Chapter Summary

Chapter 16

Critical social psychology recognises that our psychological claims about ourselves have a history and a socio-political and cultural context which advocates one particular stance while simultaneously obscuring another possible position, which is that psychology is what people do, say and feel in their everyday mundane happenings. The task of the psychologist is to place these accounts in the spotlight and to consider with our participants what alternative might be better suited to fit their agenda while recognising our responsibilities to others. For psychology students, lecturers and researchers the questions that might be asked are these: Did you come into psychology to understand theories of people? Or did you come into psychology to understand people? For a critical social psychology, most of psychology is about the former question. If the latter is what we are seeking, then the whole context of the person needs to be considered. For example, Hylton and Miller’s (2004) article about ‘black identity’ attempted to do this by recognising that our understanding is a story we can tell about ourselves because of the available ideas (academic and popular literature, artwork, music, novels, etc.) that circulate in society. Drawing on these resources, they argued that ‘black identity’ can be understood as the articulation of different dominant stories whereby certain available ‘ideas’ about identity animate people in different eras, and that in order to understand the present, recognition of the past and the socio-political context of the present is needed. They then went on to propose what might be another way of understanding black identity, taking the critical step in challenging the present for what they might see as an alternative, and possibly better, future. With our unique position as psychologists – or ‘professional human beings’ – the moral and social consequences of our account of human nature necessitates us offering a vision, being open about where we stand, and having that account subjected to moral and political evaluation, not just empirical assessment. To hide behind the idea of objectivity and science is to adopt the position of washing our hands of responsibility for our discipline, for psychology as a discipline does more than merely describe – it prescribes a reality.

            This chapter has presented critical social psychology as an alternative to mainstream social psychology, but we would like to suggest that it would be useful to import this kind of criticality into all of psychology as an aspect of how psychologists see their practice. Referring back to Koch’s quote from the methodology section: ‘from the earliest days of the experimental pioneers, man’s stipulation that psychology be adequate to science outweighed his commitment that it be adequate to man’ (Koch, 1959: 783, cited in Howard, 1985: 259), a psychology which is critical of its fundamental principles and approaches is most likely to be ‘adequate’ to man (and woman and child too, of course).