1997 (first edition)
Dennis Fox & Isaac Prilleltensky
London: Sage Publications
This page provides the editors' introductions to all 19 chapters.
Teaching Note | Book Contents | Reviews | Buy
See Table of Contents of Second Edition (2009)
Publisher-requested copyright notice: "Editorial Arrangement and Preface copyright Dennis Fox and Isaac Prilleltensky
1997. Excerpts reproduced here with permission from the publishers. All rights reserved. Users are permitted to view, print and download
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A Note on Teaching Critical Psychology
This book is used in critical psychology courses around the world. For examples of its use as a main
text with accompanying readings, see Ian Parker's course
pack, posted with other Critical
Psychology Teaching Materials (course syllabi, reading lists, other
resources) at RadPsyNet.org.
Also published in Greek and Indonesian translation.
The second edition scheduled for 2009 is substantially revised, with chapters on topics not included in the first edition.
Introducing Critical Psychology: Values, Assumptions and the Status
Critical psychology and traditional psychology differ in fundamental
ways. In this chapter we explain what we mean by "critical psychology"
and describe the subject matter of Critical Psychology: An Introduction.
We contrast mainstream psychology's values, assumptions, concerns,
and objectives with those of a critical psychology that emphasizes
social justice and human welfare. As the chapter explains, we
believe that psychology's traditional practices and norms hinder
social justice, to the detriment of individuals and communities
in general and of oppressed groups in particular.
Chapter 1 identifies controversial issues that later chapters develop
in several ways. There is no way around this sort of controversy,
because critical psychology is inherently value-laden, not value-free.
It aims to change society just as it aims to change psychology.
But, as you will discover throughout this book, mainstream psychology
is also inherently value-laden. It seeks to maintain things essentially
as they are, supporting societal institutions that reinforce unjust
and unsatisfying conditions.
Psychology is not, and cannot be, a neutral endeavour conducted
by scientists and practitioners detached from social and political
circumstances. It is a human and social endeavour. Psychologists
live in specific social contexts. They are influenced by differing
interests and complex power dynamics. Mainstream psychologists too
often shy away from the resulting moral, social, and political implications.
This book asks you to think about these implications as you make
your way in the discipline of psychology.
Repoliticizing the History of Psychology
Critical historians remind us that historical accounts are not
neutral. That is, historians select which events to recount and
they choose among competing analytical interpretations. They make
subjective choices about what is significant and what is not, choices
that affect how people view the present as well as the past. For
example, the history taught in schools focuses attention on some
historical details and interpretations while omitting or explaining
away others. This process typically strengthens mainstream beliefs
in the larger society's values, myths, and current public policies.
As Benjamin Harris demonstrates in Chapter 2, traditional histories
of psychology play a similar role: they strengthen psychology's
status quo and discredit challenges to dominant views. By celebrating
psychology as a strictly scientific discipline, progressing in linear
fashion to help society through value-free research, these histories
ignore the role of ideological and political factors in psychology's
evolution. Using illustrative case examples, some of which appear
again in other chapters, Harris presents the other side of the story.
He shows how research and knowledge are infused with political interests,
how the social context shapes research topics, how conceptions of
the Good Life and the Good Society inform practice, and how power
dynamics influence the evolution of the discipline.
In a cautionary note, Harris warns critical psychologists against
oversimplifying in the other direction. Although it is tempting
to blame specific individuals for psychology's injustices, particularly
psychologists whose influential work deserves criticism, injustice
results from social forces more powerful than any single individual.
Fortunately, recent histories typify what Harris calls the New History
of Psychology. This scholarship includes crucial contributions by
feminist thinkers critical of traditional histories that discount
women's experiences. Similar influences of feminism on critical
psychology are noted by other authors throughout this book.
Qualitative Inquiry in Psychology: A Radical Tradition
Louise H. Kidder &
Psychology's claim to be a legitimate science led it to emulate
the hard sciences' laboratory methods and statistical analyses.
The "positivist" goal was to identify cause-and-effect relations
among isolated variables that the experimenter could control. Success
would enable psychology to "predict and control" behavior in people
defined as "subjects" to manipulate. Seeking legitimacy, psychology
discarded its traditions of qualitative, interpretive, "softer"
methods that examined behavior in the less tidy real world. In Chapter
3, Louise H. Kidder and Michelle Fine remind us of the history
and potential of qualitative methods.
As several chapters in this book point out, mainstream psychology's
traditional research practices can sometimes advance critical psychology's
goals, as by quantifying the existence of inequality. Yet narrowly
focused hypothesis-driven research often misses sources and consequences
of injustice that open-ended qualitative methods expose. Reintroduced
to psychology by feminists and others over the past two decades,
qualitative methods have regained some of their earlier appeal.
