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Critical Psychology:
An Introduction

1997 (first edition)

Edited by

Dennis Fox & Isaac Prilleltensky

London: Sage Publications

Cover Greek Edition


This page provides the editors' introductions to all 19 chapters.

Teaching Note | Book Contents | Reviews | Buy

See Table of Contents of Second Edition (2009)

Publisher-requested copyright notice: "Editorial Arrangement and Preface copyright Dennis Fox and Isaac Prilleltensky 1997. Excerpts reproduced here with permission from the publishers. All rights reserved. Users are permitted to view, print and download the material for their own use only. Users may not further reproduce, store in a retrieval system, transmit or utilize in any form or by electronic or any other means, any part of the material without permission in writing from the publishers, Sage Publications Ltd."

A Note on Teaching Critical Psychology

This book is used in critical psychology courses around the world. For examples of its use as a main text with accompanying readings, see Ian Parker's course pack, posted with other Critical Psychology Teaching Materials (course syllabi, reading lists, other resources) at

Also published in Greek and Indonesian translation.

The second edition scheduled for 2009 is substantially revised, with chapters on topics not included in the first edition.


Part I: Critical Overviews


Introducing Critical Psychology: Values, Assumptions and the Status Quo

Isaac Prilleltensky &
Dennis Fox


Repoliticizing the History of Psychology

Benjamin Harris


Qualitative Inquiry in Psychology: A Radical Tradition

Louise H. Kidder &
Michelle Fine


Ethics in Psychology: Cui Bono?

Laura S. Brown


Understanding and Practicing Critical Psychology

David Nightingale &
Tor Neilands

Part II: Critical Arenas


Theories of Personality: Ideology and Beyond

Tod Sloan


Abnormal and Clinical Psychology: The Politics of Madness

Rachel T. Hare-Mustin &
Jeanne Marecek


A Critical Look at Intelligence Research

Zack Z. Cernovsky


Developmental Psychology and its Discontents

Erica Burman


Social Psychology: The Crisis Continues

S. Mark Pancer


Community Psychology: Reclaiming Social Justice

Isaac Prilleltensky &
Geoffrey Nelson


Cross Cultural Psychology: The Frustrated Gadfly's Promises, Potentialities and Failures

Fathali M. Moghaddam &
Charles Studer


Lesbian and Gay Psychology: A Critical Analysis

Celia Kitzinger


Psychology and Law: Justice Diverted

Dennis Fox


Political Psychology: A Critical Perspective

Maritza Montero

Part III: Critical Theories


Feminist Psychology

Sue Wilkinson


Critical Theory, Postmodernism, and Hermeneutics: Insights for Critical Psychology

Frank C. Richardson &
Blaine J. Fowers


Discursive Psychology

Ian Parker

Part IV: Critical Reflections


A Critical Look at Critical Psychology: Elaborating the Questions

Julian Rappaport &
Eric Stewart



Part I

Critical Overviews


Introducing Critical Psychology: Values, Assumptions and the Status Quo

Isaac Prilleltensky &

Dennis Fox



Fox website


Critical psychology and traditional psychology differ in fundamental ways. In this chapter we explain what we mean by "critical psychology" and describe the subject matter of Critical Psychology: An Introduction. We contrast mainstream psychology's values, assumptions, concerns, and objectives with those of a critical psychology that emphasizes social justice and human welfare. As the chapter explains, we believe that psychology's traditional practices and norms hinder social justice, to the detriment of individuals and communities in general and of oppressed groups in particular.

Chapter 1 identifies controversial issues that later chapters develop in several ways. There is no way around this sort of controversy, because critical psychology is inherently value-laden, not value-free. It aims to change society just as it aims to change psychology. But, as you will discover throughout this book, mainstream psychology is also inherently value-laden. It seeks to maintain things essentially as they are, supporting societal institutions that reinforce unjust and unsatisfying conditions.

Psychology is not, and cannot be, a neutral endeavour conducted by scientists and practitioners detached from social and political circumstances. It is a human and social endeavour. Psychologists live in specific social contexts. They are influenced by differing interests and complex power dynamics. Mainstream psychologists too often shy away from the resulting moral, social, and political implications. This book asks you to think about these implications as you make your way in the discipline of psychology.


Repoliticizing the History of Psychology

Benjamin Harris



Critical historians remind us that historical accounts are not neutral. That is, historians select which events to recount and they choose among competing analytical interpretations. They make subjective choices about what is significant and what is not, choices that affect how people view the present as well as the past. For example, the history taught in schools focuses attention on some historical details and interpretations while omitting or explaining away others. This process typically strengthens mainstream beliefs in the larger society's values, myths, and current public policies.

As Benjamin Harris demonstrates in Chapter 2, traditional histories of psychology play a similar role: they strengthen psychology's status quo and discredit challenges to dominant views. By celebrating psychology as a strictly scientific discipline, progressing in linear fashion to help society through value-free research, these histories ignore the role of ideological and political factors in psychology's evolution. Using illustrative case examples, some of which appear again in other chapters, Harris presents the other side of the story. He shows how research and knowledge are infused with political interests, how the social context shapes research topics, how conceptions of the Good Life and the Good Society inform practice, and how power dynamics influence the evolution of the discipline.

In a cautionary note, Harris warns critical psychologists against oversimplifying in the other direction. Although it is tempting to blame specific individuals for psychology's injustices, particularly psychologists whose influential work deserves criticism, injustice results from social forces more powerful than any single individual. Fortunately, recent histories typify what Harris calls the New History of Psychology. This scholarship includes crucial contributions by feminist thinkers critical of traditional histories that discount women's experiences. Similar influences of feminism on critical psychology are noted by other authors throughout this book.


