Theory in Action, 2011, 4, 31-48.
Note: This draft may not exactly match the published version!
Paper presented at
Anarchist Studies Network
January 16, 2011
YouTube video of
conference presentation, 13
minutes long, in two parts: 
A conversational summary of general ideas rather than the full paper
anarchists are suspicious of “psychologizing” and make little reference
to psychology as a discipline beyond dismissing its individualist
focus. Yet psychological assumptions about power, hierarchy,
cooperation, and similar dynamics underlie critiques of statism and
capitalism and shape prefigurative efforts to transform society so that
human beings can more easily achieve both autonomy and mutuality. At
the same time, personal and interpersonal turmoil frequently hinder
those efforts. The challenge is to determine which aspects of
psychological research and psychotherapy, especially critical
psychology and extensions of humanistic psychology and radical
psychoanalysis, might help anarchists grapple simultaneously with both
the personal and the political.
to the merging within each of us of internal and external forces,
Gustav Landauer wrote that “The State is a condition, a certain
relationship between human beings, a mode of human behavior; we destroy
it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently”
(Landauer, 1910, cited in Buber, 1958, p. 46). Like all worldviews,
anarchism incorporates assumptions about human nature and human society
that explain how we act and how we think we should act. This “everyday
psychology” (Jones & Elcock, 2001) helps us understand our own
and others’ behavior and shapes our sense of
what kind of society is desirable and possible. Becoming part of
anarchist political culture (Gordon, 2005) often means replacing old
assumptions with newer ones. Yet despite the significance of
psychological assumptions about reciprocal links between the personal
and the political, it remains unclear to what extent any of
psychology’s various guises – academic discipline, therapeutic
profession, psychoanalytical understanding, or force of popular culture
– can help
advance liberation and community.
psychology each contains an array of tendencies with little consensus
about definition, origin, methods, scope, or goals. Anarchists – not
only anarchist academics – debate just what
anarchism is, how and when it started, what it seeks, how to do it
right, and – especially academics – whether post-anarchism replaces the
older kind. Psychology has comparable questions: Is its proper focus
or behavior? Is it, or should it be, a science, and if so what kind?
Does it seek general laws of behavior or better understanding of
context? These parallel debates have implications for advancing
anarchism and for determining whose interests psychology might serve.
critique inevitably delves into psychological terrain. Anarchists
generally advocate values such as cooperation and mutual aid,
self-management and participation, spontaneity and liberation. A
non-hierarchical society, we believe, would help people meet shifting
and sometimes-conflicting needs for autonomy and mutuality without
hurting others in the process (Fox, 1985, 1993a). We know that elite
depends not just on suppressing radical movements but also on
misdirecting us along careerist, consumerist, nationalist, and other
ideologically convenient paths that sacrifice either autonomy or
mutuality, and often both. This misdirection operates largely through
dominant institutions – education, religion, media, law, psychotherapy
– that internalize and disseminate particular views of human nature and
To be clear: I am not saying these topics are only psychological, or
that what psychologists have to say is more useful than what others
Because the interplay between individual and community is “the central
tension in perhaps all social theory” (Amster, 2009, p. 290), the most
productive approaches are interdisciplinary.
also know that too much psychologizing deflects attention from
political work. The latest trend – “positive psychology” – is mostly
one more enticement to change our thinking rather than our world
(Ehrenreich, 2009). I agree with Zerzan (1994), who noted that “In the
Psychological Society, social conflicts of all kinds are automatically
shifted to the level of psychic problems, in order that they can be
charged to individuals as private matters” (p. 5). And with Sakolsky
[T]he human impulse toward mutual
aid is further suffocated by those in
the debraining industry who professionally proselytize on behalf of an
apolitical positivist psychology. The latter’s emphasis on blaming
ourselves for our own alienation and oppression is then reinforced by
our everyday relationships of mutual acquiescence in which we are
constantly encouraged to “be realistic,” get with the program, stop
whining, pop an anti-depressant if necessary, and, for god sake, appear
upbeat. (p. 10)
Furthermore, I’m not ignoring psychologists’ roles as enforcers of
conventional Western middle-class values and agents of state and
corporate power. It’s a sordid history, from intelligence and
personality testing that categorizes people for bureaucratic social
control, to pacifying prisoners, workers, mental patients, students,
and women, to psychological manipulation ranging from spreading
distorted models of normality to
corporate products to interrogating prisoners at Guantanamo Bay
(Herman, 1995; Tyson, Jones,
& Elcock, in press). Psychotherapists routinely use medicalized
diagnoses created by psychiatrists, demanded by insurance companies,
and sometimes designed explicitly for social control. “Oppositional
Disorder,” for example, stems from the diagnosis of “anarchia” that
Benjamin Rush, the “father of American psychiatry” and a signer of the
Declaration of Independence, applied to resistors to federal authority
whose “excess of the passion for liberty” constituted “a form of
insanity” (Levine, 2008).