Positivist approaches, however, remain dominant. In most areas of
psychology, researchers seeking to use qualitative methods still
must satisfy skeptical funding sources, hard-nosed dissertation
and hiring committees, and editors who lack experience with alternative
Qualitative researchers seek not to manipulate "subjects" but to
hear the voice of "participants" who join our search for knowledge
and justice. They listen to what people say about their problems
and, explicitly or implicitly, about the Good Life and the Good
Society. By amplifying the voice of participants, qualitative researchers
promote the values of self-determination and human diversity. Through
dialogue with participants about the meanings of the data, they
foster collaboration and democratic participation. In worrying about
participants' well being, they show caring and compassion. Thus,
Kidder and Fine point not only to the merits of qualitative approaches
in fully and accurately describing the human condition; they also
emphasize the ethics of research, a defining feature of critical
Ethics in Psychology: Cui Bono?
Laura S. Brown
To the naive observer, professional ethics should be about a discipline's
moral implications, about the harmful and beneficial effects of
theories and practices on individuals and societies. But this is
a naive view indeed. Organizations of professionals such as doctors
and lawyers devise codes of ethics that protect the professional
at least as much as they protect the public. As pointed out in Chapters
1 and 2, detrimental outcomes in psychology do not necessarily reflect
malevolent intent by psychologists, but they are injurious nonetheless.
In Chapter 4, Laura S. Brown clarifies how psychology's professional
ethics codes primarily serve the interests of professional psychologists.
Brown demonstrates how power and control in professional interactions
are held primarily by the psychologist. Similarly, decision making
processes concerning ethics are governed by professional bodies
with little input from the public. Significantly, the moral dimension
of ethics codes is based largely on individual ethics: the codes
regulate the micro-ethics of the therapeutic relationship but neglect
social ethical issues such as oppression, discrimination, and inequality.
Since the codes generally assume that harm derives from the aberrant
behavior of a few unscrupulous psychologists, they conveniently
exclude more subtle violations such as the perpetuation of power
inequalities and the deleterious effects of labeling people. This
chapter challenges the notion of science as the ultimate good, denounces
legitimized power inequalities, and decries ethics codes that adopt
Disillusioned with existing codes in psychology, feminists affiliated
with the Feminist Therapy Institute began to create their own code
in the 1980s to explicitly and proactively address issues of oppression,
exploitation, discrimination, accountability, and social change.
Brown points out the benefits, as well as the difficulties, of trying
to create an ethics code that takes ethics seriously.
Understanding and Practicing Critical Psychology
Becoming involved in critical psychology is not just an intellectual
endeavour, but a personal one as well. How do I nurture critical
impulses? How do I cope with opposition from colleagues and friends
whose views I challenge? Where can I find support for my critical
views? In Chapter 5, David Nightingale and Tor Neilands help
us connect the personal and the political.
Criticizing the institutions where we work and study is not easy.
Changing those institutions is even harder, as those who depart
from mainstream norms often find out rather quickly. Being critical
can lead to resistance, opposition, and isolation. But as Nightingale
and Neilands point out, others often share our reservations about
the mainstream, even if they keep their views to themselves. Drawing
on their personal experiences as volunteer organizers in organizations
of critical psychologists, the authors offer the newcomer helpful
hints about how to find and work with others toward becoming critical
One of the practical barriers to understanding critical psychology
is language: critical psychologists often use complex philosophical
concepts to explain and justify their departures from the mainstream.
In this chapter, Nightingale and Neilands clarify the significance
of key concepts such as ontology, epistemology, methodology, empiricism
and positivism. Understanding this terminology can help us understand
why critical psychologists object to psychology's view of the world,
of knowledge, and of how we should examine the world. The chapter,
thus, provides a framework that helps place in context discussions
in other chapters.
Buy the Book
Reviews I've seen range from generally positive to entirely positive.
All the reviewers recommend the book.
Dan Aalbers (2000). Canadian Psychology, 41, 75-76.
Ben Anderson (1999). Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychiology,
Bob Burden (1998). British Journal of Educational Psychology, 68,
Angela R. Febbraro (1999). Theory & Psychology, 9, 716-718.
Christine Griffin (1998). British Journal of Educational Psychology,
Ann Llewellyn (1997, Autumn). History and Philosophy of Psychology
Newsletter, 25, 24-26.
John Rowan (1998, November). Self & Society, 26 (5), 53-54.
Tholene Sodi (1999). Towards a liberatory psychology. Annual Review
of Critical Psychology, 1, 171-174 [Review Essay].
Jeremy Swinson (2000). Mentoring and Tutoring, 8:2.
My response to the Burden and Griffin
reviews was published in the BJEP with the two reviews.