Qualitative Inquiry in Psychology: A Radical Tradition

Louise H. Kidder &

Michelle Fine



Psychology's claim to be a legitimate science led it to emulate the hard sciences' laboratory methods and statistical analyses. The "positivist" goal was to identify cause-and-effect relations among isolated variables that the experimenter could control. Success would enable psychology to "predict and control" behavior in people defined as "subjects" to manipulate. Seeking legitimacy, psychology discarded its traditions of qualitative, interpretive, "softer" methods that examined behavior in the less tidy real world. In Chapter 3, Louise H. Kidder and Michelle Fine remind us of the history and potential of qualitative methods.

As several chapters in this book point out, mainstream psychology's traditional research practices can sometimes advance critical psychology's goals, as by quantifying the existence of inequality. Yet narrowly focused hypothesis-driven research often misses sources and consequences of injustice that open-ended qualitative methods expose. Reintroduced to psychology by feminists and others over the past two decades, qualitative methods have regained some of their earlier appeal. Positivist approaches, however, remain dominant. In most areas of psychology, researchers seeking to use qualitative methods still must satisfy skeptical funding sources, hard-nosed dissertation and hiring committees, and editors who lack experience with alternative approaches.

Qualitative researchers seek not to manipulate "subjects" but to hear the voice of "participants" who join our search for knowledge and justice. They listen to what people say about their problems and, explicitly or implicitly, about the Good Life and the Good Society. By amplifying the voice of participants, qualitative researchers promote the values of self-determination and human diversity. Through dialogue with participants about the meanings of the data, they foster collaboration and democratic participation. In worrying about participants' well being, they show caring and compassion. Thus, Kidder and Fine point not only to the merits of qualitative approaches in fully and accurately describing the human condition; they also emphasize the ethics of research, a defining feature of critical psychology.


Ethics in Psychology: Cui Bono?

Laura S. Brown





To the naive observer, professional ethics should be about a discipline's moral implications, about the harmful and beneficial effects of theories and practices on individuals and societies. But this is a naive view indeed. Organizations of professionals such as doctors and lawyers devise codes of ethics that protect the professional at least as much as they protect the public. As pointed out in Chapters 1 and 2, detrimental outcomes in psychology do not necessarily reflect malevolent intent by psychologists, but they are injurious nonetheless. In Chapter 4, Laura S. Brown clarifies how psychology's professional ethics codes primarily serve the interests of professional psychologists.

Brown demonstrates how power and control in professional interactions are held primarily by the psychologist. Similarly, decision making processes concerning ethics are governed by professional bodies with little input from the public. Significantly, the moral dimension of ethics codes is based largely on individual ethics: the codes regulate the micro-ethics of the therapeutic relationship but neglect social ethical issues such as oppression, discrimination, and inequality. Since the codes generally assume that harm derives from the aberrant behavior of a few unscrupulous psychologists, they conveniently exclude more subtle violations such as the perpetuation of power inequalities and the deleterious effects of labeling people. This chapter challenges the notion of science as the ultimate good, denounces legitimized power inequalities, and decries ethics codes that adopt lowest-common-denominator values.

Disillusioned with existing codes in psychology, feminists affiliated with the Feminist Therapy Institute began to create their own code in the 1980s to explicitly and proactively address issues of oppression, exploitation, discrimination, accountability, and social change. Brown points out the benefits, as well as the difficulties, of trying to create an ethics code that takes ethics seriously.


Understanding and Practicing Critical Psychology

David Nightingale &

Tor Neilands




Becoming involved in critical psychology is not just an intellectual endeavour, but a personal one as well. How do I nurture critical impulses? How do I cope with opposition from colleagues and friends whose views I challenge? Where can I find support for my critical views? In Chapter 5, David Nightingale and Tor Neilands help us connect the personal and the political.

Criticizing the institutions where we work and study is not easy. Changing those institutions is even harder, as those who depart from mainstream norms often find out rather quickly. Being critical can lead to resistance, opposition, and isolation. But as Nightingale and Neilands point out, others often share our reservations about the mainstream, even if they keep their views to themselves. Drawing on their personal experiences as volunteer organizers in organizations of critical psychologists, the authors offer the newcomer helpful hints about how to find and work with others toward becoming critical psychologists.

One of the practical barriers to understanding critical psychology is language: critical psychologists often use complex philosophical concepts to explain and justify their departures from the mainstream. In this chapter, Nightingale and Neilands clarify the significance of key concepts such as ontology, epistemology, methodology, empiricism and positivism. Understanding this terminology can help us understand why critical psychologists object to psychology's view of the world, of knowledge, and of how we should examine the world. The chapter, thus, provides a framework that helps place in context discussions in other chapters.

Part II

Critical Arenas

Part III

Critical Theories

Part IV

Critical Reflections

Buy the Book

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Sage Publications California

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ISBN Number


Reviews I've seen range from generally positive to entirely positive. All the reviewers recommend the book.

Dan Aalbers (2000). Canadian Psychology, 41, 75-76.

Ben Anderson (1999). Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychiology, 9, 243-245.

Bob Burden (1998). British Journal of Educational Psychology, 68, 461-462.

Angela R. Febbraro (1999). Theory & Psychology, 9, 716-718.

Christine Griffin (1998). British Journal of Educational Psychology, 68, 611-612.

Ann Llewellyn (1997, Autumn). History and Philosophy of Psychology Newsletter, 25, 24-26.

John Rowan (1998, November). Self & Society, 26 (5), 53-54.

Tholene Sodi (1999). Towards a liberatory psychology. Annual Review of Critical Psychology, 1, 171-174 [Review Essay].

Jeremy Swinson (2000). Mentoring and Tutoring, 8:2.

My response to the Burden and Griffin reviews was published in the BJEP with the two reviews.

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Page updated June 2, 2009