Despite a sprinkling of anarchist psychologists (e.g., Chomsky, 2005;
Cromby, 2008; Ehrlich, 1996; Fox, 1985, 1993a; Goodman, 1966/1979;
Sarason, 1976; Ward, 2002), the discipline remains a mixed bag. So
maybe it’s not surprising that anarchists so infrequently refer to it
even when they use psychological concepts and talk about human nature.
Few of the 28 chapters in Contemporary
Anarchist Studies (Amster et al., 2009), for example, mention psychology,
which does not appear in the index; none of the 34 authors is
identified as a psychologist. An Anarchist Studies Network reading list
notes “psychology potentially has a great deal to offer anarchism (and
vice versa!)” but lists much more work on psychoanalysis than
psychology, much of it old and not in English (http://anarchist-studies-network.org.uk/ReadingLists_Psychology).
I’ve found references to only one book with both anarchism and psychology
in the title (Hamon, 1894). With sporadic exceptions, including recent
connections to ecopsychology (Heckert, 2010; Rhodes, 2008), there’s
been little systematic treatment of potential links.
As already noted, on the other hand, anarchists regularly make
psychological arguments, often paralleling those of Marxists and
Situationists (Debord, 1967; Vaneigem, 1967). That was true for
Kropotkin, Emma Goldman, and other classical anarchists and it’s true
today. For Landauer, “People do not live in the state. The state lives
in the people” (cited in Sakolsky, 2011, p. 1). For Goldman, “The
problem that confronts us today, and which the nearest future is to
solve, is how to be one’s self and yet in oneness with others, to
deeply feel with all human beings and still retain one’s characteristic
qualities” (cited in Shukaitis, 2008, p. 12). Emphasizing “the personal
and psychological dimensions of life,” early women anarchists insisted
that “changes in personal aspects of life, such as families, children,
sex should be viewed as political activity” (Leeder, 1996, p. 143). A
century later, Milstein (2009) says anarchism – “the only political
tradition that has consistently grappled with the tension between the
individual and society” (p. 92) – aims “to transform society in order
to also transform ourselves” (p. 12). For Salmon (2010), “It is easy to
talk about challenging the system and forget about challenging
ourselves at the same time. It is not about putting one above the
other, but realizing that both have to go hand in hand to be truly
revolutionary” (p. 13). Gordon (2005) too insists that the
transformation begins now:
Anarchism is unique among
political movements in emphasizing the need
to realize its desired social relations within the structures and
practices of the revolutionary movement itself. As such, prefigurative
politics can be seen as a form of “constructive” direct action, whereby
anarchists who propose social relations bereft of hierarchy and
domination undertake their construction by themselves. (p. 4)
a problem, though. Although we want to live by anarchist values today,
none of us grew up learning how to do that. Barclay (1982) wrote that
“individual members [of anarchist intentional communities] … have been
reared in the cultural traditions and values of th[e] state and have
only the greatest difficulty divesting themselves of their deleterious
effects” (p. 103). The “tension in anarchist theory between the
political and the personal” (DeLeon & Love, 2009, p. 162) means
“it’s going to be an ongoing struggle to find the balance” (Milstein,
2009, p. 15).
[M]ost recent pieces that
confront issues of power in the movement focus on the way in which
patterns of domination in society are imprinted on interactions within
it – uncovering dynamics of racist, sexist, ageist or homophobic
behavior, and asking why it is that positions of leadership in activist
circles tend to be populated by men more often than women, whites more
often than non-whites, and able persons more often than disabled ones.
