumptions on which Western civilization had been founded so that a more adequate theory and a more emancipatory practice could emerge" Sampson, , p.

As the following quote describes, The eradication of subjectivity, they believed, was a betrayal of the promise of modernity, which was itself predicated on the belief that the augmentation of science and technology would improve human control over nature and produce more freedom, individuality, and happiness. The second generation of critical theorists included Habermas, a thinker whose work profoundly influenced the social sciences, especially psychology Sloan, According to Habermas, there are three interests served by knowledge seeking: a technical control, b interpretive understanding, and c emancipatory interest Sloan, ; Sullivan, The emancipatory interest, which is of particular interest in the work of critical psychology, seeks not only to explain or understand, but to enhance human agency in order to modify conditions of systematic suffering.

Critical theory is an exploration of human and social phenomena that seeks to understand the ways in which our categories of thought reduce our freedom by providing only a partial recognition of what could be Calhoun, According to Geuss, "a critical theory, then, is a reflective theory which gives agents a kind of knowledge inherently productive of enlightenment and emancipation" Geuss, , p.

Critical theory has significantly influenced the development of all critical subdisciplines in the social sciences. It has been helpful in critical psychology as it has prompted the field to go beyond the traditional focus on the self-contained individual. German Critical Psychology Although it is an important precursor of critical psychology, the contributions of German Critical Psychology are sometimes unrecognized.

Much of the work that was done in Germany remained inaccessible to English speakers until the recent works of Dreier , Tolman and Maiers , Tolman , and Teo b. German critical psychology emerged in the context of radical political and social movements in the s and s.

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Critical psychology at that time identified the inherent weakness of psychology as what Holzkamp defined as psychology's reliance on the wrong philosophy of science. In contrast to the empirico-deductive model of accessing psychological knowledge, Holzkamp suggested that a critical psychology should use a social constructivist approach. This approach still worked with the experimental method but rather than believing that psychological knowledge could be attained or accessed through the observation of behaviour in an experimental setting, Holzkamp suggested that psychological knowledge was constructed through the observation of behaviour in an experimental setting.

In the social and political context of Post-War West Germany, challenging the status quo in society by critiquing traditional structures and procedures was quite common. The student movement of the time was reminding people that academic and scientific knowledge had failed during the Nazi regime; that there was no such thing as value neutrality or abstention from value judgement Teo, Holzkamp's work in critical psychology at this time established the link between psychological issues and societal goals by questioning the relevance of psychology in the practical domain, identifying problems with traditional psychological methodology, and disclosing psychology's ideological assumptions Teo, b.

South-American liberation psychology was developed based on the philosophical and historical underpinnings of liberation theology. What made liberation theology different from most academic theology was its connection to grassroots movements. The socio-political context that marked the starting point for a liberation theology was the fact of widespread poverty. As Rigoberta Menchu, Nobel Peace Prize laureate for her struggles in Guatemala asserts: "as Christians, we have understood that being a Christian means refusing to accept all the injustices which are committed against our people" Menchu, , p.

Liberation theology was an active critique of how social structures like the Christian church treated the poor. It was explicitly concerned with having an impact on the experiences of oppression of the people of Latin-America. Liberation was the motivation for and the outcome of pastoral work. Similarly, liberation psychology emerged as an attempt to reinterpret mainstream psychology in light of the experiences of people who were disadvantaged; to criticize society and its ideologies from a psychological perspective; and to observe and comment on the practices of psychology and psychologists.

Latin-American psychologist Martin-Baro proposed a psychology that openly concerned itself with ending oppression and promoting emancipation. In contrast to mainstream psychology, a liberation psychology is one that is historically grounded, that does not abstract its subjects from their social and political contexts, that is not individualistic, and that locates the sources of values, motivations and behaviours in the dialectical relationships between person, community, and society Vazques Ortega, From the perspective of liberation psychology, "there is no person without family, no learning without culture, no madness without social order; and therefore neither can there be an I without a we, a knowing without a symbolic system, a disorder that does not have reference to moral and social norms" Martin-Baro, , p.

Critical discourses in the s indicated a shift away from Marxism toward postmodernism. Disappointed by the failure of Marxist social utopias, many French and German postmodern philosophers moved to new ideas Teo, The advent of postmodernism particularly in Europe marked a recognition that the project of modernity had not been realized to an extent that would make a liberated or emancipated subjectivity possible. Postmodernists recognized and worked from the idea that this assumption needed to be rejected. By providing evidence that the particular interests of certain groups were erroneously being presented as universal, and that modern science was being misused and abused to legitimate the preferences of powerful groups at the expense of the interests of less powerful groups, postmodernists developed their critique of all-encompassing social theories of all sorts Teo, ; Rosenau, Consequently, postmodernism's critical analysis of the way power is used in the very process of developing theories, rendered questionable the critical project to develop a grand theory of human liberation Teo, a.

