CPA 2006 ­ Outline for an alternative introduction to Psychology

Ron Sheese ­

York University


The following is a working list of characteristics useful for distinguishing among psychologies/psychologists, derived primarily from critical psychology.  A few examples of how these points might be transformed into analytic guides for student commentaries are included parenthetically.


1. Conception of science: natural science in contrast to human science; positivist and interpretivist psychologies.


2  Historical and cultural awareness.  See Kurt Danziger¹s Naming the Mind for introduction of the concept of “psychological object” and of a distinction between natural kinds and human kinds. (To what contexts is the inquiry sensitive or insensitive? Are the phenomena investigated seen as “discovered” or as “constructed”?)


3. Theory of human nature


4. Form of reductionism: biological or linguistic.  (Does the inquiry offer explanations in terms of physiology or in terms of human meaning?  To what degree are those studied seen as having agency?)


5. Degree of universality sought. Nomothetic or idiographic ­ search for general, universal laws or for local meaning (What is the scope of the phenomenon described, of the explanation offered?)


6a. Locus of concern/analysis: Individual or social. (Is there a individualist bias in the inquiry? Is the social primary or is the social seen as aggregate of individuals? Where is the phenomena of interest located in social space and what alternatives are considered?)


6b. Locus of concern/analysis: atomistic or holistic. (To what extent is the phenomena of interest divided into variables? What is captured, what is left out by this division? or What psychological objects does the psychologist invoke in his/her inquiry? or How does the psychologist draw boundaries for the inquiry?)


7. Form of measurement: quantitative or qualitative.


8. Political awareness:  Apolitical or activist orientation. (does the inquiry suggest that psychology just finds truth and others decide how to use it? Is there an awareness of the political affordances of the inquiry? Is there an active attempt to change the status quo? Is there an awareness or explicit statement of values behind the inquiry?)


9. Theory/practice.  (Are any processes modeled? What is the nature of the model?)


10. Degree of specialization: narrow subdisciplinary focus or interdisciplinary.