(Gordon, 2008, p. 52)
Confronting these difficulties, sometimes we falter. In the face of so
much that needs doing, sometimes we settle for just getting by, staying
functional enough for the work of the moment rather than developing
personal, interpersonal, and collective skills an anarchist society
might someday provide more naturally. We know that focusing on
ourselves – our own relationships, needs, feelings, desires, troubles
large and small – can become preoccupying, isolating, narcissistic. We
resist individual solutions. Yet if we did understand our needs and
wants better – where they come from, why we have them, how to satisfy
them, how we might change them – and if we did learn to interact more
effectively, then our living situations might be more satisfying, our
relationships more fulfilling, our work lives more bearable, and our
community and political projects more successful. Anarchists have a
good sense, I think, of what life would be like free of
competitiveness, possessiveness, jealousy, and domination, opening
ourselves to liberation, spontaneity, and joy. But deciding to be
different doesn’t make us different. Ridding ourselves of a lifetime of
bad habits, deformed needs, and twisted emotions is not so easy.
It would be useful if the field of psychology was an ally rather than
foe, even though anarchism may still have more to offer psychology
than the other way around. Yet a growing number of critical
(Fox, Prilleltensky, & Austin, 2009) are as ready as Sakolsky
(2011) and Zerzan (1994) to blast psychology’s ideological role while
also exploring research, teaching, and therapy alternatives. Critical
psychology is more marginal than its counterparts in other fields and
likely to remain so (Parker, 2007), its adherents more often Marxist or
even liberal than anarchist (Fox, in press), but it remains the most
likely disciplinary space to advance the three anarchist projects
described by Gordon (2009): “delegitimation, direct action (both
destructive and creative), and networking” (p. 253). In the next
section I describe three areas with mixed implications for advancing
anarchism: clinical psychology as therapeutic profession, social
psychology as knowledge-producing technology, and the progeny of
humanistic psychology and radical psychoanalysis.
psychologists sometimes grapple with useful concepts despite so often
missing the point. The tension between individuality and mutuality is
particularly relevant. The assumed dualistic split between self and
other is standard fare, with terms such as agency/communion,
independence/interdependence, autonomy/psychological sense of
community. Personality theorists consider how circumstances – family,
friends, school, etc. – affect growth from self-focused infant to
socialized adult, and sometimes how different societies produce the
personalities they need. Social psychologists make a mantra of the
interaction between “the person” (e.g., personality, emotion, beliefs)
and “the setting” (the presence of others, configuration of a room,
perceived norms), although mainstream views of setting typically
exclude society, culture, and history (Tolman, 1994).
These tensions and interactions are central to anarchist
thought, which recognizes the inseparability of, and reciprocity
between, personal and societal change as well as the difficulty of
attempting both simultaneously. Anarchists “acknowledge this
self-society juggling act as part of the human condition” (Milstein,
2009, p. 14). “Lifestyle decisions such as squatting or open
relationships of intimacy have pushed anarchists to recognize the
potential that radical lifestyle actions can have in freeing our minds
from oppressive social norms” (DeLeon & Love, 2009, p. 161).
Because “[t]he task for anarchists is not to introduce a new society
but to realize an alternative society as much as possible in the
present tense” (Gordon, 2005, p. 12), all domains invite struggle.
Salmon (2010) argued that, “If our personal relationships are being
used to keep us in conformity with the current system, then to
challenge the basis of our relationships is part of tackling the
political dead end that the mainstream continually tries to force us
down” (p. 13). Gordon (2010) made a similar point:
is political, but it is also economic, as well as social and cultural.
Struggles around issues of care and housework, of the tasks of the
are not just individual concerns unrelated to broader political and
questions — they are the quotidian manifestations
of these larger processes. Recognition of their connections, as well as
connections against questionable power dynamics in the home, school,
hospital, and all spaces of social life, is an important step.