Changing the subject: Psychology, social regulation and subjectivity is a book often cited as having marked a turning point for a critical understanding of psychology. Henriques, Hollway, Urwin, Venn and Walkerdine use the concepts of poststructuralism to discuss psychology's insistence on the split between individual and society, and how this has contributed to perpetuating oppression rather than promoting emancipation in psychology. The distinctive feature of this work is that it does not conceptualize mainstream psychology as a direct force of oppression that constrains and enchains individuals.

Rather, as this quote clearly states, psychology, Has helped to constitute the very form of modern individuality. Psychology is productive: it does not simply bias or distort or incarcerate helpless individuals in oppressive institutions. It regulates, classifies and administers; it produces those regulative devices which form us as objects of child development, schooling, welfare agencies, medicine, multicultural education, personnel practices and so forth. Furthermore, psychology's implication in our modern form of individuality means that it constitutes subjectivities as well as objects.

Henriques et al. This kind of psychologically reinforced explanation for unemployment perpetuates the status quo: the individual labeled unemployable can be trained in interpersonal skills either by a psychologist or by psychological instruments but this does not increase the number of available jobs in any way. The emergence of community psychology in North-America has contributed to setting the stage for contemporary critical psychology in its attempt to move beyond the ahistorical, asocial, and value neutral assumptions of mainstream psychology Sarason, ; Sampson, In the Western cultural context, which can be characterized as a place of extreme individualism, community psychology's critique of society and psychology centered on the notion of community as something that had been lost or forgotten.

Community psychology was therefore developed in response to the growing sense of disempowerment and alienation that an individualistic mainstream psychology was ineffective in challenging. Community psychology aligned itself with other social movements such as the feminist movement and the civil rights movement. This is clear in Latin America, where community psychologists work alongside the poor to ameliorate their plight Fuks, Because as psychologists our focus is on human problems, it goes without saying that we need to pay attention to social problems.

This author went on to say that sexism, racism and class exploitation are risk factors in human problems but have been largely unexamined in mainstream psychology. Feminist theory recognizes and emphasizes the fact that "women's experiences are important, and the validity of women's perceptions must be known and valued" Brown, , p. There are many different kinds of feminism that focus on a variety of issues.

Feminist psychology has critiqued mainstream psychology's exclusion of women as psychological subjects and creators of psychological knowledge.

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Furthermore, it has been critical of biologism in mainstream psychology because it has had the effect of representing women's inferior position in society as biologically determined and therefore unchangeable. Feminist psychology has used the underlying principles of feminism to create a space for a feminist approach within the practice of mainstream psychology. In feminist psychology, the feminist goal of working toward equity and social justice is interwoven with mainstream psychology's goal of further understanding human activity and experience with the intention of improving mental health.

Although the feminist contribution to critical psychology has been remarkable, it has not often been acknowledged as such. The following quote describes the tension that exists between feminist psychology and critical psychology, "critical social psychology appropriates and assimilates theoretical advances of feminist psychology without due recognition of the political visions which inform and energize it" Wilkinson, , p. As the author suggests, feminist work in the area of the gendered identity is not merely an intellectual exercise, it is motivated by the political imperative to improve women's lives.

This is not meant to imply that only people who have experienced discrimination directly should work for the elimination of oppression. Rather, it is meant as a reminder that white men still represent the wide majority of people working in critical psychology. It is still they who define psychological knowledge.

Anti-racism in psychology is still emerging as a critical interrogation of the racist foundations of psychological knowledge and practice. As one author points out, "the modern concept of race was constructed pseudo-scientifically within the context of European colonization and conquest in order to justify, within a systematic ideology, inhuman practices" Teo, , p.

Scientific support for racism began with Galton, the founder of the eugenics movement Sarason, , p. Anti-racism educator George Dei defines anti-racism as a "critical discourse of race and racism in society and of the continuing racializing of social groups for differential and unequal treatment. Anti-racism explicitly names the issues of race and social difference as issues of power and equity rather than as matters of cultural and ethnic variety" , p. Critical psychology needs to be further inspired by anti-racism in order that our work may reflect the lived experiences and historically situated realities of diverse groups in society.

