[Critical Psychology: An Introduction]

By Aalbers, Dan; Prilletensky, Isaac et al. | Canadian Psychology, February 2000 | Go to article overview
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[Critical Psychology: An Introduction]


Aalbers, Dan, Prilletensky, Isaac, Fox, Dennis, Canadian Psychology


The subtitle of this book implies that it is written for readers unfamiliar with critical approaches to psychology, but it should attract the attention of the already-critical professional as well as the beginner. The student making a first acquaintance with critical psychology will find this book to be a valuable primer, one that synthesizes a large amount of information while avoiding much of the jargon that often weighs down critical methodologies. Those familiar with German critical psychology (cf. Teo, 1998; Tolman, 1994), may be alternately pleased, dismayed, or surprised to find an approach that differs significantly from that psychology's dialectical materialist approach. Dennis Fox and Isaac Prilleltensky, the editors of the volume, have, by their own account, "cast a wide net" (p. 4) in selecting articles for this volume. Included in the eclectic mix are feminist, Marxian, postmodern, communitarian, cross-cultural, and lesbian and gay psychologies, in addition to approaches more familiar to the introductory psychology student such as developmental, social, personality, and clinical psychologies.

The obvious question the reader must ask when faced with such a variety of perspectives is: do all the disparate approaches cohere, or is one presented instead with a jumble of disconnected articles? The answer, happily, is that this volume holds together well. Although one might expect the sheer diversity of perspectives represented to threaten the cohesiveness of the volume, the editors are able to bring the heterogeneous voices into harmony by introducing each chapter. The chapter introductions serve two important purposes: they make segues between successive chapters and they help form a meaningful whole out what might otherwise seem to be a disjointed set of articles. This is not to say, however, that an attentive reader will not find points of disagreement or areas of tension between the different authors and positions represented in this volume.

The book consists of 19 chapters, organized into four sections. Given the great number of chapters, it would be impossible to give equal attention to every one here without cheating the book as a whole; each of the four sections, however, will be mentioned. Section one, "Critical Overview," gives a general overview of critical methodologies. Included in this section is an interesting if somewhat avuncular essay by Benjamin Harris, "Repoliticizing the history of psychology," which promotes revisionist historiography as an alternative to presentist histories of psychology. While Harris eschews the parochialism of mainstream disciplinary histories, his account falls far short of an unequivocal advocacy of revisionist history. In an effort to caution young scholars against sloppy scholarship, hasty polemics, and personal attacks, Harris presents some examples of embarrassing errors made by prominent revisionist historians. While Harris' account certainly proves that critical psychology can be critical of itself, the reader is left wondering if the author was more interested in promoting or in critiquing revisionist history.

Section two, "Critical Arenas," is a collection of critiques of established fields in psychology. Included in this section are critical evaluations of traditional psychological sub-disciplines such as S. Mark Pancer's "Social psychology: The crisis continues" and Erica Burman's cleverly titled "Developmental psychology and its discontents.

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