2008, p. 5)
This is sometimes called
“prefigurative politics.” So it makes sense
anarchists who have a critique of human-nonhuman relations and of the
exploitation of animals to try and live in a way that seeks to undo
exploitation, e.g., by avoiding animal products (as well as campaigning
taking direct action against labs, slaughterhouses, battery
farms, etc.). Similarly, anarchists who have a critique of monogamy,
example from a feminist point of view, would look at ways to live
in the present by practicing polyamory. (Gordon, 2010)
Or, as the
Vaneigem (1967) wrote, “People who talk about revolution and class
without referring explicitly to everyday life, without understanding
subversive about love and what is positive in the refusal of
people have corpses in their mouths.”
Psychology as Therapeutic Profession
most people think about psychology they have in mind the therapy
profession: clinical psychologists but also psychiatrists, social
workers, and counselors who help resolve “mental health” difficulties.
They may assume that psychology is based on Sigmund Freud or that
psychology and psychoanalysis are pretty much the same thing rather
than “two disciplines with an obvious boundary dispute” (Tyson et al.,
in press, pp. 184-185). Most clinical psychology students do learn
various ways to understand mental health and illness – very loaded
terms – as well as therapy techniques based on competing schools of
thought. Only some of what psychotherapists do resembles the advice
offered in self-help pop psychology books that purport to teach us how
to fix ourselves.
Critical psychologists have objected to
psychotherapy‘s most common approach: helping us adapt to an
unsatisfying world by internalizing problems and solutions rather than
recognizing their societal nature. Psychology’s claim to be a science
separate from philosophy accompanied 19th century Social Darwinism,
which imagined and demanded a competitive, striving human nature for a
dog-eat-dog capitalist world. It assumed rather than challenged
hierarchy, patriarchy, and race privilege. Twentieth century
psychologists who eventually became therapists encouraged people to fix
themselves rather than challenge bosses, political elites, or dominant
institutions more broadly. And still, today, mainstream therapy helps
us function, boosting our confidence and self-esteem and maintaining
our relationships so that we can get through school, get to work on
time, keep at it one day after the next, mastering stress reduction
techniques and ignoring any inkling that something outside ourselves
might be at fault even when millions of us have identical “individual
problems.” These culturally disseminated clichés have become part of
our everyday psychology, seemingly obvious and natural and right (Fox
et al., 2009).
These generalizations have important
exceptions. Feminist, Marxist, anarchist, and other
critical and radical therapists – psychologists, psychiatrists, and
psychoanalysts such as Alfred Adler and Erich Fromm – have explored the
links among our emotional states, habitual behaviors, and the society
around us, tracing
common difficulties to culturally determined conditions. Radicals have
more often explored psychoanalysis which, “[i]n part due to the
continued awareness that minds are products of social and cultural
environments, … always had more of a potential for cultural critique
than psychology, especially those aspects of psychology that relied on
technological control rather than conceptual understanding” (Tyson et
al., in press, p. 178).
Especially influential among radicals was Wilhelm Reich
(1942), whose exploration of the connection between sexual repression
and fascism stimulated variants of analysis and therapy following
Marxist, feminist, and other critical traditions (Sloan, 1996; Tolman,
1994), including anarchism (Comfort, 1950; Perez, 1990). Reich followed
Otto Gross, an early Freudian who broke away to develop an anarchist
psychoanalysis taking into account
as anti-authoritarian, repression-free upbringing, the emancipation
patriarchal, hierarchical structures in the context of family,
career, etc., the emancipation of women in particular, the rights of
individual to decide freely about his/her life, especially in reference
drugs and euthanasia, and finally questions about the freedom of the
in relationship to social norms and traditions. (International Otto
believed that “[w]hoever wants to change the structures of power (and
production) in a repressive society, has to start by changing these
structures in himself [sic] and to eradicate the ‘authority that has
infiltrated one’s own inner being’” (Sombart, 1991, cited in Heuer).
Similarly, the psychiatrist Roberto Freire’s 1970s somatherapy,
based in large part on Reich, took an anarchist approach in trying “to
understand the socio-political behavior of individuals starting from
what happens in their daily lives” (“Somatherapy,” 2010). Also taking
into account societal context, from a more existentialist direction,
was anarchist Paul Goodman’s contribution to gestalt therapy (Perls,
Hefferline, & Goodman, 1951).
