Course Outline

General Description

Many criticisms have been raised against mainstream contemporary psychology – some with respect to its explicit goals and methods, others with respect to its unstated assumptions. In this course we will study many of these criticisms and a few of the philosophically sophisticated alternative approaches that have been proposed. These alternatives will include social constructivism, symbolic interactionism, narrative psychology, hermeneutic approaches to psychology and a variety of other approaches that seek to bring a historical, cultural and political awareness to psychology.

Students will be expected to attend classes, to complete the assigned readings and exercises on time and to participate in small-group discussions of the course material.

Course Director

Ron Sheese

Ron Sheese

Office: 321 Calumet College

Phone: (416) 736-2100 ext. 20363

E-mail: (

Required Reading

Material from the following list will be considered in the course. Books by authors in bold print are available at the York Bookstore:

Belenky, M., Bond, L. & Weinstock, J. (1997). A tradition that has no name: Nurturing the development of people, families and communities. New York: Basic Books.

Chataway, C. J. (2001). Negotiating the observer-observed relationship. In D. L. Tolman & M. Brydon-Miller (Eds.), From subjects to subjectivities: A handbook of interpretative and participatory methods, (pp. 239-255). New York: New York University Press.

Cushman, P. (1995). Constructing the self, constructing America: A cultural history of psychotherapy. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Danziger, K. (1997). Naming the mind: How Psychology found its language. London: Sage.

Davis, J. (2003). The commodification of self. The Hedgehog Review, 5(2), 41- 49.

King, T. (2003). The truth about stories: A native narrative. Toronto: Anansi. (Chapter 1).

Martin, J. (2004). Self-regulated learning, social cognitive theory, and agency. Educational Psychologist, 39(2), 135-145.

Martín-Baró, I. (1994). Writings for a liberation psychology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. (excerpts)

Mattingly, C. (2006). Hoping, willing and narrative re-envisioning. The Hedgehog Review, 8(3), 21-35.

Nightingale, D. & Neilands, T. (1997). Understanding and practicing critical psychology. In D. Fox & I. Prilleltensky (Eds.), Critical Psychology: An Introduction, (pp. 68-83). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Polkinghorne, D. (1988). Narrative knowing and the human sciences. Albany: SUNY Press. (Chapter 5).

Prilleltensky, I. (1994). The morals and politics of psychology: Psychological discourse and the status quo. Albany: SUNY.

Prus, R. (1996). Symbolic interaction and ethnographic research: Intersubjectivity and the study of human lived experience. Albany, NY: SUNY Press. (excerpts)

Slife, B. & Williams, R. (1995). What’s behind the research: Discovering hidden assumptions in the behavioral sciences. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Sugarman, J. & Martin, J. (2005). Toward an alternative psychology. In B. D. Slife, J. S. Reber & F. C. Richardson (Eds.), Critical Thinking about Psychology: Hidden Assumptions and Plausible Alternatives (pp. 251-266). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Teo, T. (2005). The Critique of Psychology: From Kant to Postcolonial Theory. New York: Springer.

Course Format

The course will meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:00 to 11:20 in 209 ACW. The class will frequently divide into groups of four to discuss aspects of the assigned readings. Discussion questions will be provided for most readings. As a means of documenting your preparation for participation in the discussion, you will be asked to write brief responses to some items before or at the beginning of Tuesday classes. These “response papers” will usually be shared with other students by means of an online discussion forum, and it is intended that they contribute to development of your course project.

All students will complete a project related to the course themes. Several formats for the project are possible including (but not limited to) a literature review, a research proposal or a theoretical commentary on an area of, or approach to, psychology.


Course work will be evaluated in each of the following categories and weighted as indicated in assigning the final mark:
10% Attendance
20% Discussion questions and response papers
15% Midterm examination (December 6-20 exam period)
25% Final examination (April 11-30 exam period )
30% Final response paper/project (April 6)

Course Website

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