Changing the Subject: Psychology, Social Regulation, and Subjectivity

By Julian Henriques; Wendy Hollway et al. | Go to book overview
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Introduction: The point of departure

Changing the Subject is about transformations. The multiple meanings in the title refer to an interplay of changes in which psychology is implicated. We explore the way it helps to create the current conceptions of individual and society and the consequent implications for strategies of change. This book works towards a theory of subjectivity which implies a different politics of transformation. The book's subtitle 'psychology, social regulation and subjectivity' reflects its three sections. The first focuses on a critique of individual-society dualism and its effects on psychological theory and practices. The second develops alternative perspectives which show psychology's part in the practices of social regulation and administration and how the very notion of 'individual' is a product of discourses which have developed through these practices. The third section takes us into retheorizing subjectivity on the foundations of the first two.

Our approach to changing the discipline of psychology is therefore double-edged. First we assert the importance of modern psychology in producing many of the apparatuses of social regulation which affect the daily lives of all of us. However, unlike previous radical critiques we do not argue that psychology is or has been a monolithic force of oppression and distortion which constrains and enchains individuals. Rather, we contend that psychology, because of its insertion in modern social practices, has helped to constitute the very form of modern individuality. Psychology is productive: it does not simply bias or distort or incarcerate helpless individuals in oppressive institutions. It regulates, classifies and administers; it produces those regulative devices which form us as objects of child development, schooling, welfare agencies, medicine, multicultural education, personnel practices and so forth. Further, psychology's implication in our modern form of individuality means that it constitutes subjectivities as well as objects. It is by producing explanations as well as identifying problems that psychology contributes to specific political positions. For example through the concept of unemployability the unemployed can become identified (and, indeed, identify themselves) as a cause of unemployment (see below, Introduction to section 2, pp. 112-13).


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