Mainstream psychotherapy continues to reinforce an asocial, apolitical
adjustment-seeking individualism. When psychologists work in prisons,
mental hospitals, schools, factories, militaries, and other
institutions that confine people and shape behavior, their work crosses
from neutrality to social control. The “anti-psychiatry” movement gains
more attention, but psychologists too work in mental hospitals. At the
same time, critical and radical psychologists have contributed to
efforts critical of mainstream psychiatry and psychotherapy (P. Brown,
1973; Ingleby, 1980; Williams & Arrigo, 2005).
Social Psychology as Knowledge-producing Technology
psychology exemplifies the discipline’s preferred image as science
than therapy profession. Social psychologists sometimes do research
that therapists can use, but mostly they range more widely, looking for
universal principles of behavior assumed to be independent of time and
place. Why do we help someone? When are we more or less likely to
follow orders, cooperate or compete, love or hate? Even: How can we
persuade people to recycle? Social psychologists typically use
experimental methods to study behaviors that we ordinarily explain to
ourselves using our internalized everyday psychology; they claim such
research is necessary because our “everyday psychology is often
inaccurate” (Jones & Elcock, 2001, p. 183) and only science can
reveal the truth.
As an undergraduate I responded to social psychology’s
liberal reform agenda with naive optimism and personal curiosity. But
later I returned to graduate school steeped in Israel’s
utopian-socialist kibbutz system (Horrox, 2009), the 1970s anti-nuclear
power movement (Epstein, 1993), and books from Kropotkin (1902) to
Bookchin (1971, 1980, 1982). I realized then that social psychological
research – on power, hierarchy, and authority, decision making and
cooperation, relationships and community – demonstrated the benefits of
“communal individuality” (Ritter, 1980) in a “free society of free
individuals” (Milstein, 2009, p. 12). Others too noticed; for example,
political psychologist Dana Ward, curator of the Anarchist
Archives, has explored authoritarianism, group dynamics, and the
development of political concepts (“Political Psychology and
Anarchism,” 2009; see also Hamilton, 2008, on intrinsic motivation;
Fox, 1985). But the field never embraced anarchism’s social
psychological vision of maximizing autonomy and community.
was a time
when some imagined more. At the dawn of modern psychology, Augustin
(1894) advanced a social psychology that
systematic, empirical research and situated the “problematique” of
psychology at the interface of the individual and societal levels of
They linked a strong commitment to social movements expressing
anarchist-communist ideas with a critical reevaluation of concepts in
social sciences, criminology, etc.; that is to say, Hamon conceived of
social sciences, sui generis, as critical
sciences. (Apfelbaum &
Lubek, 1983, p. 32; see also Lubek & Apfelbaum, 1982)
1967, Abraham Maslow, one of a handful of theorists looking to
anarchism as something of a model (Fox, 1985), taught a course called
Utopian Social Psychology. It addressed “the empirical and realistic
questions: How good a society does human nature permit? How good a
human nature does society permit? What is possible and feasible? What
is not?” (Maslow, 1971, p. 212). But today social psychology is hardly
utopian or even very social, focusing instead on what we think
about behavior, “paradoxically … seek[ing] to explain behavior in terms
of individual rather than social and cultural factors“ (Jones &
Elcock, 2001, p. 187). There’s not much talk of experimenting with
In my own work in a subfield called “psychology
and law,” an anarchist stance helps dissect the legal system’s
justifications for its own legitimacy, which essentially assume that
nature is so bad only the law lets us survive (Fox, 1993a, 1993b,
1999). Anarchists don’t all agree about human nature – some think it’s
pretty good, others good or bad depending on circumstances, some don’t
seem to care – but generally we don’t think that legislators, judges,
and cops are the reason most people under ordinary circumstances are
reasonably decent. Moreover, unlike Marxists who tend to think law’s
utility depends on who controls it, anarchists generally dismiss the
rule of law no matter who’s in charge and object to legal reasoning’s
purpose: judging human interaction by generalized abstract principles
independent of circumstances facing actual people.
