Gender, Power, and Organisation: A Psychological Perspective

By Paula Nicolson | Go to book overview

Introduction to Part I

This book develops a feminist critique of traditional psychology, implicitly and explicitly. Implicitly, because the book is about women, and their relationships with other women and men within patriarchal organisations. Gender relations are not characteristically the focal point of academic psychology (Woolett et al., 1995). Explicitly, because it challenges conventional psychological approaches to development in adulthood, gender identity and sex roles inasmuch as they retain the concept of the unitary individual as the focus. I argue, along with many social and feminist psychologists and sociologists, that this is unhelpful both in theorising gender-power relations and in understanding the organisational context in which these relationships are played out (Hollway, 1989).

Following Harré et al. (1985), contemporary psychology makes the assumptions that 'each person is a psychological unit in which all important processes occur' (1985:2). Therefore 'causes' and 'consequences' of individual development are somehow predictable and observable in the individual. Thus, thinking, emotion and gender identity for each of us is taken to be the legacy of our biology-and social context-circumscribed within the boundary of the physical body.

There is also a tendency in academic psychology towards assuming the results of studies 'of the people of one's own "tribe" are true of all others' (Harré et al., 1985:2). This has meant that psychological 'knowledge' based upon the behaviour of white, male, North American college students until relatively recently has been seen to be unproblematic and inconsequential (see Geertz, 1979, quoted in Sampson 1989:1). It has meant that the behaviour and performance of this group has been taken as the normative 'baseline' by which others have been measured, thus creating inadequate and pathological groups (Broverman et al., 1970; Nicolson, 1995a; Ussher, 1989, 1992a, b). Feminist psychologists have also

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