Fox Professing
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Will Psychology Pay Attention
to its Own Radical Critics

Dennis R. Fox & Isaac Prilleltensky


Conversation hour conducted at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association, Toronto

This discussion, attended by two dozen people, turned out to be the founding meeting of the Radical Psychology Network. More information on the RadPsyNet web site.

Here is our original proposal for the "conversation hour" that we submitted to APA's Division of the History of Psychology.

On the RadPsyNet website there's a copy of the leaflet we distributed at APA to encourage participation.

As for the answer to the question in the title, well, who knows?

Proposed Conversation Hour
for the 101st Annual Convention of
the American Psychological Association,
Toronto, Canada, August 1993.

Organized psychology has made substantial progress in beginning to address significant social problems. For example, psychological research increasingly focuses on socially useful applications, and the American Psychological Association regularly seeks to affect public policy through testimony at congressional hearings, friend-of-the-court appellate briefs at the Supreme Court, and other methods. For the most part, APA's positions are consistent with the moderate-to-liberal views of psychologists dominating divisions focused on reforming the status quo, such as Division 9 (Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues), Division 27 (Society for Community Research and Action), and Division 41 (American Psychology-Law Society).

Conservative criticisms of APA's reform efforts regularly appear in letters to the APA Monitor. What is less visible is criticism from the other end of the political spectrum. Yet such criticism from the left does exist. In fact, critics on the left, whether they call themselves radicals or not, are frequently published in the American Psychologist and other mainstream journals. Given this abundant literature, it is not surprising that recent critiques (e.g., Fox, 1985, 1993; Prilleltensky, 1989, 1990) rely heavily on earlier work, much of it by past APA presidents and other respected elders who have repeatedly urged psychology to reconsider its uncomfortably close ties to the status quo and to work for widespread social change (e.g., Albee, 1982; Bevan, 1982; Deutsch, 1985; Sarason, 1981). Many of these critics agree that psychology needs to go beyond the mainstream "person-blame" ideology (Caplan & Nelson, 1973) in order to bring about a transformed society more in keeping with human needs and social justice. As Albee (1982, p. 1044) put it, "more widespread and expensive social reform" is needed to prevent the "emotional distress and mental disturbance in our society [that] is due to dehumanizing social institutions."

Psychologists on the left, thus, are frequently published, and often even applauded. When it comes right down to where it counts, however--determining APA's political positions and the actual research, teaching, and therapeutic approaches of mainstream psychologists--they are almost entirely ignored. Given most psychologists' professional and personal connections to the status quo, such a situation is not surprising. Perhaps what is really surprising is that organized psychology continues to provide a forum to critics apparently doomed to gain a measure of respect but not much influence. Is this a sign that radical critiques are taken as serious intellectual work but not as practical proposals? Do editors in fact hope to encourage journal readers to change their ways? Or do they seek merely to include a bit of controversy to liven things up?

Perhaps it is time for psychologists interested in significantly transforming psychology and society to consider these issues together in a common forum rather than simply within their own divisions and areas of specialization. Thus, what is being proposed here is an informal APA Convention conversation hour focused on the question, "Will Psychology Pay Attention to its Own Radical Critics?" Although the session will be chaired by two psychologists who have published critiques of their own, the purpose will be to generate a general discussion rather than to present new substantive material best left to other sessions.

If the conversation hour is scheduled, invitations will be sent directly to several dozen psychologists who have published critiques of psychology's status quo orientation, regardless of their specific area of interest or their particular political self-definition. This should help the session attract participants who might not notice the listing in the schedule. The letters of invitation will include a list of relevant issues as a starting point for discussion.

It would also be useful if the conversation hour could be cosponsored by a number of divisions. At a minimum, these should include:

  • 9 Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues
  • 27 Society for Community Research and Action
  • 41 American Psychology-Law Society

In addition, cosponsorship would be appropriate for a number of other divisions:

  • 8 Personality and Social Psychology
  • 24 Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology
  • 32 Humanistic Psychology
  • 34 Population and Environmental Psychology
  • 35 Psychology of Women
  • 44 Society for the Study of Lesbian and Gay Issues
  • 45 Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues
  • 48 Peace Psychology


Albee, G. W. (1982). Preventing psychopathology and promoting human potential. American Psychologist, 37, 1043-1050.

Bevan, W. (1982). A sermon of sorts in three plus parts. American Psychologist, 37, 1303-1322.

Caplan, N., & Nelson, S. D. (1973). On being useful: The nature and consequences of psychological research on social problems. American Psychologist, 28, 199-211.

Deutsch, M. (1985). Distributive justice: A social-psychological approach. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Fox, D. R. (1985). Psychology, ideology, utopia, and the commons. American Psychologist, 40, 48-58.

Fox, D. R. (1993). Psychological jurisprudence and radical social change. American Psychologist.

Prilleltensky, I. (1989). Psychology and the status quo. American Psychologist, 44, 795-802.

Prilleltensky, I. (1990). Enhancing the social ethics of psychology: Toward a psychology at the service of social change. Canadian Psychology, 31, 310-319.

Sarason, S. B. (1981). Psychology misdirected. New York: Free Press.

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