Humanistic Psychology, Radical Psychoanalysis, and
that therapy, navel-gazing, and self-help books (Justman, 2005; Zerzan,
1994) don’t lead to social change, anarchists are generally suspicious
of psychotherapy’s core as well as of humanistic approaches from
Western psychology, Eastern philosophy, and New Age mysticism that
spawned the human potential movement where much of the work on self and
relationships occurs today. Although some forms of humanistic and even
New Age thought claim compatibility with social change movements
(McLaughlin & Davidson, 2010; Rosenberg, 2004; Satin, 1979), too
many participants insist the only way to change the world is to work
only on themselves. Capitalists, of course, happily sell us whatever we
need to meditate and communicate, practice yoga and Tantra, discover
our authentic selves, and wander down our spiritual path of the
moment, positive, happy, self-absorbed, and non-threatening.
Understandably, thus, anarchists often reject these individualistic
solutions and focus instead on more systemic approaches.
Recently I’ve begun exploring groups that go in the other
direction: prioritizing personal growth and interpersonal dynamics
necessary for creating community. This personally rewarding
“participant observation,” as social psychologists might call it, has
challenged my own assumptions, stereotypes, and habits and tested my
ability to be patient with new language, styles, and ways of looking at
myself and the world. Although the groups I’ve come across do not
define themselves as anarchist, and thus attract people with various
political and apolitical identities, their purposes and methods overlap
significantly with anarchist values. Aiming to shake us out of
complacency toward new habits, goals, motivations, and emotions, they
mirror anarchist calls to re-think things we've always taken for
granted about human nature and hierarchy, capitalism and materialism,
monogamy and sexuality. The goal, at least for some, is not just to
focus inward but to create communities less repressive and oppressive,
more egalitarian, satisfying, and just.
Efforts that seem potentially useful stress mutual support,
study, and exploration rather than individual psychotherapy, self-help,
or a guru’s prescription for inner bliss. Network for a New Culture (http://www.nfnc.org),
for example, uses an eclectic, non-dogmatic approach incorporating
elements of humanistic psychology, cognitive and gestalt therapy, and
Reichian/Jungian analysis as well as varied communication and
community-building methods. Exploring links between beliefs and
emotions, body and unconscious, self and culture, NFNC creates settings
that challenge widespread emotional, behavioral, and sexual
assumptions. Some of this exploration follows approaches developed in
more explicitly radical intentional communities in Germany (ZEGG, http://www.zegg.de) and
Portugal (Tamera, http://www.tamera.org).
Similarly, some psychologists using anarchist frameworks (McWilliams,
1985; Rhodes, 2008) incorporate insights from ecopsychology and
ecofeminism as well as from Zen, Taoism and other psychologies
challenging Western notions of consciousness and reality, self and
other (Ornstein, 1972; Rosenberg, 2004). It may be impossible “to
re-create personality and thus transform life” or “to create your own
reality” (Zerzan, 1994, p. 12), but it is possible to learn skills and
create communities that help us act and feel closer to what we imagine
Gordon (2010) cautions, in a somewhat-related context,
that “these practices and lifestyles are in danger of congealing into a
self-referential subculture that detracts from other areas of activity
(e.g., direct action, propaganda, solidarity work),” but he adds “there
is no reason why they should have
to come at the expense of these.” Marshall Rosenberg (2004), an early
proponent of radical therapy whose Nonviolent Communication method is used in
interpersonal and political conflicts, talks of spirituality but
be reactionary if we get people to just be so calm and accepting and
they tolerate the dangerous structures. The spirituality that we need
develop for social change is one that mobilizes us for social change.