The diverse traditions within critical psychology pull the field into different directions. Each school of thought confers benefits as well as risks upon the emerging movement. Postmodern theory challenges dogmatic discourses and values the importance of identity, context and diversity. At the same time, it faces the risks of social and political retreatism, as well as skepticism and a lack of moral vision. German critical psychology advocates rigorous theoretical and empirical research but has not entirely broken outside of the academe and into the community.

Feminist, anti-racist, and community psychology do venture into social action but are not immune to theoretical inconsistencies Jaggar, In the case of community psychology, for instance, there is a risk of collaborating with the establishment in launching and evaluating programs that divert attention from injustice and structural oppression.

The challenge for critical psychologists, we maintain, is to integrate the most promising features of each tradition with the common aim of eliminating oppressive practices in both psychology and in society at large. In order to meet this challenge we need some guidelines. How are we to decide what features of each tradition foster or detract from the common aim of eliminating oppression and promoting emancipation? We need a set of criteria for praxis. The criteria we suggest entail reaching a balance of a academic and grounded input, b understanding and action, c processes and outcomes, and d differing and unequal voice.

Academic discourse is useful in unveiling hidden assumptions about psychology and about culture but we must acknowledge the fact that academics occupy a particular location in society, typically one of privilege. Most critical psychologists are academics who are concerned with the welfare of oppressed populations. Their well-meaning intentions notwithstanding, they risk prescribing what disadvantaged people need in the absence of consultation with the people themselves. This is why we need to balance rigorous academic analysis with grounded input; input that will complement what theoreticians and researchers believe is a better state of affairs for a particular population.

Philosophers in particular face the risk of depicting ideal scenarios that are out of touch with the experiences of most people in society. On the other hand, psychology all too often tries to read back its descriptions of behaviour into commonsense and into the activities of every other culture, and it is tempting then to respond by drawing the boundaries of the discipline all the more carefully, and to show its utter irrelevance to life outside the laboratory.


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We may urge colleagues doing psychological research to be a little less oppressive and so to carry out their experiments, for example, in strictly circumscribed settings and to claim nothing of relevance for them beyond the subject group on which they were carried out. Psychology is nourished by ordinary explanations of mental goings on, and it digests commonsense before regurgitating it as something pretending to be extraordinary.

What people know is taken from them and fed back to them, and one of the ways this academic food chain can be broken is through people becoming self-sufficient producers who refuse to privilege psychological knowledge as if it were manna from the skies. Critical psychology is then, fourthly,. The engagement with forms of everyday explanation that people use to make sense of themselves risks miring us in the worse of relativism, but we must take that risk if we are to open up political contradictions that lie at the heart of personal life.

Theory need be no more mysterious than psychology, and those involved in critical psychology will need a good deal of theory to make sense of what is going on around them. The theory we need, however, has to be rooted in the experience of those who suffer psychology and has to be linked to action to change it. We must take seriously any and every critique of psychology, any and every challenge to ideology and power, for it is only on that basis that we will be able to link the variety of radical activities inside and outside, in and against the discipline and to construct a field of debate where different theoretical positions and practical initiatives can be developed, discussed and elaborated.

Critical activity cannot be carried out by individuals working independently, and that is why critical psychologists need their own institutions. In that sense critical psychology should be a more theoretically intense, as well as being a more thoroughly practical endeavour. Adlam, D. Aron, A. Harvard: Harvard University Press. Basaglia, F. New York: Columbia University Press. Bassin, D. Bhavnani, K. Billig, M. London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

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Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Harris, B. Parker and R. London: Pluto Press. Henriques, J. London: Methuen. Howitt, D. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf. Ingleby, D. Pateman ed. Research in Law, Deviance and Social Control , 7, pp. Jacoby, R. Hassocks, Sussex: Harverster Press. Kitzinger, C. Laing, R. Leonard, P. London: Macmillan.

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Social Psychoanalytical Definitions - Critical Social Psychology (30/30)

Cape Town: David Philip. Pacheco, G. Guadalajara: Universidad de Guadalajara. Parker, I. Parker, L. Psychology and Social Theory , 1, pp. Psychology and Social Theory , 2, pp. Potter, J. Prilleltensky, I. Radical Science Collective Editorial. Radical Therapist Collective ed. Rat, Myth and Magic s n. Reason, P. Chichester: Wiley. Richards, B. Riley, D. Rose, N. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Sampson, E.

American Psychologist , 36, 7 , pp. Hassocks, Sussex: Harvester Press. Skelton-Robinson, M. George Kelly; another nasty liberal. Tversky, Amos; Kahneman, Daniel Although there was no fundamental download psychology society and subjectivity an introduction to german critical psychology to learning metals in the management, adults facilitated the members and funding women as king goods and discussed that they were southern for advising Facebook working.

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