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Comment on Reviews of
Critical Psychology: An Introduction

Dennis Fox


British Journal of Educational Psychology, 68, 612-613

My response to two generally positive reviews of Critical Psychology: An Introduction by Dennis Fox and Isaac Prilleltensky.

List of reviews of this book .

Note: This version may not exactly match the published version!

Comment on Reviews

In addition to noting the strengths of Critical Psychology: An Introduction, Bob Burden and Christine Griffin each identify some of the drawbacks of any effort to introduce newcomers to a complex, controversial, and internally inconsistent endeavor. Clearly, this effort is not easy to pull off without any hitches. Burden's ultimate conclusion, thus--that the book is a "welcome addition to the literature"--is gratifying. So is Griffin's assessment that "the book is also notable because it stands as a potential teaching text, which is relatively unusual in critical psychology."

One hitch, both reviewers point out, is the omission of a chapter on educational psychology. This is not the only omission. Isaac Prilleltensky and I note in the book's introduction that Critical Psychology also lacks chapters on industrial-organizational psychology, race and ethnicity, and other significant topics. We expect future work will alter the mix, though any single, manageable, introductory volume will necessarily leave some things out.

Burden also finds that two or three of the 19 chapters offer more criticism than critique. As noted in the book, the chapters do indeed differ in their "philosophical justifications, terminology, political strategy, and ultimate priorities" (p. 4), reflecting the authors' differing perspectives on psychology in general and on critical psychology in particular. Our editorial strategy was not to force the different pieces into a single mold but to offer a range of approaches--with one caveat. The critical psychology we seek to advance


focus[es] on the central themes of pursuing social justice, promoting the welfare of communities in general and oppressed groups in particular, and altering the status quo of society and the status quo of psychology.... In this book critical psychologists approach these issues in different ways, but retain a central focus on altering the status quo in fundamental ways. (p. 4)


So although the book does not resolve questions about which polemical styles, levels of analysis, and political agendas are most likely to achieve critical psychology's goals, it does seek to raise such questions. The differing styles and assumptions help illustrate some of the dilemmas confronting critical psychologists who seek social change.

What are some of these dilemmas? Although critical psychologists typically criticize mainstream assumptions, as Burden and Griffin do here, several contributors note that sometimes traditional positivist research convincingly demonstrates the presence of injustice and the possibility of alternatives. Does using such methods make the endeavor less "critical"? Are we primarily psychologists interested in theoretical rigor, or are we primarily activists using whatever psychological theories and methods advance our politics? Should psychologists claim special expertise--often based on positivist methods--to advocate social change, or does the critical rejection of positivism reduce our ability to demonstrate as psychologists the need for social change? Burden applauds one chapter's caution about anything--goes post-modernism, yet the degree to which an emancipatory critical psychology must accept, reject, or alter post-modernist assumptions remains unsettled. Given that varying strains within post-modernism lead sometimes to societal critique and sometimes to moral relativism (Prilleltensky, 1997), can we adopt the critique and pursue values such as equality and empowerment, or must we abandon all value preferences as culturally determined?

Burden welcomes Julian Rappaport and Eric Stewart's "healthy scepticism of the whole critical enterprise." As Griffin noted, Prilleltensky and I solicited that concluding chapter specifically to critique both the book's approach and critical psychology more generally. Thus, Critical Psychology: An Introduction attempts not only to challenge mainstream readers to question their assumptions, but also to challenge critical psychologists to think more deeply about the sources and consequences of their own perspectives. The reviews in this issue are a contribution to this project.



B. Burden. (1998?). Review. British Journal of Educational Psychology.

D. Fox and I. Prilleltenksy (Eds). (1997). Critical Psychology: An Introduction. London: Sage.

C. Griffin. (1998?). Review. British Journal of Educational Psychology.

I. Prilleltensky. (1997). Values, Assumptions, and Practices: Assessing the Moral Implications of Psychological Discourse and Action. American Psychologist, 52, 517-535.


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