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Critical Psychology:
An Introduction

Part IIb: Critical Arenas

(Chapters 11-15)


Edited by

Dennis Fox & Isaac Prilleltensky

London: Sage Publications

Copyright notice

Book contents

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 the material for their own use only. Users may not further reproduce, store in a retrieval system, transmit or utilize in any form or by electronic or any other means, any part of the material without permission in writing from the publishers, Sage Publications Ltd."

See Table of Contents of Second Edition (scheduled for 2009)!


Part I: Critical Overviews


Introducing Critical Psychology: Values, Assumptions and the Status Quo

Isaac Prilleltensky &
Dennis Fox


Repoliticizing the History of Psychology

Benjamin Harris


Qualitative Inquiry in Psychology: A Radical Tradition

Louise H. Kidder &
Michelle Fine


Ethics in Psychology: Cui Bono?

Laura S. Brown


Understanding and Practicing Critical Psychology

David Nightingale &
Tor Neilands

Part II: Critical Arenas


Theories of Personality: Ideology and Beyond

Tod Sloan


Abnormal and Clinical Psychology: The Politics of Madness

Rachel T. Hare-Mustin &
Jeanne Marecek


A Critical Look at Intelligence Research

Zack Z. Cernovsky


Developmental Psychology and its Discontents

Erica Burman


Social Psychology: The Crisis Continues

S. Mark Pancer


Community Psychology: Reclaiming Social Justice

Isaac Prilleltensky &
Geoffrey Nelson


Cross Cultural Psychology: The Frustrated Gadfly's Promises, Potentialities and Failures

Fathali M. Moghaddam &
Charles Studer


Lesbian and Gay Psychology: A Critical Analysis

Celia Kitzinger


Psychology and Law: Justice Diverted

Dennis Fox


Political Psychology: A Critical Perspective

Maritza Montero

Part III: Critical Theories


Feminist Psychology

Sue Wilkinson


Critical Theory, Postmodernism, and Hermeneutics: Insights for Critical Psychology

Frank C. Richardson &
Blaine J. Fowers


Discursive Psychology

Ian Parker

Part IV: Critical Reflections


A Critical Look at Critical Psychology: Elaborating the Questions

Julian Rappaport &
Eric Stewart


Part I

Critical Overviews

Part II

Critical Arenas (Chapters 6-10)


Community Psychology: Reclaiming Social Justice

Isaac Prilleltensky &

Geoffrey Nelson



As we shift our focus to newer, less traditional subfields that arose or expanded in the turbulent 1960s and 1970s, we are more likely to discover disillusionment with mainstream psychology's individualistic assumptions. This is especially the case for community psychology, as Isaac Prilleltensky and Geoffrey Nelson describe in Chapter 11.

Mainstream psychology defines social and mental health problems as person-centered -- and thus seeks solutions aimed at individuals. In contrast, community psychologists direct their efforts at systems rather than at individuals. They work in schools, churches, neighbourhood and grassroots associations, mutual help organizations, and workplaces. Unlike traditional applied psychology, community psychology uses a multilevel perspective, is sensitive to social context and diversity, and focuses on people's competencies rather than deficiencies. Community psychologists act as collaborators rather than experts and prefer participatory, action-oriented research methods. Most important for critical psychology, community psychology seeks to eliminate disempowering social conditions.

All these features might lead one to believe that critical and community psychology are one and the same. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Community psychology does target systemic sources of suffering. But as Prilleltensky and Nelson point out, it does so in an ameliorative rather than a transformative way. Thus, community psychology follows the same pattern as subfields such as psychology and law (Chapter 14): although it tries to reform existing structures to ameliorate harsh conditions, it does so without challenging the status quo's underlying legitimacy. Critical psychology, on the other hand, insists that we cannot eliminate oppression without transforming oppressive institutions and altering the basic premises of unjust systems. For community psychology to benefit from critical psychology's insights, Prilleltensky and Nelson emphasize, it must move social justice from the background of the discipline's concerns to the foreground.



Cross Cultural Psychology: The Frustrated Gadfly's Promises, Potentialities and Failures

Fathali M. Moghaddam &

Charles Studer



In theory, cross-cultural psychology has the potential to challenge mainstream psychology's assumptions and institutions. Cross-cultural psychologists understand, after all, that culture plays a significant role in human behavior. An explicit focus on cultures different from the Western societies dominating psychology should improve the likelihood of creating alternative methods and theories. Freed of the assumption that the West is all there is, cross-cultural psychologists should be more open to noticing and appreciating differing perspectives. As it turns out, however, Fathali M. Moghaddam and Charles Studer demonstrate in Chapter 12 that cross-cultural psychology is not a critic of the mainstream but a fervent supporter. As a result, instead of promoting human diversity, mainstream cross-cultural psychology actually promotes cultural homogeneity.

Along with social and political psychology, cross-cultural psychology bears the irony of neglecting the context where behavior occurs. Like these other two disciplines, cross-cultural psychology is wedded to cognitive and laboratory approaches and discounts the role of power disparities, injustice, and lack of resources. Moghaddam and Studer note that the increasingly dominant cognitive model neglects the importance of social norms and social context. Instead of seeing culture in a holistic way, encompassing the social, historical, and political background, culture is viewed as just another variable to account for. Indeed, most cross-cultural psychologists adhere to traditional positivist frameworks of analysis based on mainstream norms.

