Samstag, 4. Februar 2012 Anthony Collins: What is #Critical #Psychology?

Anthony Collins: What is critical psychology?

Before we ask "What is Critical Psychology?" perhaps we should ask "why?" Why is Critical Psychology? Why does it exist?

Before it is a theory, a method, or a body of knowledge, Critical Psychology is an attitude - and let it be said, a bad attitude: a disrespect for authority, an uneasy suspicion that something is wrong. And no matter how often we are told that things are not so bad, that it is all on the very verge of finally being fixed, that all we need to do is complete the proper research or perfect the necessary technique, the unshakable feeling remains something is seriously amiss.

We refuse to let this rest, because what is wrong is not simply a mistake, a conceptual error, a lack of data, or the failure to implement the necessary programme, but something far deeper and more serious. The world is full of suffering, alienation, brutality and neglect, and psychology has responded with a erratic combination of ineffectual concern, willful ignorance and willing collaboration. This intolerable situation lead us to the first principle: Critical Psychology is ethical practice, a response to a principled outrage.

Why does this concern drive us to Critical Psychology? Because psychology offers, or claims to offer, or we were once young and naive enough to believe offered, a sustained attempt to intervene in the problems of human unhappiness, to make people's lives better. Now we are not so sure. We still believe that experience is important, and that human existence cannot simply be reduced to the abstract concepts of economics, politics, sociology, or any of the biological sciences. Thus we remain committed to the discipline which (sometimes) takes seriously the understanding of human experience. But from this point we begin to diverge from most traditional psychology on one fundamental issue: experience cannot be understood in isolation, cannot be understood in terms of internal processes or mechanisms inside the individual. The fundamental problem of psychology is that it tends to focus on these inner workings to the exclusion of the surrounding relationships, the interconnections between individuals and their broader environment. Thus our second principle: Critical Psychology is a contextual psychology, that attempts to understand people in their social and material worlds.

But why is this a Critical Psychology rather than, say, a social, or cultural or community psychology? Because it is not just an attempt to fill a gap within psychology, to map out some neglected area, but to fundamentally challenge the foundations on which the discipline in built. Psychology does not know what it is doing, because it does not know what it is. It is so busy doing its business that it has not been able to able to take the necessary step back to consider exactly what business it is doing. Just as it takes individuals out of context, psychology takes itself out of context - it lacks a sense of the specific social and historical conditions in which it emerged, and how those conditions shaped its concepts, methods, institutions and practices. It believes its own stories about itself because it does not know where they came from.

For the most part psychology has been uncritically built on ideas that happened to carry weight in the particular cultures in which it developed. Perhaps the two most influential, and disastrous, have been science (as the path to true knowledge) and the individual (as the way of conceptualizing people), but these ideas or are so much part our everyday commonsense that is hard to imagine thinking differently. To do this we need to examine the origins and effects of these ideas, and to try and produce alternatives.

Critical Psychology is precisely this moment of interrupting business as usual and examining psychology from the outside. The critical method entails a suspicion of accepted ideas. To do this Critical Psychology draws on many other disciplines - including history, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, politics, economics and everything that can be called cultural studies, including feminism, postcolonial studies, critical race theory, science studies, and all manner of post-structuralisms. Thus Critical Psychology is transdisciplinary: it is both inside and outside of psychology, it borrows and steals useful concepts from wherever they may be found, and it deliberately attempts to make conceptual connections with critical approaches outside the field.

Critical Psychology has a double meaning: a critique of psychology, and a critical way of doing psychology. The aim is not to destroy psychology but to transform it to the point where it can become what it claims to be: simultaneously a rigorous way of understanding people, and a caring profession. It is not the enemy of psychology, nor its sibling, but rather its conscience: the insistence voice of self reflection that will not rest until psychology lives up to its own best principles. Thus we can state the final principle: Critical Psychology is critique as method and goal: neither nihilism nor idealism, but a sustained and systematic attempt to transform through critical analysis.
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