It doesn't just enable us to sit there and enjoy the world no matter
It creates a quality of energy that mobilizes us into action. (pp. 5-6)
have not yet explored spiritual groups, but it’s worth noting that some
anarchists consider non-institutionalized religion compatible with
anarchism (e.g., A. Brown, 2007). Kemmerer (2009) points out that
“institutionalized religion in every nation tends to support the status
quo, but many religious teachings … support anarchy” (p. 210). Lamborn
Wilson (2010) agrees; referring to “various sorts of spiritual
fascist and fundamentalist cults are not to be confused with the
non-authoritarian spiritual tendencies represented by neo-shamanism,
psychedelic or “entheogenic” spirituality, the
American “religion of Nature” according to anarchists like Thoreau,
many concerns and mythemes with Green Anarchy and
Primitivism, tribalism, ecological resistance, Native American
Nature … even with Rainbow and Burning Man festivalism…. (p. 14)
adds a useful reminder: “[A]ny liberatory belief system, even the most
(or libertine), can be flipped 180 degrees into a rigid dogma….
even within the most religious of religions the natural human desire
freedom can carve out secret spaces of resistance” (p. 15).
Seeking it All
(2009) maintains that anarchism’s “dynamism” stems from the notion that
“humans aren’t just fixed beings but are always becoming. Seeing all
life as able to evolve highlights the idea that people and society can
change. That people and the world can become more than they are, better
than they are” (p. 59). The relevant question here is whether
psychology, in any
of its therapeutic, research, or alternative guises, can contribute to
an anarchist culture in which participants live more fulfilling lives
while working more effectively toward a world that provides better
lives for everyone.
Cromby (2008) noted that, unlike Marxist psychologies (Seve,
Holzkamp, Vygotsky), there is no influential anarchist psychology.
Imagining such a project, S. Brown (2008) emphasized that though it may
seem “simply not the business of psychology to extend itself beyond the
study of the person … the model of the person adopted at any given time
is always framed in relation to a contrasting notion of the collective”
(p. 1). An anarchist psychology “will not emerge from a different model
of the person but rather from a simultaneous rethinking of person and
collective together” (p. 2). “Indeed the very thought of creating such
a disciplinary division seems inimical to anarchism. But what we might
say is that psychology in an anarchist register must take ‘life’ as its
object rather than ‘subjectivity‘ or ‘the individual‘” (S. Brown, 2008,
Whether anarchists outside academe will find poststructuralist
and postmodern approaches (Kuhn, 2009; Purchase, 2011) more useful than
older forms remains to be seen. Critical psychologist Tod Sloan,
attempting to direct radical therapists and counselors toward
community-building group work, says
to take humanistic individualist psychotherapy and apply it to heal
... It is to rescue the truths that are buried in that subjective
moment of the
dialectic … and see what is going on there in the psyche as always
the social order, internalization of oppression, suppression of the
Otherwise, we just move to working on ourselves and forget that the
state and capitalism
and patriarchy etc. are the fundamental issues. And this is where
psych needs to do its work. (Sloan, personal communication, January 5,
risk in using any form of psychology is being diverted from the world
outside ourselves. Despite that risk, I believe the exploration is
worth it. Many
of us would be more effective anarchists as well as more fulfilled
human beings if we could counter our culturally determined everyday
psychology. As Shukaitis (2008) noted, “The social relations we create
every day prefigure the world to come, not just in a metaphorical
sense, but also quite literally: they truly are the emergence of that
other world embodied in the constant motion and interaction of bodies.”
(p. 3). There’s much we can learn. We may want a revolution, but as
Emma says we want to dance, too.
Paying more attention to the personal and interpersonal
also means responding to those who experience mental or emotional
distress. We know that they – perhaps we – often struggle in
psychiatric systems that are overworked, bureaucratized, medicalized,
disinterested, and often inadequate at best. Yet this struggle also
takes place with friends and comrades. Dorter (2007) pointed out that
although psychiatric survivor movements “ask fundamental questions of
what it means to be mad in an insane world,… questions of mental health
and mad liberation … figure little into the work that anarchists
collectively focus on, or in the ways we structure ourselves or
organize” (p. 8). Introducing anarchist accounts of mental distress,
Asher (2008) hoped
discussions about mental illness within our political communities and
friendship circles, [so] that we can begin to offer each other and
the support we need. We need to realize when people are drifting away
they aren’t able to cope, and we need to be doing all we can to give
they require. In
supposedly radical communities, mental illness is deeply stigmatized,
at times ridiculed. It shouldn’t be up to those of us in our deepest
states or our most manic episodes to call people out on this shit, but
if we don’t do it, nobody else will. (p. 3)
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are too flawed to survive without them reflects a particular
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