Despite the potential for psychology in (and about) other cultures to develop in liberatory ways, Moghaddam and Studer note that "mainstream cross-cultural psychology has failed to be liberating" and that it "helps disseminate false beliefs that are contrary to the interests of minorities around the world." The authors seek to reclaim the place of power, justice, culture and context in a more critical cross-cultural psychology.


Lesbian and Gay Psychology: A Critical Analysis

Celia Kitzinger



Among the newest of psychology's recognized subfields is "lesbian and gay psychology," which Celia Kitzinger defines in Chapter 13 as a psychology that is "explicit about its relevance to lesbians and/or gay men, does not assume homosexual pathology, and seeks to counter discrimination and prejudice against lesbians and/or gay men." As Kitzinger points out, the field's very existence demonstrates that efforts to change mainstream psychology can sometimes succeed. In the process, she charts the complicated relationship among mainstream psychology, lesbian and gay psychology, and critical psychology.

The success of lesbian and gay psychologists in replacing stigma with legitimacy raises an issue for critical psychologists well beyond this particular arena. Several authors in this volume comment on a multifaceted dilemma that Kitzinger tackles head on: What do we do when our goal of helping individuals collides with our interest in transforming society more fundamentally in the future? For example, since critical psychology rejects the mainstream's research methods and the assumptions of positivist science, are we justified in using those methods to provide tangible improvements for individuals who are oppressed and rejected? How can we proclaim that "mainstream psychology justifies equality" when doing so strengthens norms and assumptions that are harmful in the long run even if they help in the short run? Can we treat individuals without being individualistic? As Kitzinger notes, although the sources of oppression are social, it is individuals who go to psychologists for help.

These are difficult questions, for which there are no easy answers. In documenting its effective opposition to oppressive norms, Kitzinger affirms critical psychology's accomplishments in legitimizing lesbian and gay psychology and in moving the larger society toward greater acceptance of lesbian and gay individuals. In identifying the resulting dilemmas, she pushes the field forward, from critique to emancipation.


Psychology and Law: Justice Diverted

Dennis Fox



Website (you are there)


Law is a particularly significant institution in societies portraying themselves as ruled by law rather than by the whims of officials or the direct decisions of societal members. Legal institutions worldwide resolve disputes among individuals, maintain order, and enforce governmental decisions; in some countries courts resolve national policy issues as well. As Dennis Fox notes in Chapter 14, mainstream psychologists in the new subfield of "psychology and law" share the popular but questionable assumption that the purpose of law is to ensure justice and equality. Thus, they see little danger in combining psychology's theory and practices with law's power.

Paralleling the decreased emphasis on social change in community psychology (Chapter 11), social psychology (Chapter 10), and the "psychology of women" (Chapter 16), today's psychologists of law generally de-emphasize the explicit concern for justice that motivated the field's pioneers. As Celia Kitzinger (Chapter 13) and Sue Wilkinson (Chapter 16) in particular point out, psychology's traditional practices can sometimes challenge an unjust status quo, at least in the short term. But Fox indicates that psychologists of law too often see themselves as insiders in the law rather than as challengers of the law. The result is a dangerous trend toward strengthening law's control not just over the lives of those seen as psychologically troubled or troublesome, but over the lives of everyone. Current efforts to base legal decisions on psychologists' notions of what is "therapeutic" are especially worrisome.

Fox suggests that the law uses rules, technicalities and courts to provide the appearance of justice while actually maintaining injustice. Paralleling concerns about ideology and false consciousness noted in Chapters 6 and 15, he urges psychologists of law to expose false consciousness and oppose law's unjustified legitimacy.


Political Psychology: A Critical Perspective

Maritza Montero



Political psychology has something in common with other disciplines whose subject matter has inherently political implications. As in community psychology, cross-cultural psychology, psychology and law, and feminist psychology, mainstream political psychologists address potentially controversial political topics in a way that avoids fundamental challenges to psychology's established norms and society's established institutions. While critical psychology is explicitly political, Maritza Montero points out in Chapter 15 that political psychology is largely apolitical and acritical.

Political psychology rarely explores issues of oppression and domination in Western democracies, the merits of alternative political systems, or the way in which political factors advance or hinder the Good Life and the Good Society. Instead, it focuses on highly psychologized safe topics such as attitudes toward politicians and the personalities of world leaders. Montero asks us to consider why certain topics are emphasized ad nauseam while others are shunned. Identifying the need "to bring to the surface concealed, distorted, denied or ignored aspects of an issue," she notes that we can learn from exclusions as much as we can from inclusions. Issues are neglected or declared illegitimate for a reason, typically because they threaten the status quo. In political psychology as in other areas, "absences and exclusions should be suspected, for they may serve hidden interests."

Montero's discussion of what constitutes a legitimate or illegitimate area of study parallels similar concerns in the chapters on ethics, history, and developmental, clinical, feminist, and discursive psychology. By finding out what is missing and putting it back into view, critical psychology can help redefine the contours of a field, forcing it to pay attention to fundamental concerns such as oppression, emancipation, subjectivity, and the nature of knowledge.

Part III

Critical Theories

Part IV

Critical Reflections

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