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Sifting Critical Psychologies
for Emancipation and Social Change

Dennis R. Fox


Prepared for a symposium organized by Tod Sloan on
"Theory for a Change: Critical Psychology, Feminism, and Postmodernism"

I ended up not going to the 1998 APA convention, so I didn't get to expand on this.

However, I've now expanded it into my chapter in Tod Sloan's book Critical Psychology: Voices for Change.

Summary of my part in the symposium:

Self-defined critical psychologists who have adopted different approaches offer sometimes-conflicting critiques of mainstream psychology's values, assumptions, and practices. Some critiques that grow out of one psychological tradition or another seek a more theoretically sound psychology, while others from Marxism, feminism, and other external sources seek a more just world. Postmodernists criticize traditional positivist research, while others sometimes use that research to uncover inequality and injustice and demonstrate alternative structural arrangements. Some avoid political agendas or embrace moral relativism; others insist psychology should take moral and political stands ranging from liberalism to radicalism; still others claim psychology's priority should be ending the field's own oppressive practices.

The conflicting terminologies and agendas as well as traditional academic norms stimulate efforts to devise a single, internally consistent, sharply defined critical psychology. Such efforts can spark intellectual interest and theoretical advancement and focus psychological attention on issues such as economic class and false consciousness. But to the extent that they cause a splintering into self-contained, intellectually pure factions, they are also potentially dangerous.

In my view, efforts to delineate the boundaries of a critical psychology worth disseminating should focus on the area where many critical psychologies already overlap: ending injustice and advancing emancipation. Our goal should be to create an effective coalition of psychologists who seek to raise consciousness about social injustice and work toward ending it. Within such a coalition, differing theoretical, methodological, and political approaches should flourish and be debated. But we should not lose track of our primary focus: real people who are victimized by societal institutions and sometimes by psychology itself.

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Page updated September 30, 2007